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From the top
New course has children, adults branching out
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Climbers hang like spiders from a large oak tree during a recent tree-climbing course at the Sawnee Mountain Preserve. - photo by Lara Moore

tree climbing video LM 7-18

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Their reasons for hoisting themselves 50 feet in the air were as many and varied as the tree branches themselves.

Some signed up for the tree-climbing course earlier this month at Sawnee Mountain Preserve for the exercise. Others just wanted their kids to try something new.

Cindy Conner enrolled her son so he wouldn’t get stuck anymore.

“He wanted to (come), but the main reason is he already climbs trees in our front yard and sometimes I have to rescue him,” she said of Matthew Stewart, a fourth-grader at Chattahoochee Elementary School.

“But he’s already a climber, I just thought I could fill his dreams of climbing a big tree safely,” Conner said.

She pointed to her son, a blond who had worked himself nearly 16 feet off the ground, panting hard under his lime green T-shirt.

This was no ordinary tree-climbing session. Ropes suspended from branches as high as 70 feet in the air allowed “climbers” to pull themselves as high as they liked.

Matthew Conner was one of about 20 climbers who used body harnesses attached to a rope system.

One of the adult climbers was Scott Satori. He was there with his daughter, but wanted a solid workout.

“I’m hooked,” said Satori after his first trip to the top of the massive oak tree.

 He asked the climb instructors to attach him to a higher branch so he could swing around.

“I smoked for 18 years … and now I’ve started exercising,” said Satori, who quit smoking several months ago. “This is cool. It’s a different way to exercise.”

His daughter, Sydney, was just as fearless, “going down Aussie style,” which means gliding down her rope upside down, or face first, like a superhero.

Climbing doesn’t require strength so much as it does a little flexibility. Participants sit back in the harness and use their leg muscles to hoist themselves up using an adjustable foot loop.

A friction knot about head high was used to help secure the harness to the rope.

Few adult climbers encountered problems. For those that did, they were just having trouble getting their feet into the foot loops and positioning their legs. Everyone has to wear a helmet.

One of the instructors, Jeff Newman, said the rope system is the same kind arborists in the U.S. Forestry Service use. It’s the least damaging to the tree.

Sometimes instructors would grin while helping a kid into the ropes. “Get ready for a wedgie,” they would say.

Lead instructor Bill Maher was Vietnam veteran who first leaned climbing techniques in the military.

He said just about anybody can take the course, which even has special needs accommodations.

"We can take an entire wheelchair up that tree,” Maher said, adding that prior arrangements are required for special-needs climbers.

The course is a good way to break in people afraid of heights.

“It’s safe because you are in a secured position, being secured in a harness, on a rope on a tree, going up one foot at a time,” Newman said.

“… Invariably, every climb, there will be somebody that will say ‘I’m afraid of heights.’”

At least, that is, until they’ve tried the tree climbing.