Same But Different: Climbing Competitions vs Working a Tree
This blog was sparked by the conversations I’ve had with my peers in the tree care industry regarding the differences between competition climbing and actual live work scenarios. Neither form of climbing is superior, but they do have differences in objectives and style. Too often during competitions I hear others mock the climbers and say, "“I’d like to see them try that at the jobsite”!
What makes competition climbing so different from climbing an actual tree?
Tree Climbing Competitions
These are designed to be fun and competitive; I mean it’s in the name! Climbing competitions are designed to attract arborists and climbers of all skill sets, and tree enthusiasts to showcase techniques, agility, and safety skills in five preliminary events. Competitions are made to SIMULATE “real-world” scenarios, emphasizing the importance of safe and efficient tree climbing practices. Not to mention there are a series of people timing and scoring the challenge, last time I checked; no one is on the jobsite with a clipboard and timer… unless the safety guy is out hawking! However, the challenges may not reflect the exact tasks performed during routine maintenance.
In these comps, pressure builds up from being under the guise of the time limit set for each individual challenge, at least for me personally. Too many times I’ve goose-egged on the throw line event and the following day at work; I nail almost every single shot in one-to-three throws, unreal! Performance is not solely based on speed, at least not anymore. Just like everything around us changes, so do the rules and point system. You are judged on effective movement, verbal cues and in the case of Aerial Rescue, it’s almost as if you’re reading from a script while moving fluidly to the rescue dummy; hitting as many boxes as possible to score the most. The only time we check boxes at work, is when we’re up for evaluation.
Different Events at Climbing Competitions
If you aren’t familiar with the different events happening at climbing competitions, there's plenty to compete in! Not all of them are a simple race.
1. Ascent Events
Competitors are timed for setting up their life support, ascending up the rope to the set bell, and in changing over to descent. This event has sparked some controversy and I completely understand. A lot of people dislike the fact that we are timed while setting up our life support.
2. Work Climb Events
Competitors must hit each five pre-set stations and perform tasks such as, limb walking, limb toss, and using a pole saw correctly. This is the one of the main events where some make their comments. But you have to look at it like this: a group of volunteers have cleaned out the crown, chosen an ideal route to follow (with some curveballs), and most times, you are taken to the start position in an aerial lift. How many times have you climbed a tree that has been pre-trimmed before the actual trim!?
3. Throw line Events
I heard a saying that is proven true: Work climb is for the show, and throw line is for the gold! Competitors have six minutes to install two ropes in the two separate trees, with different difficulties set.
4. Aerial Rescue Events
Competitors must demonstrate their skill set in rescuing an “injured climber” while looking graceful and hitting those verbal cues. Definitely worth reading the rules!
5. Belayed Speed Climb Event
Competitors race up the tree while being belayed. This is probably the event I don’t care for as much. While some may argue that this is the only event where we actually scale the tree, I believe this should go and another event more relevant to the industry should take its place. I might get some flak for that but is what it is.
6. Master’s Challenge
Only the top 3-5 men and women in their division advance to this event. This is where we really get to showcase our skills. I still have nightmares from this event, choked super hard… This is the event that presents itself close to true live tree work.
Climbing During Tree Work
Refers to the practical, professional task involved in caring for trees. Arborists engage in tree work to maintain the health, safety, and enhance the aesthetics of the surrounding landscapes. The primary focus is on performing tasks such as pruning, trimming, planting, diagnosing and treating diseases, and assessing a tree’s stability. Nothing about ringing bells… hmm interesting!?!
So, what are the key aspects of tree work?
- Selective removal of specific branches to improve structure, promoting healthy growth, and reducing the potential hazards. Part of our job is also focused on shaping for aesthetics, although this is not the most desired task.
- Removing trees can range from simple to extremely time consuming and difficult. Rigging on its own should be imbedded into the competition somehow. From span rigging, double-whips, reave systems, blocking down wood, walking limbs… this IS hands down, where the adrenaline filled excitement comes in!
- Plant Health Care and Planting. That’s right, this is a part of our industry as well, whether you like it or not. It can be a daunting task, but it has to be done in order to be a well-rounded company.
It would seem that these three would be all that we do, however there is still more. While removals are the most glorified all-over social media, there is a lot more involved with the world of arboriculture and yes, it may yield the most in dollars, but wouldn’t you rather have repeat business as opposed to one-and-done?! Other avenues in arboriculture to consider, if you don’t already practice these, include cabling and bracing, consultations and assessments, along with research and education.
As you can see, tree work requires a combination of knowledge in biology, horticulture, engineering (rigging), and safety procedures. Arborists undergo continuous training, certifications, and continued education to ensure we can perform our tasks effectively while prioritizing the health and safety of both trees and people.
To me, both are same but different all at the same time. Both present their own unique challenges. Climbers that are interested in competitive climbing shouldn’t be discouraged, but rather encouraged. If you’re looking to ascend your climber to the next level, attending and participating in competitions may be the way to do it. If you’re not interested in competing, that’s fine as well! I understand that you work hard and bust your ass taking down those big nasties all week and you look forward to enjoying the weekend. Whichever way you look at it, they’re both on different levels!