In March this year I was lucky enough to be enrolled on a Tree Climbing and Aerial Rescue course at Bridgwater College, Cannington. Running up to the course I was fortunate to have the support of a colleague Ben, from our ecological consultancy team, who already had his Tree Climbing qualification and is an experienced climber. He gave me a great deal of insight prior to the course, however, nothing could prepare me for the physical work that was involved! It goes without saying that an active course like this would not be easy and would involve strength, however even after learning Ben’s special arm training techniques, I still finished each day of the course with burning arms.
The course consisted of three sections; a 12 metre high tree climb with a 3 metre and 5 metre ‘branch walk’, aerial rescue using a rope tree climb and an aerial rescue using spikes. We had four days to master each of the sections before an assessment on the fifth day. Passing the course meant being able to complete all of these tasks efficiently and confidently... easier said than done!
The first couple of days were an emotional roller-coaster. I was so excited and filled with energy; however, I was also nervous. Standing at the bottom of the tree on the first day, listening to my instructor talking about this tiny knot that was going to hold all my weight and be the sole thing stopping me falling out of the tree, I remember looking up and thinking… seriously! Learning to put all of your trust in what is effectively a small piece of rope wrapped around another piece of rope, that I have just tied myself, was possibly the hardest hurdle to overcome.
Climbing the tree was physically exhausting, however once my muscles had warmed up it became much easier. Once I pushed past the physical exhaustion and learned to trust the ropes and my ability to tie the knots correctly, the whole experience became thoroughly enjoyable. Having full confidence in what I was doing enabled me to enjoy the experience, spending time at the top of the tree ‘hanging out’ and taking everything in. Soon tasks that seemed ‘crazy’ such as walking 5 metres out on a branch 10 metres off the ground, were an exciting challenge that I couldn’t wait to try.
On the fourth day I was taken out of my comfort zone once again. Another method of climbing known as ‘spiking’ was also part of the course. Although this method is generally only used by arboriculturalists when felling trees, it is a compulsory part of the course.
This involves using a wire flipline and climbing irons. Again, the biggest hurdle was to trust in the spikes, trust they will hold your weight and trust the wire flipline will catch you if the spikes slip. The spikes hold all your weight and are effective, so long as they are inserted into the tree securely. Sliding down the tree, I learned this the hard way!