World’s best tree climbers converge on Laurelhurst Park

Aug. 11 2012 Tree Climbers in Laurelhurst Park
Annie Lefever of Portland is guided in tree climbing by Tree Climbers International founder Peter Jenkins (Chijo Takeda)

On a recent Saturday in Portland’s Laurelhurst Park, a photographer snapped pictures of a bride and groom while a bucket ride lifted a family into a towering tree and kids gripped ropes strung from another tree’s limbs. In five stately trees nearby, arborists from 16 countries competed for the world championship in tree climbing.

If they weren’t in a tree themselves, most people in the park gazed up into the trees. Around them rose shouts of encouragement and animated exchanges in Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, French, Swedish, German, Belgian, Austrian, Danish and English.

Aug. 11 2012 Tree Climbers in Laurelhurst Park
Success! Annie up high in a tree (Chijo Takeda)

The event launched the annual International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) conference and trade show, which was held at the Oregon Convention Center from Aug. 11-15. In addition to the ISA International Tree Climbing Championship (ITCC) Aug. 11-12, the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the ISA hosted a community Arbor Fair on Aug. 11, where people could explore the history of the nearly 115 tree species in Laurelhurst park, take free bucket rides, climb a tree with equipment and guidance from Tree Climbers International (TCI), or participate in family-friendly presentations about the value of trees and arborists.

Aug. 11 2012 Tree Climbers in Laurelhurst Park
A tree full of young climbers (Chijo Takeda)

Headquartered in Champaign, Illinois, the nonprofit ISA supports tree-care research and education around the world. During the week before the annual conference, arborists from across the world cycled through Oregon on the Tour des Trees to raise money for the TREE Fund to do this research. The ISA manages the web site and offers the only internationally-recognized certification program in the arboriculture industry.

The first ISA tree-climbing competitions were held in California to train people to save lives in aerial rescues. As more and more tree-care companies encouraged their workers to participate, the competition grew. The first official “ISA Jamboree” was held in 1976 in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1994, the event expanded internationally.

Aug. 11 2012 Tree Climbers in Laurelhurst Park
Fiona Rayne (foreground) and Sophia Burton learning how to climb a tree using ropes (Chijo Takeda)

The five key areas of competition now include Throwline, Footlock, Belayed Speed Climb, Work Climb, and Aerial Rescue. The Throwline event tests the ability to accurately place a climbing line in a tree at heights of up to 60 feet. The Secured Footlock event tests climbing skills when using a hitch for fall protection and a doubled climbing line. The Belayed Speed Climb tests how quickly arborists can climb from the ground to about 60 feet up using a belayed climbing system. The Work Climb tests the ability to move from limb to limb using a tree-climbing rope and harness. The timed Aerial Rescue tests the climber’s ability to safely lower an injured climber.

The 2012 Masters Challenge winners, one man and one woman with the overall best scores in all five finalist or Masters Challenge events, were Veronika Ericsson of Sweden and Beddes Strasser of Germany.