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36th Annual Texas Tree Climbing Championship

Arborilogical Services competes and volunteers at 36th Annual Texas Tree Climbing Championship
The Masters' Challenge competitors check out the tree prior to beginning. Photo by Joe Lawton.

Published June 1, 2018 By JIM DOSSETT / IN THE SHADE


The ISA Texas chapter hosted its 36th annual Texas Tree Climbing Championship May 18-19 at a new location– Getzendaner Park in Waxahachie. Getzendaner is a beautiful park with huge bur oaks, pecans, red oaks, cedar elms, and even an occasional black walnut. Much like the competition it hosted, the park had a sampling of the best Texas has to offer.

Chapter volunteers arrived in Waxahachie on Tuesday to begin preparing the park for the competition–pruning the massive trees and setting up a challenging and exciting course to test the mettle of the state’s best climbers along with several out-of-state competitors. On Thursday, the chapter hosted a bilingual workshop on stationary rope climbing systems. Led by Phil Kelly and Carlos Rodriguez of North American Training Solutions, the class focused on how to get the most out of the latest techniques and devices to make the work of production arborists safer and more efficient.

The event kicked off on Thursday night at the gear check where all the competitors brought their gear to be checked for safety. For our volunteers, who began their day at 7am, the 5-9 pm gear check capped off an exhausting but fruitful day.

The preliminary events began early Friday morning, and competitors and volunteers alike worked diligently to have a safe and exciting competition. Over the years, those of us who have volunteered have grown accustomed to seeing the same determined faces working their hardest to be crowned champion. This year, however, it was equally exciting to see a new crop of Texas climbers. Our industry continues to grow in the state and continues to attract some of the toughest, most talented men and women Texas has to offer. Seeing them gather at the championship was proof positive of the values that continue to persist in our industry–toughness, determination, a dedication to mastering our craft, and, above all, a commitment to safety.

The course this year was as exciting as the competition. The work climb was in an 80-plus-foot pecan that tested the competitors before they even rang the starting bell, which was located 70 feet in the crown of the tree. Designed to be a fast, compact climb, the event showcased the competitors’ skill and we saw some incredible climbs.

The belayed speed climb, a mad 50-foot scramble, is a true test of sheer determination and stamina. This beautiful bur oak climb, conceived and put together by longtime speed climb head judge Chris Brewer, was one of the toughest and most exciting we have seen.

This year's work climb tree was a massive pecan. Photo by John Giedraitis.

2017 TTCC Champion Jimmy Prichard is ready to climb. Photo by John Giedraitis.

The ascent event was new to TTCC this year. Here Keith Cooper demonstrates that his know it secure for judges AJ Thibodeaux and Guy LeBlanc. Photo by John Pinney.

The new techniques and devices taught at the workshop were on display in the competition as well. The new ascent event, which has replaced the footlock event, was a hit as climbers used myriad systems to outpace each other in a grueling 63-foot climb. In the end, the victor in the new event was Jimmy Prichard, with a blistering time of just over 17 seconds! A special shout-out to the ascent team is warranted; running a new event is a true challenge, and its success is a testament to the intelligence and dedication of the entire team. In particular, AJ Thibodeaux (head judge) and Guy LeBlanc (head technician) ran a tight ship and set the bar high for future events.

Once again, the championship saw a growing women’s division, with Star Quintero and Amanda Hancock returning to compete, and newcomer Tiana George joining the fray. All three had an excellent outing with Star finishing the preliminaries in fifth place overall! It has been a pleasure to watch these women compete and become stronger climbers every year.

Kirbie Houser and Kirsten Schneider once again led the scoring team and their contribution cannot be overstated. The event literally would not happen without the amazing work they do.

At the end of Friday, the scores were tallied, and the competitors who would advance to the Masters’ Challenge were announced. In the men’s division, Miguel Pastenes and Jimmy Prichard returned to the ring along with newcomers to the Masters’ Challenge Keith Cooper and Andrew Machuca. In the women’s division, Star Quintero and Amanda Hancock were set to challenge each other and the course.

The Masters’ Challenge was held in a spectacular bur oak and challenged the competitors not only with height, but also with an equally intimidating spread Low rope angles, long limb walks, few good tie-in points, and a thick canopy put all of their skills to the test in a 25-minute and 30-second crucible.

Miguel Pastenes had a beautiful climb and finished with just a few spare minutes while Jimmy Prichard had one of the most nail-biting finishes in recent memory. Hitting the ground with just thirty seconds to spare, it looked like he would get in just under the wire when the line he was retrieving tied itself hopelessly around a branch, running out the clock. Fortunately for the Masters’ team, Judge Nicolas Martinez was able to use his impressive throwline skills to untie the rope from the ground! Keith and Andrew had excellent runs as well, showcasing their increasing skills.

Both Star and Amanda worked the tree hard and had impressive runs also, timing out before finishing the course but showing the assembled crowd what talented and determined climbers they have become.

Top finishing out-of-state competitor Ephraim Taylor also showcased his skill on the course. As a past competitor on American Ninja Warrior, Ephraim was a joy to watch and had a nail-biting run as well, running out of time just before ringing the final bell.

In the end, it was Miguel and Star who took home the top honors this year. With impressive preliminary rounds and skillful Masters’ performances, their victories were hard-earned and well deserved!

Matthew Klippstein explains the rules of the Husqvarna chain saw competition. Photo by John Giedraitis.

This year, competitors, volunteers, and spectators were entertained by Bandsaw at an after party hosted by Howard Gee and TFS Urban Forester Mike Sills of Waxahachie. Photo by Micah Pace.

This year, the Spirit of the Competition award went to Star Quintero in recognition of her positive attitude, dedication to her craft, focus on safety, and her selfless optimism throughout the competition. Star truly embodies what this event is all about!

Volunteer of the Year was awarded to Kirsten Schneider in recognition of her years of volunteer service and her tireless dedication to the event.

The Climbing Championship is the chapter’s biggest event focused solely on climbers and it continues to be an amazing experience for those who compete, volunteer, and come to cheer the climbers on.

Two years after taking the reins of the event from the venerable Kevin Basset and Guy LeBlanc, Markus Smith and I have once again walked away with pride from a safe and exciting event with a renewed drive to provide the climbers of Texas one of the premiere championships in the world.  

Each contestant was required to have his gear checked the night prior to the competition. Photo by John Giedraitis.

About the author

In the Shade

In the Shade is the newsletter of the International Society of Arborists (ISA) Texas Chapter.

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