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The Art and Athletism behind Championship Tree Climbing

Arboriculture Society of Michigan

This fall at Holland’s Prospect Park, the Arboriculture Society of Michigan hosted the 2015 Michigan Tree Climbing Championships with the winning climber advancing to the 2016 International Tree Climbing Championship in Texas. If you’ve never been to a tree climbing competition think human squirrels or rock climbing only it’s in a tree. WGVU witnessing daring athletes combining agility and speed.

“Climber ready?”

“There’s nothing like swinging around in a tree…There’s five bells throughout a tree. You start at the top of the tree and you move throughout the tree hitting the bells so it shows you can move throughout a tree and you do that in a timed fashion.”

“One minute remaining. One minute!”

“My name is Jake Carufel. I’m from Port Huron, Michigan….I’ve been to New Jersey for the North American Tree Climbing Championships. I qualified for that.”

“These are all professional arborists who are competing at the Michigan Tree Climbing Championship. My name is Greg Manning. I travel around the country helping to set up and judge tree climbing competitions. The climber starts in the top of the tree about 60 to 70 feet up in the air.”

“The wind, personally it doesn’t affect me too much, some younger climbers get freaked out, you know, when you tie in and you’re moving around and the whole tree moves it can give you a little jump sometimes. It’ll scare you a little bit…I have a harness on from Austria. My helmet’s from France.”

“I’ve been scoping out the trees all day. I did a walkthrough yesterday.”

That’s Corey Reed with Ann Arbor-based Guardian Tree Experts.

“There’s usually been a tried and true pattern towards the end of the day that everyone’s taken. It’s usually best to stick with that.”

Manning explains the rules, “He comes down the trunk of the tree and limb walks out on a limb and rings a cowbell simulating that he’s cutting a branch with his handsaw. He then limb walks back in and limb walks back out on a different branch, picks up a pole saw, rings another cowbell, comes back in. And then there are three other stations and then the final station is he comes down and repels off the base of the tree and tries to hit the center of a bull’s eye for bonus points.”

As a judge, I ask Manning what technical skills he’s looking for?

“Safety. Control. Efficiency.”

“You’re climbing a living thing and you get to the top of it, it’s alive, you’re alive, so you have to coexist. There’s something about it. There’s a little bit of risk. It keeps you on your toes and it keeps me interested,” Carufel continues “It’s not a competition. If I mess up in a tree I’m not going to come down and tell the next person to do the same thing I did. I’m going to tell them how to do it better. I’ve never seen any other competition like that. These are the best people in the world.”

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.