Ok, here it is, finally! I've been mentioning this since April, and we've been back now for about 3 weeks. What's been the hold up, you ask? I think I've been putting this off because I've been worried that I might not do it justice. I'm still worried, but I figure if I never write it, then I'll definitely never do it justice, so here goes. This is a long post, but I will try to make it more fun with lots of pictures!
As I mentioned in my April post, this all began when I read The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. He writes about scientists spending hours, days even, hanging out in the coastal redwoods measuring trees, documenting the flora and fauna that they were discovering up there, that sort of thing. Also, sometimes they would sleep in the trees. This is the part where I would announce loudly to an empty room, "THAT WOULD BE SO COOL!" I didn't care that nobody was around, I just needed to say it out loud. Because it's that exciting! My husband read the book too and agreed that it would, indeed, be cool to hang out in the redwoods. I don't think it made him holler like a crazy person though.
How do you sleep in a tree? Wouldn't you just roll right off the branches? Do you just strap yourself to the trunk and hope you don't slide down to the ground in the middle of the night?
Since neither of those options seems very appealing, the folks in the book used these things called treeboat hammocks, which are made by a company in Grant's Pass, Oregon, called New Tribe. (How many can you find in this picture? I'll give you a hint...it's 3). The whole time I was reading the book, I couldn't quite envision how this all worked, so one day I decided to go visit the New Tribe web site, which is where I found out that not only do they sell treeboats along with all kinds of other tree gear, but they also offer a whole bunch of tree climbing adventures and courses through Tree Climbing Northwest, some of which involve SLEEPING IN TREES!! "OH MY GOD! THAT WOULD BE SO MUCH FUN!!" (Again, to an empty room).
One of the activities offered is the Tree Week course, which runs a full week and combines the Basic Tree Climbing Course, the Rigging Course, and the Introduction to Single Rope Technique. After the Rigging Course, about half-way through the week, you get to set up treeboats and sleep in a tree. Yay! Sign me up!
We signed up for the August 31-September 6 class. I felt like a little kid waiting for summer vacation-it was NEVER going to get here! The day finally did arrive, and we left Honolulu for Vegas, where we spent a couple of long hot days wishing we hadn't tacked the Vegas portion on to our trip. After that we drove over to L.A. because we have friends who live there, and we don't make it over to that neck of the woods very often, so we figured we would stop in and see them. After that, it was on to Oregon! Driving through the redwoods helped put us in the right frame of mind for this trip. (You can read some more about that here.) They are so amazing, and we kept thinking about how cool it would be to be moving around in the canopy of one of these giants. We knew we wouldn't be climbing redwoods, but it was still cool to think about.
On our way, we stopped in Grant's Pass to visit the New Tribe store. When we walked in and explained that we were enrolled in the Tree Week course and just wanted to stop by and check out the store, Barbara, who had been our sole contact up to this point said, "You must be the people from Hawaii!" and ran over to give us both big hugs! What a great reception!
The main thing we wanted to buy was a book called The Tree Climber's Companion by Jeff Jepson. This is recommended reading for the course, and if you try to find it on Amazon.com, you will find people trying to sell it for upwards of $70. Do not pay $70 for this book! For one thing, it is only about 1/4" thick. For another, New Tribe sells it for around $20. Also, I have an extra copy if anyone needs it.
Our "classroom" was located in Oregon City, outside of Portland, on 150 acres of privately-owned pasture land surrounded by forest, and consisted mostly of an oak tree named Pagoda. Our first day, Sunday, was a half day, sort of an orientation day consisting of some general tree climbing info, familiarizing ourselves with the gear that we would be using and then actually getting up into a tree. When we arrived, our instructor, Tim, already had ropes in the tree, and all we had to do was hook ourselves up and climb. This was a great way to get everyone excited about what we were going to be learning.
Monday we tied a lot of knots. I am not even kidding. Double rope technique (DRT), which is what we would be using during our first 4 days of class, consists of tying a bunch of knots on which to hang your life, and then hooking yourself confidently into those knots for all of your tree climbing activities. You have to be able to tie all the knots with your eyes closed, literally, and Tim makes sure that you can do it. We also learned how to choose a good, safe tree to climb, how to get our ropes up into the trees, how to ascend the rope, how to move around once you are in the tree, how to safely get back down out of the tree, and proper rope inspection and storage. You can see the complete Tree Week syllabus here. Even now, having gone through and successfully completed all of this stuff, it looks intimidating! I can't quite believe we got through all the stuff that we did each day, but Tim was a fabulous teacher and covered everything thoroughly.
The thing that I found to be most anxiety-inducing was switching over from one anchor to another. This is how you move around in a tree, either laterally or vertically, from one branch to another. You have to set your rope on the new branch, tie all your knots again on that rope, and then clip onto your new set of knots. When you are convinced that your new anchor is secure and not going to release you to an untimely death, then you can unclip from your old anchor. This is the part that is nerve-wracking! Tim teaches you all the things to check before you do this, and he is always right there watching you to make sure that you are not going to do something stupid and plummet to your death, but it's still scary.
I also had a difficult time with this because you are doing this all on one rope-you do not have two separate ropes in the tree with you. You are using the end of the rope that you just climbed up on and throwing it over the new branch and then tying all of your knots in that end of the rope. When you hook into your new anchor, you undo most of the knots on your old anchor, and that now becomes the "end" of your rope. Confused? So was I. I just couldn't get it in my head how all the pieces fit together, and so I was having a hard time convincing myself that I knew what the heck I was doing. That night for homework, Tim told us to write down, step by step, the process of switching over from one anchor to another. That, accompanied with a lot of diagrams of stick figures climbing trees, helped me a lot. Once I got over my mental block of not understanding all the moving parts, I was able to move the parts a lot better.
On Tuesday we talked about the different gear that is available for tree climbing-the pros and cons of various options-and spent a lot more time moving around in the trees. This time we got to practice throwing our ropes directly onto a branch vs. using a throw line to get our rope set, like we had been doing previously. This is much more expedient if you just have a short distance to throw. All this tree time made me much more comfortable with my switch-over techniques as well.
Wednesday found us learning about more gear and tying new knots. We learned how to haul gear up into a tree and how to set up a treeboat. We had been working in Pagoda most of the time, and we decided to try to set our treeboats in a different tree, another oak which Hubby ended up naming Kokopelli.Tim had never set treeboats in this tree before and was game to give it a shot. Kokopelli turned out to be a fitting name! She (He?) had quite a few tricks up her sleeve-for me moving around turned out to be a lot trickier than it looked, and finding a good treeboat spot was also tricky. You need about 8-10 feet between the two ends where your treeboat is tied off, and the first location we tried had about 7', 11"! It just wasn't going to work. So close! We eventually got all our treeboats up, and then we went into town to buy supplies to barbecue that night.
We returned to the campsite that night, barbecued some burgers and watched the moon set behind Kokopelli. (Incidentally, Kokopelli was also located right on the edge of the pasture, almost as if it were watching over the field and its animals, so in that sense the name seemed appropriate too). Around 9:00 we all headed up into our tree, sleeping bags in tow, ready to spend the night in a tree!
Important note: If you plan on sleeping in a tree, I would advise you to do everything within your power to avoid having to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Nothing interrupts a nice peaceful sleep in the trees like having to get up for a "quick" bathroom trip. Believe me, there is nothing quick about getting out of a tree to go to the bathroom. I hardly ever wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, except when I'm 40' up in a tree, apparently.
There was something kind of cool that came out of this though. When I was coming back up, I was dreading this one part of the tree where I had gotten absolutely stuck earlier in the day, I mean I really had to fight to get past this one spot. This time, as I was ascending in the dark, I was like, "Oh, look, there's a nice branch that I can stand on while I hook up my lanyard." ( I was hooked into my main rope, which is the red one in the picture below, the whole time, but my treeboat was off to the side about 4 or 5 feet away from where I was ascending so I needed the lanyard-the green line-to maneuver over to where my treeboat was.) Turns out that branch that I was standing on made it totally easy to get past my problem spot, and I hadn't even been aware of it earlier in the day. Just sort of letting go and looking around me and using what made itself available turned out to be a much better strategy than thinking my way up the tree.
(Yeah, I know, I'm sexy in a helmet!) Anyway, back to the tree sleeping. After we got ourselves and all of our gear tucked into our sleeping bags, we all chatted for a while and eventually everyone calmed down to experience being in the tree and started drifting off to sleep. As I was studying the tree and the sky I noticed a group of leaves that made a perfect square, just like a picture frame, and right in the middle was a single star. I watched the star move through the frame, and as I lay there I was finally able to start taking everything in, and then I started to smile; and eventually, I was lying there with a huge smile on my face, laughing quietly with tears running down my face. For me, this is what it was all about. I did it. I was sleeping in a tree! This is what I had wanted. The fact that I had to learn how to do all the other stuff to get to this point was just a bonus.
The next morning, we came down out of the tree around 9:00. We left our treeboats up in case we wanted to hang out in them later, but we never really got to. We spent part of the day just hanging out, relaxing, giving our brains a rest from all the stuff we'd been learning all week. Tim also took us around Portland to visit a couple of places that had some tree climbing gear available. We knew we would be buying most of our gear through New Tribe, but we wanted to buy some of the heavier, bulkier items like rope and helmets while we were there so we could just carry them back on the plane with us and not have to pay to ship them later. All the traveling Hubby does pays off-we can carry on 70 lbs. of luggage instead of 50!
Friday it was back to work on our Introduction to Single Rope Technique (SRT)! This technique utilizes a lot of gadgets, which makes it quicker and easier to ascend and descend...unless you're me and you keep getting yourself stuck on the descent. This was the part of the class that we were all looking forward to because we thought it would be so much easier than the DRT stuff that we had been doing. While it was easier in some ways, I think we all agreed that we were much more comfortable putting our faith in our knots than in these little metal devices that could (theoretically) break or melt your rope or be threaded wrong and send you plummeting to your death in an uncontrolled descent. Part of it was our lack of familiarity with the devices, and part of it was the fact that we had a lot of information thrown at us that day. The course is just meant to be introductory, and that's exactly what it was, just enough to give you an idea of what it's all about and what your options are if you want to explore it further. I have to say, even though Thursday was basically a down day, by Friday I was pretty done, mentally and physically. I didn't have much left when it came time to learn about the 83 new ways of getting into and out of a tree!
Saturday was a fun day. We could pick any tree we wanted to (preferably a wild tree, meaning one that hadn't been climbed before) and climb it. We were responsible for inspecting our tree to make sure it was safe, and then it was all up to us, whatever we wanted to do. Tim was there to make sure everything was safe or in case we had any questions, but other than that we were on our own. Hubby picked another oak, which he named Esmerelda, and I picked a maple because I wanted to try something different, and this tree had a really cool feel to it as soon as you walked under its umbrella, like walking into a whole separate world. I semi-named her Mabel, but I'm not sure if that's because she really felt like a Mabel or if it's just because it sounded like maple...so, if the name sticks, fine, but if someone else comes up with something better, that's fine too. I found a route up and moved around a little bit from one anchor to another and then I found a good spot where I could just lie across 3 of her branches and watch the sky. Sounds uncomfortable, but if you get just the right spot, it's actually quite comfortable.
And that, my friends, was the official end of our Tree Week class! Since we were in town for a few more days, we actually got a chance to go climbing outside of class with Tim and his girlfriend later in the week. Hubby hung out with them in a Douglas fir where they were about 130 feet up and got to experience some tree surfing, which is when the wind blows and the tree starts swaying from side to side-very exciting! I climbed Esmerelda, and after some difficulties, we finally came to an understanding and I was able to find another very comfortable place to just lie down and hang out in a tree.
Tim's girlfriend is a journalist (you can check out her blog here(it's in Portuguese)), and after our climb, she was asking us about our experience. I was trying to find a good, eloquent way of expressing how much fun we had and why tree climbing isn't just for kids. I failed miserably. The best I could come up with was to tell her that it makes you go, "Heehee!" This was a little easier to do in person because I could insert the appropriate inflection and make the accompanying happy face and hands-covering-my-mouth movements, but it's still not a lot for a journalist to work with. Yeah, I'm a great interview. Katie Couric, call me!
So, in case it still needs saying, I loved our Tree Week! I seriously can't say enough good things about this experience. I would recommend this to anyone! I think it would be a great family vacation or an executive retreat/teambuilding exercise. If a week is too large of a commitment, there are several other shorter courses or one-day activities that might suit your needs. There are many organizations world-wide that also facilitate tree climbing activities, so check this link to see if you can find something that is closer to your neck of the woods. Also, don't rule this out if you have some sort of physical disability or any other issue that you think might prevent you from getting into a tree. Tim and others have found many ways to get many people with special needs up into trees-these guys truly believe where there's a will there's a way.
The Tree Week class is limited to 4 people, so everyone has plenty of attention and Tim can keep an eye on everyone. (If you have a group larger than 4, contact Tim or New Tribe and talk to them. They may be able to bring somebody else in to help facilitate a class.) As I mentioned earlier, Tim is a wonderful teacher. He is very good at reading the mood of the class and being able to tell if people are ready to move on or if they need more time with something, whether it's practicing knots or downtime in the tree. He also has the rare ability to inspire complete confidence in his knowledge-the man knows his stuff!-without being intimidating or making you feel dumb. While the syllabus is intimidating, Tim does a great job of breaking it down into manageable pieces and teaching it in an order that is logical, so that you are constantly building on your skills. Also, he is one of the nicest people I have ever met! He is a rare example of somebody who clearly loves what he is doing, and that is so uncommon these days. To actually see someone who has found that is very cool!
Thanks for staying with me so long! I hope you liked the pictures. If you want to see more from our Tree Week class, you can check out my album, here. Thanks to Tim for all the photography there (and most of it here)-as if he wasn't doing enough already!
(When I was looking up some information on the redwoods the other day, I came across this blog, which I thought was kind of cool: Ten Thousand Trees )