You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy climbing trees
You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy climbing trees
Jocelyn Lohse says she “climbed everything I could find” when she was a kid, which sort of explains why, at age 30, she was scrambling around the upper reaches of a Southern red oak in Forest Hill Park the other morning.
The reason she climbed then is the same reason she climbs now.
“It’s just fun,” she said, “climbing around in a tree and just seeing what you can do and seeing what kind of challenges you can figure out how to overcome.”
As my palms grew sweaty just imagining waltzing on a limb high above the ground, I asked Lohse — a two-time regional climbing champion who has participated twice in international competitions, including last year in Portland, Ore. — if she was ever scared of heights.
“Yeah, everybody’s afraid of heights to a degree,” she said. “But you learn to trust your gear and trust the tree and trust yourself.”
Lohse and more than three dozen other professional tree climbers will put their skills on display Saturday, beginning at 8:30 a.m., at Byrd Park at the annual Mid-Atlantic Chapter International Society of Arboriculture tree-climbing championship, returning to Richmond for the first time in a decade. The top four finishers Saturday will return Sunday at 8 a.m. for a final event, the Master’s Challenge, to determine the overall winner. Admission is free.
The event also will serve as the occasion for the city’s Arbor Day celebration and the presentation of the Tree City USA flag to Richmond for the 22nd consecutive year. The Tree City USA designation is awarded by the Arbor Day Foundation to promote good practices to nurture and increase community forests.
And proper tree climbing, typically used for the purposes of pruning, inspection or removal, is one of those good practices, said Luke McCall, arborist with the city of Richmond and chairman of this weekend’s event.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to display … what we do, especially climbing, which is one of the most challenging aspects of arboriculture, just ascending into a tree and having to perform work,” said McCall, who used to climb for a living when he worked for a tree care company.
“We generally want to raise awareness about trees and the importance of taking care of them,” he said — and showcase those who can scamper among the treetops with the ease with which the rest of us take a stroll around the block.
“They’re superior athletes in every sense of the word,” McCall said. “What they do takes a lot of stamina, endurance, strength and agility.”
The tools of a tree climber include ropes and clips and rubber-soled hiking boots — spikes are a no-no because they damage the tree — as well as helmets, goggles and harnesses. Safety is, of course, a primary concern because no matter how skilled you are, working in trees, suspended by ropes and wielding chain saws, is dangerous business.
Scott Ross, climbing director for Riverside Outfitters and a colleague of Lohse’s, knows this all too well. An experienced tree care professional and climber, Ross was on a job recently, up in a tree, when in an instant he was popped in the face by the trunk. The broken nose will keep him sidelined for the climbing championship.
“I’ve never had anything close to that,” said Ross, still sporting the evidence of a face-first meeting with a tree, as we stood beneath the oak Lohse was climbing. “Just scrapes and bumps, but nothing like this.”
Lohse has escaped serious injury in her professional climbing days, which began when she started work for Riverside Outfitters as a counselor at its summer climbing camps for kids. She discovered how much she loved climbing, and then went to work with Riverside’s sister company, True Timber Tree Service.
To climb into the oak in Forest Hill Park, Lohse clipped herself to a rope looped over her upper limbs, “locked” the rope between her feet and then hoisted herself up, using her legs more than her arms to ascend 40 feet into the tree. It took her only seconds.
She was using the “foot-locking” technique, which will be one of the categories of competition at the Byrd Park championship that will feature top climbers from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. The competition also will include a work climb, two speed-climbing events, an accuracy throw and an aerial rescue — and, unlike in their day jobs, nothing requiring they haul saws with them. Climbers will be scrambling swiftly through trees near the Round House at Byrd Park.
In international competition, Lohse placed 10th overall in 2011 and 9th last year. Her best event was the belayed speed climb, in which she placed fourth. She said about 20 women generally compete at the international championships. Three women are scheduled to participate at Byrd Park, and one of them is a Lohse co-worker: Emily Warren, also from Riverside Outfitters.
“It’s a different world when you’re high up in the middle of a tree,” Lohse said. “You see things you don’t see on the ground.”
Angry birds or aggravated squirrels?
“It happens,” she said with a laugh. “That’s one of the hazards of tree-climbing: animals.”
But not nearly enough of a hazard to keep her out of the trees.
“You know what I do on my days off a lot of the time?” a smiling Lohse asked me. “I go and climb trees.”