Dare to

Dare to: Climb a tree

Updated: 2013-05-20T15:32:03Z

By LISA GUTIERREZ

The Kansas City Star

Call me chicken.

But after what I’d been through in recent weeks, I was not about to dangle 30 feet in midair tethered to a tree branch by a rope.

Even if the rope was strong enough to hoist a couple of Buicks off the ground.

And even if kindly Dan House, co-founder of Tree Climbing Kansas City, was holding the other end.

A few weeks ago I fell — somersaulted, actually — down my basement stairs and landed on my neck. It’s rather miraculous that I’m still around to write this story.

So go up in a tree? After that? Wasn’t. Going. To. Happen.

But 10-year-old Max Worth went up, with his 13-year-old sister Ingrid and their mom, Carla Aamodt.

They were in the tree when I arrived at Stagecoach Park in Olathe one sunny Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t hard to find the spot. A big sign read “Tree Climbing Today.”

There they all were, hanging out high above terra firma. Every now and then Ingrid would push herself off the trunk and fly from one branch to another.

Katniss Everdeen, eat your heart out.

This is not how we climbed trees as kids. “It’s a lot easier than you probably would guess,” says Aamodt, who went home with a couple of scrapes on her shins.

“It’s easier than rock climbing. It’s easier than climbing up on your own if you’re going to climb a tree in your backyard.”

House and his tree-loving friends, Becki Petersen and Stan Stalnaker, teach people how to climb the way arborists do. But what they do is recreational tree climbing.

They use ropes and comfy safety harnesses — “It’s not like hanging in those little thongs that the rock climbers wear,” House says — and teach climbers safety calls to alert those below of falling objects.

(If you hear “Headache!” don’t look up.)

The three friends started Tree Climbing Kansas City in 2005, following in the footsteps of Peter Jenkins, founder of Tree Climbers International. Jenkins, an arborist, started teaching people how to climb after fascinated clients asked to go up in the trees with him.

In 1983 Jenkins opened the world’s first recreational tree climbing school, using the same techniques he used as an arborist and a few he learned as a rock climber.

Kind to the trees, ropes and pulleys are attached to the limbs in special webbed sleeves that prevent wear on the bark.

“Everything has to be able to support 8,000 pounds minimum,” House says. “And by having the rope doubled, I can lift 16,000 pounds without worry of the rope breaking.”

The only physical requirement needed for pulling your way up from one rope knot to the next is that “you can do a push-up,” House says. “You don’t have to have any leg strength at all.”

From what I observed, it’s apparently hard to resist the urge to monkey around, to hang upside down, for instance. (“It’s good for your back,” House says.)

For the truly adventurous, House will set up a “tree boat,” or hammock, high in the limbs for a siesta with the squirrels.

In the trees, “you’re free from the ties of gravity, which is really therapeutic,” he says. “You’re in a living structure that moves in the wind, and animals come join you if you’re quiet. Squirrels. Birds.”

As he waxed on, I began to feel heavy, er, heavier. Earthbound.

I wanted to fly, but fear grounded me. All I could do was look up jealously at the climbers overhead, big smiles on their faces as they hung out in the wide, expansive fork of the tree — their “bark-o-lounger,” House joked.

Someday, I will climb.

But first, I should probably tackle the basement steps again.

To reach Lisa Gutierrez, call 816-234-4987 or e-mail lgutierrez@kcstar.com.

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