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Monday, August 13, 2012

10 Things I Learned at the International Tree Climbing Championship

Posted by Alex Zielinski on Mon, Aug 13, 2012 at 12:29 PM

Tree climbers are like Bigfoot. Photos of them are always blurry and unbelievable
  • Tree climbers are like Bigfoot. Photos of them are always blurry and unbelievable

This weekend, the International Tree Climbing Championship took over Laurelhurst Park. I mistakenly thought this was going to be a gathering of agile tree huggers. How wrong I was. Here are all the crazy and impressive things I learned about international tree climbers:

1) Let me break it down: A tree climbing competition consists of skilled, harnessed climbers shimmying up large trees with a ton of rope, swinging from branch to branch to ring certain bells with small saws. I know it sounds slightly nuts, but it was actually pretty amazing to watch. And stressful, thanks to the 30-minute time limit and the stressful cries from onlookers. Examples: "Watch out for that branch, Bo!" "Your angle is off!" "You've got five minutes, pull your saw out!" Or, simply: "GAAAAAAAH!"

2) These folks come from all around the world to compete: Japan, Australia, Germany, Sweden, etc. There were 16 countries involved in all. I had a difficult time finding an American in the crowd.

3) Tree climbing competitions are significantly sponsored by chainsaw companies. Stihl even had a booth set up in the middle of Laurelhurst selling bright orange chainsaws to passersby. No hippies here.

4) According to John Gathright, a Beaverton-born arborist from Japan, 99.99 percent of the competitive tree-climbing champions competing were arborists— folks who climb and prune trees for a credible living—making the sport fall an "industrial athletics" event. When I asked what else fell into that category, Gathright fell silent. It may have been an insult.

More after the jump!

5) Tree climbers have rocking parties before and after their events. "It's a good ol' time," says Gathright. "We've all been doing this long enough that we know everyone. It gets pretty wild." Let's hope these events are not also sponsored by chainsaws.

6) Laurelhurst's trees are objectively impressive. The guy who started the first-ever tree-climbing school, Peter "Treeman" Jenkins, was at last weekend's event and was enamored by Laurelhurst's tree diversity. "This park is very unique in tree species, " he said. "I mean, just look around! Wow. These are much bigger than on the East Coast, that's for sure. Wow."

The neck-craning crowd
  • The neck-craning crowd

7) Tree climbing events serve excellent food. Read: Won-tons and BBQ ribs. Also a few free Chewy bars.

8) The audience is expected to applaud at every maneuver a climber makes — whether it be a fearless leap from one tree to the next or simply wrapping their rope up in a bag. It's a very polite and supportive sport.

9) Tree climbers are big cherry picker fans. "They have free rides in a cherry picker!" was a common exclamation heard in the crowd. Sometimes in different languages.

10) Sometimes if you take a break to go to the bathroom during a tree climbing competition, you stumble upon a LEAF RAKING COMPETITION.

Raking championship starting block
  • Raking championship starting block

Now you know.

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