Most tree climbers don't expect to climb in the snow in late April, but that's exactly what happened April 22-24 at the Blue Ridge Parkway Climb and Campout in Virginia that was hosted by Bob Wray and his Blue Ridge Tree Climbing. All climbers agreed it was a fun experience they will remember for years.
"It was cuddlin' weather," said Alice Lou, the 275-pound patron goddess of recreational tree climbers everywhere and part time grits chef and waitress extraordinaire from the Waffle House in Dahlonega, Ga. "Unfortunately, I couldn't stay long 'cause I forgot my double-wide tent and my special ultra-large climbin' harness."
Temperatures were in the upper 60s on Friday, when climbers began arriving at Wray's 50-acre grove of hardwoods and white pines on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Va. The overnight low never dropped below 50 degrees and was perfect for a spring campout. Cooler weather began to move into the area by mid-day Saturday and everyone woke up Sunday morning to find a light dusting of snow on their tents and the ground. Nearby mountain peaks got up to two inches of the white stuff.
Despite, or because of, the cooler-than-seasonal weather, every climber got in more climbs than normal and several managed to add new species of trees to their climbing logs.
It was the fourth time that Wray has hosted a climb at his farm, and the number of climbers has grown slightly each time. In addition to Wray and Alice Lou (who could only stay a few minutes at breakfast on Saturday morning before heading back south on her propane-powered Case forklift with her curly blonde tresses a-blowin' in the breeze) there were seven other climbers at the Spring event.
They included Jim Krumpelman from Ohio, Harry Barnhurst from Pennsylvania, Jim Wilcox and Jay Voronovitch from Virginia, Bill and Joe Maher from Georgia, and Tim Kovar from Atlanta to Omaha to Grants Pass, Ore. (and most points in between).
"There were several other people who'd planned to be here," Wray said, "but they looked at the weather forecasts for the weekend and some of them called and cancelled. I expect to see a lot of them at the fall campout and climb."
Wray, who recently formed Blue Ridge Treeclimbing as his recreational treeclimbing organization, said he expects to host the fall campout and climb in early October, when the autumn folliage is at its peak along the federally-protected Blue Ridge Parkway. He will announce the exact date later this summer.
Last weekend's climb actually started late Wednesday, when Jay Voronovitch arrived and set up his tent in the woods about a quarter mile from Bob's house. Bob didn't realize Jay (also known as Kernsloth and Jbird on several treeclimbing message boards) had arrived, so he left the farm for most of the day on Thursday. Harry, who had the longest drive of all the climbers, got there early Friday after driving most of the night from the Philadelphia area.
The Maher brothers arrived about two hours later and found the others high up in various trees. All of the early climbers managed to get in at least two climbs before dark on Friday. Tim Kovar, who got there in mid-afternoon, managed to join Harry (who had been his student three years earlier) for one climb. Jim Wilcox and Jim Krumpelman both arrived before dark and got their tents set up before joining the crowd around the huge campfire.
The tree climbing stories -- and maybe a few good "whopper-type" lies -- were soon enthralling everybody, while the campfire flames danced and reflected off the surrounding trees and rhododendron thickets. Jay made everybody's night when he served up a hot dessert he'd cooked a few minutes earlier on his campfire.
Tim demonstrated several pieces of climbing equipment and a prototype climbing harness from New Tribe Inc. that he helped design.
Saturday morning started with everyone gathered around the kitchen/dining tent for the brief but inspirational visit from Alice Lou, then they headed off in a half dozen directions to find new climbing trees. Several of the less-experienced climbers teamed up with the more experienced ones to learn new techniques.
After a quick lunch, everybody headed back out into the woods for their second (or third, in some cases) climb of the day.
Bob hosted his now-famous "Tree Climber's Banquet" after dark at his house (across a large meadow from the campsite). It was a feast to be remembered -- big bowls of boiled shrimp, steaming hot baked potatoes by the dozen, fresh oven-baked bread, hot vegetables, various cheeses, and lots of salsas and dips for the chips and crackers. Jay then served perfectly grilled tuna steaks, which he'd personally caught on a recent saltwater fishing expedition.
The group then watched a National Geographic film on tree canopy research in the rainforests and cloudforests of Central America that was titled "Heroes of the High Frontier."
Everybody slept late Sunday morning (maybe due to the the extreme exercise of the previous day, the big dinner and the late-night drinks) and woke up to find their tents and the surrounding woods covered with a light dusting of snow. The big pots of coffee and hot chocolate were the main breakfast attractions, and everybody was soon gathered again around the roaring campfire to map out the next treeclimbing gathering.
After hikes into the woods to check out various climbing trees and to retrieve throwlines and other equipment left around the 50-acre private forest, the group began to pack up. Harry, with the longest drive, was the first to leave. The others stalled until lunchtime, then slowly began their trips toward their homes. The Spring 2005 Blue Ridge Parkway Climb was over.