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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Blue Ridge Tree Climbing, LLC

Recreational tree climbing is a relatively new sport that is growing more and more popular with the young and the young at heart. Less complicated to engage in than the sport of rock climbing, the appeal of recreational tree climbing involves the ease of finding good climbs not far from home, the relative simplicity of the equipment involved, and the nostalgia of the adventure of tree climbing, with the memories of childhood evoked.

When I was a child I climbed into an old apple tree here on the farm and spent long summer days reading, curled up on a sturdy limb against the sun-warmed truck, sheltered by a canopy of green leaves. I was startled, delighted and intrigued when I met Bob Wray of Blue Ridge Tree Climbing, LLC, based in Meadows of Dan just three or four miles down the Blue Ridge Parkway from my cottage. He generously invited me out for a climb, and I took the precaution of bringing along my young nephew, Hunter, so that I could observe the procedure, both for the Blue Ridge Gazette blog and for myself, in case I became too terrified to think straight!

Getting ready to make the climb, image by Sue Shelor

Blue Ridge Tree Climbing, LLC, is located in Meadows of Dan, very close to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Mr. Wray owns a lovely property with several excellent and very tall trees that he climbs often, and uses for the instruction of small classes of interested climbers. Very safety conscious, he spent a great deal of time before the climb instructing Hunter on the equipment they would be using to make their ascent. A sturdy harness, lengths of nylon rope and clips called carabiners made up most of the required equipment, along with helmets and gloves. Hiking boots, Mr. Wray commented, were also a good idea, since one foot assisted in the climbing by pushing against a loop in the climbing rope. A leather piece around the rope rested on the tree limb between the rope and bark.
A string attached to a weighted bag was launched into the tree over the first limb, and then the nylon climbing line was pulled into the tree. Mr. Wray then showed Hunter how to arrange the carabiners on the harness, with each to serve a different function during the climb. A tether line was secured to the climbing line with a friction knot called a "Blake's hitch", which slid up with each part of the ascent.
Beginning the climb, image by L. Shelor
The tree climbing technique involved a fluid
movement, using the upper body strength and pulling with one hand while sliding the knot up with the other. At the same time they pushed with one leg against a loop in the climbing line to help with the ascent. In a surprisingly short time they were well on their way up the tree.
Mr. Wray emphasized relaxing and enjoying the climb over and over. The construction of the harness allows the climber to basically sit back and rest between pulls, with the careful arrangement of ropes and carabiners supporting the climber. To promote confidence he asked for a show of hands; releasing the hold on the rope helped the climber realize how securely he was situated.
Up a tree, image by Sue Shelor
This was a simple climb, up an easy tree. More complicated climbs involve moving from tree to tree, enjoying the different views the heights can afford. A fascinating part of the sport is sleeping in the trees on a light mesh platform.
Mr. Wray told us about his adventures during six years of climbing experience. He has been on a tree-climbing expedition in the rain forests in Panama, and helped take a trampoline into the redwoods in Northern California. A fascinating part of the sport is sleeping in the trees on a light mesh platform.
I asked Mr. Wray why he climbed trees and he replied that it was something unusual that no one else did. His love of the sport was obvious and so was his love of the trees. He is also active in other sports, including kayaking. His tree climbing method is a simple one, he says, with very little equipment required. This cuts the cost of the sport and allows the climber to travel lighter.
In the heights, image by Sue Shelor
An excellent instructor, Bob Wray is patient and perceptive as well as knowledgeable about his art. His classes include instruction on his simple technique, knots used in climbing, choosing a good tree, recognizing and avoiding hazards and other safety issues, properly rigging the harness and many other aspects of climbing. He offers classes on his property during both weekends and weekdays. An introductory class is available, as well as a three day Tree Climbing Basics class, with two people per class. A primitive camping area is available, with tents and cots for a small fee.
Recreational tree climbing is a magical sport, with an appeal as a environmentally friendly activity that is not expensive. Unlike other sports such as rock climbing, trees that would make fun or challenging climbs grow near most people. To climb a tree and rest against a limb, enjoying a beautiful view with a clear sky overhead, with the knowledge of how to proceed with safety, is an invigorating idea. Sleeping out under the stars in the canopy of a tree is a delightful thought, as cool breezes blow through the limbs surrounding your gently rocking platform.
Blue Ridge Tree Climbing, LLC
182180 Blue Ridge Parkway
Meadows of Dan, VA 24120
Telephone: 276-398-2639


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