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'It's My Home up There': Top-Ranked Plano Tree Climber Ascends to World Championship

Miguel Pastenas winner of the 2016 North American Tree Climbing Competition is at home in the trees.
Miguel Pastenes, 34, works in a 100-foot pecan tree near Fernald Avenue and Dixfield Drive in Dallas. He’ll challenge about 50 to 60 other climbers at the world championship in April. (Andy Jacobsohn - Staff Photographer)

Published March 11, 2016 By NANETTE LIGHT

In Mexico, Miguel Pastenes grew up climbing trees, watching from the perch his herd of goats below.

Decades later, things haven’t changed much. Except now, there are no goats, and the trees sometimes tower at 100 feet. Climbing the timber also is more sophisticated, involving a system of ropes, knots and clips. A chainsaw strapped to his saddle swings by his side.

“I feel free when I’m up there. But some people say I’m crazy,” he said.

Employed more than a decade by Wylie-based Arborilogical Services, Pastenes is the top-ranked professional tree climber in North America. He’s training to be the world’s best.

In September, Pastenes, 34, won the North American Tree Climbing Competition in Colorado. It was a first for a Texas climber. In April, he’ll compete at the International Tree Climbing Championship in San Antonio.

“I’ve been going to those competitions for years and always been doing my best,” Pastenes said of the North America competition. “Now, it was my time.”

Vicente Pena-Molina, another climber for Arborilogical Services, placed second in the Texas state competition. Pastenes is competing as the North American title winner, leaving Pena-Molina an international berth as the Texas qualifier.

About 50 to 60 climbers from around the world are expected to compete. Pastenes said the pressure for a home-state competitor to win makes him nervous. It’s been three decades since the international competition has been in Texas.

“I will do everything [I can] to finish in a good position,” said Pastenes, a Plano resident, after descending Thursday from a 100-foot pecan.

A helmet still strapped to his head, he’d been up in the tree all morning, balancing on a six-inch-wide limb and whacking off longer branches with his chainsaw. A gust of wind swayed the limb gently back and forth as the chainsaw roared and tree dust blew.

Competitors are tested on skills they use every day. They’re timed in speed climbs, rated on accuracy for hurling lines that guide their climb ropes, and critiqued on aerial rescues. It’s a chance for other climbers to watch the best in the industry.

Pastenes is part of a long lineage of champion climbers for the Wylie company. His boss, Steve Houser, helped organize the state games in the 1980s, and his employees have won the state competition for years.

“It’s not easy to be the state champion. You have to be very good at what you do, and he is,” Houser said.

Earlier last year, Pastenes won the Texas Chapter Tree Climbing Competition for the eighth time. His first win came only a couple of years after he started climbing professionally; before that, he built houses.

This isn’t Pastenes’ first run for the international title. In previous years, he’s ranked in the top ten. One year, he nearly broke a world record for speeding up a pecan tree in seconds.

The soft-spoken climber doesn’t like to brag about that.

“It’s my home up there,” he said.

About the author

Ms. Light is a staff writer for the Dallas Morning News.

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