Outdoors: Tree Climbing

July 26 2013, 12:00 PM

I’m dangling 30 feet off the ground in a stately old cottonwood nicknamed Skot’s Tree in Littleton’s South Platte Park. Climbers are similarly hooked to ropes on my right and left. From afar, we probably look like yo-yos ascending and descending the five lines slung over various branches.  

“I feel like a squirrel,” a nearby 13-year-old boy says.

“Woodpecker,” says the 7-year-old girl to my right.

“It’s like a roller coaster!” my 9-year-old daughter shouts as she takes a huge pendulum swing courtesy of an instructor below.

I’m going with monkey.

I ended up in this tree courtesy of Harv “Ponderosa” Teitelbaum, one of the leading recreational tree climbers in the country and president of the Global Organization of Tree Climbers. These gravity defiers have turned the childhood thrill of clambering up trunks into a higher—and safer—adventure. Teitelbaum explores forests and trees around the world, but he hosts beginner recreational climbs like this one around the Denver area from April through November through his company, Tree Climbing Colorado.

Though I feel free and relaxed up here in the canopy, climbing up the branches is inchworm-like. After clipping my harness into a top rope, I stand on rope foot loops, slide the “magic knot” (which I’m hooked to) up the rope, sit down into my climbing harness to take the weight off my feet, and then slide the “red knot” upward to raise my foot loops up the rope—then repeat the sequence again and again. It’s awkward at first, but once you get into a rhythm, you move pretty quickly.

About 10 minutes later I reach the tree’s crown. It feels like another world—peaceful and sheltered. I stand on a wide horizontal branch and try to keep my balance against a cool breeze. It’s feels like I’m surfing in the sky. I look over the bike path below to Cooley Lake across the South Platte River. Beyond that, storm clouds are brewing over Mount Evans. After 10 or 15 minutes, I decide to return to terra firma and rappel back down. Back on the ground I feel like I have to reorient my balance. Teitelbaum says I’ve got my tree legs.

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Tips: Check the calendar at treeclimbingcolorado.com for a list of open climbs along the Front Range. Plan a summer or early fall excursion to enjoy the leaf cover.

Cost: Prices vary by location but average around $35 for two-and-a-half hours.