Each year the University holds a Forestry Day to celebrate venerable forest arts, such as chopping things with axes, hacking things with saws, and dragging chop-hacked things about. But they also invite the tree climbers to come out and do demos. I felt sick last year, but still managed to set up a zip line. This year, though, I'm feeling pretty good and have all manner of plans!
The day begins early, with an 8:30AM bus to St. Paul for breakfast: pancakes, oranges, orange juice, sausages, real maple syrup. Then I head up to my office for a few hours of work trying to figure out the perennial grains problem.
Heading outside, I find Scott by the base of a tall elm. He tells me that the bur oaks I like to climb are at risk for disease this year, so we have a choice between these elm trees and a maple tree across the field. I look where he's pointing and see a short, many-branched tree that could just as easily be climbed by hand. We agree on the elm.
As Scott and I walk across campus—first to his car where we retrieve a pile of harnesses, lanyards, and other gear, and then to the forestry building for the ropes—he tells me that he's picked up an arborist job during the past year and has learned a lot: “I have so many things to show you!”
Back beneath the tree, Scott throws up a line and ascends single-rope to put up a few false crotches. He's switched to foot-locking since we've last climbed: a quick, but much more energy-intensive method of ascent. The day doesn't start too well for me. The crotch I aim for is probably sixty feet up with a small window that looks directly onto the sun; I'm throwing blind and keep missing. In the end, I get the shot I want, but then the throw bag becomes ensnared in one of the forbidden oaks.
Scott's gun off to class, so I ascend his rope, but my pants aren't well-suited to foot-locking and I end up with rope burn on both of my ankles as well as the more usual locations on my wrists. Satisfied with the climb, and slightly in pain, I descend. When I reach the bottom, Jessica—a SAFL employee taking a GIS course in Green Hall—is waiting. “Can I try?”
Well, that's what we're here for.
As Jessica comes back down, Scott returns and throws up a line to try to retrieve the throw bag. On the way, he sets up a few false-crotches for other ascents just as Cooper Robin shows up.
As Robin's ascending, Dr. Frelich walks by and asks if I'm going to climb. I explain that I have and I will. He looks up into the tree and says it's not for him, because he's too big. Then he pauses and tells me he has an even larger friend—Robert van Pelt—who spends a week at a time in redwoods doing research. I immediately want to visit this man.
As Robin reaches the lowest limbs of the tree, she hits a kind of wall where things are just too high, and comes back to the ground. I still feel that somewhat when I step off a limb, but my trust in the system, once I have verified its parts, has sunk a little deeper now and it is easy to climb and walk. Though Scott has far surpassed me in this regard: he climbs such that his support lines are almost horizontal before connecting a new lanyard.
As Robin gets back to the ground, Adam comes out of the ecology building and bravely gives it a go in flip flops.
He hits the same wall in practically the same spot. Perhaps the lower limbs form a kind of ceiling. After he descends, Scott and I work together to lump a bundle of knots, carabiners, pulleys, and ascends together into a 3-to-1 mechanical advantage system which allows me to essentially pull myself into the tree using only my arms. The disadvantage is that it takes forever. Once up, I switch to another of the many ropes we now have hanging around.
Scott follows me up…
…though he's getting a little tired at this point, having made so many trips, so getting up is a something of a trick.
Once up, we begin taking down the equipment.
We get back to the ground and Scott gives the last rope a tug which should bring all the equipment out of the tree. It coils in a hissing heap in front of us and we look up, surprised, to see a false crotch caught in the branches some fifty feet up. I'm not the only one having bad luck today!
Scott throws up another line and I make a jog to the student center. By the time I've returned with ice cream, he's ready to make the retrieval. It takes only a few minutes and then we pack up for the day.
It's only then that I realize it's 5PM, I've only had pancakes and ice cream, have three rope burns, a few bloody knuckles, and am sunburnt all over.
Just another day in the trees.