Tree Climbing 101

Thursday, July 10, 2008 | 6:00 p.m. CDT; updated 1:09 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The world’s best tree climbers gather every year to compete in the International Society of Arboriculture’s Tree Climbing Championship.

The 2007 competition featured 56 men and women from around the globe and was held in Honolulu. St. Louis will host this year’s championship on July 26.


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ISA tree climbing championships take place in 20 countries around the world, according to its Web site. More than 1,000 contestants participate in events worldwide for a chance to qualify for the international competition.

The International Tree Climbing Championship began in 1976, when it was initially named the Tree Trimmer’s Jamboree, according to Men solely participated in the event until 2001, marking the first time women competed in the world finals.

Contestants compete in five timed events, and the top men and women advance to the championship round of competition, called the Masters’ Challenge.

For the work climb, contestants must perform a specified task at each work station set up throughout a tree. Work stations include the handsaw, limb toss, pole pruner, limb walk and landing stations.

The aerial rescue event tests a contestant’s ability to retrieve a life-sized dummy, representing an injured climber, from the tree in an efficient manner.

The throwline event requires contestants to accurately place a throwline and climbing line in a tree at heights ranging from around 40 to 60 feet. Climbers score by tossing a weighted pouch attached to the throwline through designated targets.

The belayed speed climb requires contestants to climb a predetermined route of approximately 60 feet by freely climbing without the assistance of a rope, but climbers are secured on a rope for safety.

The secured footlock evaluates a contestant’s ability to complete a vertical ascent up a tree in one minute or less using a doubled-climbing line. Men must reach a height of nearly 50 feet, and women climb nearly 40 feet.

Contestants receive points based on their performance in each event. Judges can award discretionary bonus points for noticeable displays of safety, style, poise, innovation and creativity. Likewise, contestants can lose points for faults such as dropping equipment, exceeding the time limit or failing to complete a task correctly.

In the Masters’ Challenge, the final contestants are judged on their overall productivity, knowledge and mastery of different climbing techniques. The man and woman with the highest point totals in the challenge earn the title of world champion.

The 2007 winners were Bernd Strasser of Germany and Chrissy Spence of New Zealand.

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