Into the trees

December 12, 2008

A view of Bowman Bayou from treetop. Photo courtesy Brandan Babineaux
A view of Bowman Bayou from treetop. Photo courtesy Brandan Babineaux

Climbing trees a rewarding experience for two locals

Brandan Babineaux climbs a tree at Bowman Bayou. Photo courtesy BIlly Johnson
Brandan Babineaux climbs a tree at Bowman Bayou. Photo courtesy Billy Johnson

When I was a child, tree climbing was a normal activity like baseball or riding a bike. It was not unusual to see a classmate wearing an arm cast as the result of a vertical expedition gone wrong. We built tree houses, explored the branches and rigged ropes in trees that we salvaged from the riverbank to make swings. Trees were large and strong and no one ever seemed to question why anyone would be in a tree in the first place.

I grew up just outside of New Orleans where the Mississippi River dispersed rich, silt- laden sediments that nourished huge live oak trees, pecans, willows and cypress. Large trees were plentiful and easy to find. Although exploring the woods was an adventure within itself, finding a climbing tree was as easy as walking to the vacant lot next door. It seemed that some trees were born to be climbed, begging for someone to explore the branches that doubled as rungs into the sky.

Billy Johnson up a tree. Photo courtesy Brandan Babineaux
Billy Johnson up a tree. Photo courtesy Brandan Babineaux

Childhood tree climbing appears to be a lost art, apparently yielding to video games, cell-phones and television. But for those who know the secrets of the trees, climbing has been being revived again and this is how I rediscovered trees.

I often find myself browsing the bookstores with no particular book in mind, but there are certain sections that I visit every time, and one of them is usually nature and outdoors. During one of my times exploring this category, I spotted ‘The Wild Trees’ by Richard Preston and was hooked. I read this fascinating account of tree botanists and amateur naturalists who study the rich canopy of Pacific Redwoods and Sitka Spruce trees for science and for fun. It didn’t take long for me to imagine once again, whether it was feasible or even reasonable to climb trees with a new purpose in mind. I began to research how modern tree climbing is done. The gear, the techniques, the knots, all designed to ascend the trees safely for the climber and the tree.

Recreational tree climbing uses ropes to ascend the tree. No spikes are used nor anything that can cause damage to any part of the tree. A small canvas throw bag weighted with shot pellets is tied to a length of nylon parachute cord. The bag is thrown around a target branch and then used to hoist the climbing rope. The climbing rope is fitted with a leather sleeve called a cambium saver which protects the branch from rope burn as the climber ascends.  Once the rope is set, the climber ties a special slip knot known as a Blake’s Hitch and clips into the rope via a climbing harness or saddle. The Blake’s Hitch functions the same way that a mechanical ascender does in that it freely moves up but locks in place when weighted by the climber. To descend, the climber merely squeezes the knot and a safely controlled descent is enjoyed.

When I began to explore the possibility of climbing I immediately thought of my friend Billy who shares a passion for nature and the outdoors as I do.  Billy is a seasoned rock climber and his experience would prove to be invaluable to our climbing.

After sharing this new sport with him I began to notice that there were some very large trees right here in Walton County if you look closely, trees which no man has planted. It was then that I started to get phone calls from Billy saying something like, “Man, I never noticed how many huge trees there are around here”. My response was something like, “I know, and we need to climb them.” After comparing tree sightings with each other, we decided on our first tree and we named her the Matriarch. It appears that most of these trees go largely unnoticed and unappreciated Some may be just a few steps off of a hiking trail, out of plain sight or standing watch over a lake for all to see. But because the trees are not in our normal line of sight they are mostly overlooked. When a tree is looked at for its climbing value, appreciation grows for them immensely.

We’ve just begun to explore this new vertical dimension and are trying to perfect our techniques, gear and safety practices. I plan to document our experiences and share them and what we learn in the near future with the readers.

If you are interested in recreational tree climbing, know that there are risks involved and instruction is recommended before climbing. Taking the necessary time and effort for safety and developing the proper skills will reward you with a great workout, time aloft and unique vistas.

There are many resources on the web that are very helpful.
For more information visit; www.treeclimbing.com or www.sherrilltree.com .
Click on rec. site and watch the short video.

About Brandan Babineaux:
Originally from a small town on the Mississippi River just outside of New Orleans, I have always been attracted to anything related to nature and the outdoors. Leaving my home town when I was 23, I came to the 30A area before it became what it is now, spending a lot of my time exploring the abundant forests, riverbanks, coastal lakes and undeveloped beaches. While much of my career has been spent in the resort/hospitality industry, I have always searched for activities, interests and hobbies that would keep me outside.

I continue to enjoy the area beaches, woods, waterways, and the natural beauty that surrounds us in so many ways. I enjoy cycling, climbing, hiking, camping, artifcact hunting, reading, photography and writing about anything that inspires me. My goal is to soon enjoy a new career that keeps me outside, continuing to discover and explore the natural wonders of our world every day.

Brandan can be reached via email at: brandanbabineaux@yahoo.com