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Fun Climbing: A New Twist to a Long-Time Tradition

At the Fun Climb, the sight of children in climbing saddles, supported by brightly colored ropes in the trees, was a natural magnet.
Peter Jenkins shows a young climber “the ropes” in preparation for the Fun Climb. All photos by Steve Houser.

Published May 28, 2013 By STEVE HOUSER

Not all that long ago, summertime for kids was synonymous with sandlot baseball, neighborhood bicycle races, camp, and tree climbing. While times have changed -- with video games, blockbuster movies, and tech-rec being the common summer fare -- tree climbing has been reinvented and is making a comeback in the form of Fun Climbing. The tip for this month is to go safely climb a tree with your family to reduce your stress level, increase your health and reconnect with nature.

A line of children wait for their turn to join in the fun.

Undoubtedly, the most popular event at this year’s Earth Day Dallas was the Fun Climb. At the west end of Fair Park’s Esplanade, three stately live oak trees provided the shade and structural rigging that made this new event for the Dallas area a unique experience for kids and adults, who may never look at a tree in the same way again. Large crowds gathered around the orange fencing that separated the climbers from the spectators. The sight of children in climbing saddles, supported by brightly colored ropes in the trees, was a natural magnet. As people approached the event, they saw everyone laughing and smiling, and heard whooping and hollering in support of friends or family members in climbing saddles.

The event might better have been called the Fun and Laughter Climb because of the resulting sore sides and face muscles at the end of the day. There was not a frown to be found around the event. Comments overheard included, “This is the coolest event I have ever seen because it is safe as well as fun for our children,” and “Man, I had a ball. I’ve gotta do this again next year.” Judging by the joy of those around the event, it was clearly a popular attraction enjoyed by folks of all ages.

Thank you to the good people at Earth Day Dallas for including this very cool tree event. They hired the professional tree climbers of Tree Climbers International to conduct the event. The group’s expertise in tree climbing methods and techniques and their years of experience in conducting these types of climbs as part of the International Tree Climbing Competitions was evident. After 30 years of teaching the public how to climb a tree safely, their safety record is still impeccable. Over the two-day event, 325 children and adults were able to climb up a rope and safely descend back to the ground.

It’s “thumbs up” to tree climbing from the Scottish Rite Hospital for Children climbers.

Even the Mavs Man could not resist the opportunity to see the world from the treetops.

The first event on Saturday morning at the Earth Day Dallas Fun Climb was developed specifically for children from Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. The purpose of this unique tree climb was to show children that they can overcome anything when they think positively and stay determined to succeed.  The young climbers were able to connect with nature and successfully face the physical and mental challenges that go with tree climbing.

To the novice, it is important to explain that the most important factor in tree climbing is strength to weight ratio. Ten children took on the challenge. All of them had a reasonable level of upper and lower body strength. Upon seeing the trees and the climbing equipment, most of the children expressed some skepticism and concerns about the heights, the crowd, and the climbing saddles. The fact that they were greeted by Patty Jenkins, who walks on crutches due to being post-polio, offered a level of comfort. Patty explained to them that she is a climber, and if she can do it, they could as well. Peter and Patty Jenkins are the founders and owners of Tree Climbers International. In addition to Peter and Patty, there were six professional climbers in saddles to help provide hands-on instructions. Peter offered their training in a humorous way that helped to increase the young climbers’ comfort level. For those with less physical capacity to climb, a special climbing system was employed that included one or two pulleys to gain a mechanical advantage and multiply their personal strength.

The professional climbers provided personal training to get each young climber started up the rope. Parents and spectators offered further words of encouragement. Although it takes time for an adult to learn how to climb the rope, several children caught on quickly and ascended to the upper end of the rope. The girls were quick to realize they could climb as well as, or even better than, the guys! The boys learned that it does not take great strength, but rather a focused determination and a strong will to succeed.

Giggling girls celebrate their climb to the top of the ropes by holding hands.

One mother, with a small cheering section in tow, watched her daughter quickly reach the top of the rope and immediately ask to climb again! During the second climb, she and three girl climbers decided to hold hands at 18 feet above the ground, laughing and giggling the entire time. Spectators and family asked that they look down and smile for a photo. In a phrase, it was a very heartwarming moment for all those fortunate enough to witness it. As the day was concluding, one of the girls returned to the event. Apparently, she had convinced her mother (possibly with the assistance of her cheering section) to climb with her for photos of them together in a tree.

To be gently rocking in the breeze in unison with the branches of a tree ... restores the mind, spirit, and body.   

About the author

Mr. Steve Houser

Mr. Steve Houser is a Dallas native with almost 40 years of experience as a consulting arborist and expert tree climber. He is the president and owner of Arborilogical Services, “The Experts Your Trees Deserve.”

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