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Climbing In The Wild

Author: bmaher
Date: November 19, 2003
Getting Out Of The Neighborhood Park: Tips and Ethics for Wilderness Treeclimbers

"Risk is implicit in all backcountry recreation. It is naturally present and is a desirable feature of the backcountry. While the (forest ranger) should work to educate users about the risks involved in backcountry use, it is not his or her responsibility to eliminate those risks." -- Laura and Guy Waterman, Wilderness Ethics: Preserving the Spirit of Wildness.

This chapter is written for the adventurous treeclimber who dares to find and climb the biggest, tallest and wildest tree in the forest, that tree which towers above all others and has an uncomparable view of the world from way up high.

However, if you still think of trees as outdoor gymnasiums (most of us were that way in the beginning) and you just want to have fun while demonstrating your new-found skills for fellow climbers and the general public, then you need to stay a while longer in that big oak in the neighborhood park. You haven't done anything wrong; it's just that you need to calm down a little more to be appreciated in Mother Nature's most holy sanctum.

If you have calmed down, then read on! This could be your introduction to the world of wilderness treeclimbing.

But, before you toss your harness and rope in a backpack and hike off into the backcountry, ask yourself three questions: First, do you have the skills to travel, climb and camp in the wilderness? Second, do you know where you can climb without interference from forest rangers and other visitors to the great outdoors? Third -- and most important -- do you understand the rules and ethics of the wild world that lies out there, well beyond the last mile of paved highway and the end of the last power line?

If you can't answer yes to all three questions, don't despair. That knowledge and those skills can be learned through experience and practice. All you need is to team up with other experienced climbers who already know their way around the backcountry.

In fact, team climbing is a great way to safely practice your new skills, enjoy the companionship of like-minded people, and share ideas on new or revised climbing techniques.

Eventually, though, you may either become a leader who guides others into the wilderness or you will strike out on your own as a solo climber. You then will need to master many of the skills of the great outdoors.

Since you're reading this, it's assumed you already have enough treeclimbing skills on both double rope and single rope, along with the right climbing equipment, to make it to the upper branches of many wild trees, even if you need a little help at first from others who have already been there. This chapter will not focus on climbing techniques, but on other outdoor skills and ethics.

Wilderness hiking and survival

The first step in planning a wilderness treeclimbing adventure is to make sure you can get to the climbing site to enjoy your ascent, then make a safe return. A first aid course, at a minimum the one offered by various chapters of the American Red Cross, is a top priority for wilderness travelers. Later on, you might want to take the first-responder course and maybe a wilderness first-responder course.

Another necessary tool is wilderness navigation. If you have a compass and can find north on it, and if you can read a simple map, then you already have a good start. Find north and orient the top of your map in that direction. Find your present location or startiing point on the map, then locate your probable destination. With just a little practice you should be able to plot a reasonable route to the climbing tree.

There are plenty of books and instructional manuals on the market and at public libraries on map reading and navigation by compass. Many parks and recreational areas around the country also have classes on maps and compasses that often are inexpensive or free. As you become more skilled, it gets easy to understand even the most detailed topographical maps.

Navigational aides like GPS (global positioning satellite) receivers are wonderful tools, but they require batteries that eventually die and they can be inaccurate beneath heavy canopy or in deep canyons, where they have trouble receiving signals from the various satellites. They also are easily damaged or broken. GPS should never be used in place of a map and compass, but only as an additional aide.

Imagine for a moment that you are making a difficult off-trail trek through wild mountains, bushwacking your way to a spot where a friend previously found a great climbing tree. You're not worried because the GPS receiver hanging from your belt is constantly plotting the course and will instantly show your return route. You find the tree, enjoy a wonderful climb into its topmost branches, then descend and start the five-mile hike across country to your car. Suddenly you realize the GPS is dead; somehow smashed between your climbing harness and the tree. You're not worried, though, because you hiked in from that direction over there, right?

After a quarter-mile or so, you're not so sure. The terrain doesn't look familiar, the slope you climbed enroute to the tree isn't here, and the big rocks aren't off to the right like they're supposed to be. Uh, oh! It's gonna be dark in three hours and you might be lost! The map and compass you left in the car sure would be handy right now.

With a map and compass, you would not be completely lost because you would have a general idea of your location and a reasonably accurate direction to the nearest road, highway or community.

It's time to halt, calm down and wait for common sense to replace the fear. The vast majority of lost hikers are able to safely rescue themselves after only a few minutes of rational thinking. It avoids the embarassment of having to be led out of the woods by a grumpy old forest ranger who probably will treat you like a small child, and it eliminates the expense of a search and rescue.

According to the National Park Service, the average backcountry search and rescue in 1999 (the most recent year for available data) cost about $23,000 for manpower, helicopters and other equipment, and restoring any landscape damaged by rescue vehicles.

However, if you decide you're truly and thoroughly lost, there are three things you should immediately do -- particularly if the weather is cold or wet.

First, force yourself to stop walking! The best thing is to either stay right where you are or move only a few hundred yards to the nearest clearing in the forest. Searchers are like hunters; it's a whole lot easier for them to hit a target that's sitting still. Make a lot of noise by singing, or use a hollow log for a makeshift bass drum. If you carried a whistle with you, loudly blow it from time to time. Be prepared to signal your location to a search team or rescue aircraft.

Hopefully, you let a responsible person know where you were going, where you planned to park, the route you planned to hike, the general location of the climbing area, and the time you expected to return. This not only cuts down on the rescue time, but it narrows the area to be searched and the number of rangers needed for that search.

And remember that walking, particularly while panicked, increases sweat which can soak your inner clothing and in cold weather can lead to hypothermia.

Second, seek shelter! Of the body's four basic requirements -- food, water, shelter, warmth -- shelter from the wind and weather is the most crucial in cold weather. Hypothermia begins when the body temperature falls below 95 degrees and is characterized by uncontrolable shivering and diminished reasoning ability. It kills not so much by temperature as by windchill. An average human can survive for many hours at 32 degrees while wearing only modest clothing, but the survival time can drop to only one hour in just a 10 mph wind at that temperature. Southern climbers are particularly vulnerable due to wild temperature extremes in winter. Outside Alaska, according to statistics compiled by Lt. Mike Tuttle, president of the National Association for Search and Rescue and quoted in the Februrary 2003 issue of Field & Stream magazine, the top states for hypothermia death are Virginia, New Mexico and Arizona.

Preferably, the shelter should be in the least windy place. Avoid hilltops and creek bottoms or valleys because cold air normally circulates most freely in those places. The best place usually is about halfway up the leeward side of a slope, so the hillside can protect you from the wind.

Shelters don't need to be elaborate. Many treeclimbers carry a small tarp which they spread out beneath their climbing tree for equipment. This tarp makes an excellent windbreak and tent, and can also work as additional emergency clothing. Several layers of pine, cedar or spruce branches, when stacked against a large tree, high rock or dirt bank, also will make a reasonably adequate shelter. The smaller the shelter, the more likely it is to trap your body heat and keep you warm. Dry leaves will make an adequate but somewhat itchy "emergency blanket."

Third, make a fire! We don't recommend starting a fire in the backcountry in warm or dry weather, due to its danger. But, if you do have to light one for wintertime warmth and for signaling rescuers, make sure it is small and well contained with a ring of rocks and that you can easily and thoroughly extinguish it to prevent a forest fire. A few live -- or green -- branches from a pine, cedar or spruce that are tossed on a fire often will produce a thick cloud of smoke that may be visible for several miles.

Matches for starting a fire are good, but butane lighters that have an adjustable flame and are fairly windproof work even better. In wet weather, start off a fire by using either thin wood shavings or the tiny dry twigs found near the bases of pines, cedars and spruces. If you think a fire is needed, do it before the coldest weather sets in; it's a whole lot easier and healthier to stay warm than to warm yourself up after getting chilled.

That's enough about emergency stuff in the backcountry. Now let's concentrate on how to make your treeclimbing expeditions both fun and rewarding.

Your first expedition into the wilderness probably should be just a day trip or a brief one-nighter, and should follow established and well-marked trails. And the camping equipment and food should be simple but efficient. Most reputable outdoor shops can advise you on what's needed, but don't let them talk you into spending a lot of money on stuff you're not sure you'll want or use. Some shops will rent out camping equipment, or have used equipment they'll sell for a fraction of the price of new stuff. (This does not extend to your treeclimbing equipment, since it is generally illegal and unethical to sell used climbing equipment that could result in failure, and injure or kill the purchaser.)

If possible, get equipment recommendations from other, experienced backcountry treeclimbers. Some might even loan you a backpack or tent to try, before you spend money on a new one.

(Note: A typical load for a treeclimbing day trip includes an external frame backpack, a 150-foot lightweight rope, harness, three carabiners, throwline, first-aid kit, lunch, a couple of liters of water, compass, map, cigarette lighter and whistle. This sample load, using the Yates sportline climbing rope and the lightweight Ness harness from New Tribe, weighed just a couple of ounces over 22 pounds. Gear for an overnight trip, including a small tent, extra meals and cooking utensils, sleeping bag and pad, and Treeboat, added another 18 pounds to the load.)

After just two or three trips into the backcountry, you will figure out what is needed and what isn't. It often surprises many hikers/treeclimbers when they find out how little equipment is actually necessary.

Weight is usually the biggest factor. Beginners should tote packs which weigh no more than one-fifth of their body weight. Experienced hikers should carry no more than one-fourth of their body weight, and physically rugged experts should not exceed one-third of their body weight.

When packing for a treeclimbing expedition, keep asking yourself questions like: "Do I really need that fourth carabiner? Should I use ascenders or just lightweight footloops with prussik knots for SRT climbs? Do two dehydrated dinners weigh less than one can of beef stew?" Remember, every extra ounce can feel like a whole pound after just a couple of miles of strenuous hiking!

Once you've reached the climbing area you should set up a base-camp tent on level and well-drained ground, even if you plan to sleep in a Treeboat or Portaledge or on some other lightweight sleeping platform. The tent will provide a reasonably safe haven in case of heavy rain or storm.

When you've completed the climb and are ready to head home, leave nothing behind. A littered campsite invites unwanted attention from forest rangers, it angers other forest visitors, and can make it more difficult to climb again in that area.

Most of the time, the best way back to your parking spot or starting point is the same way you hiked into the forest -- just retrace your route. As you become more experienced with maps, compasses and backcountry hiking, you may want to try different routes to and from the climbing tree.

At home, take the time right away to clean, repair and dry out all equipment, and to make a list of things you forgot. You should pay particular attention to the first aid kit, and immediately replace any supplies used from it. If you put off those chores to the next day there's a better than even chance they won't get done.

The best places to climb in the forest

Most climbers say they are looking for three things on a good wilderness trip: A tree that challenges their skill, a tree that has a great view, and a tree where they can enjoy the peace and quiet of the forest. It helps if all three can be found in the one perfect tree that probably is going to be hard to find without hiking off into the densest stretch of woods and looking up every few steps. (A favorite of climbers in the Atlanta and north Georgia areas is a gigantic tulip poplar named Marilyn that is just 60 yards from a dirt forest service road but completely invisible from the road and surrounded by a rhododendron thicket. Many climbers have walked within a few dozen feet of the tree and haven't spotted it.)

Knowing where to find the best climbing trees, and where you can climb without interference from forest rangers and other visitors to the backcountry, is the second step in wilderness treeclimbing. This assumes that you're climbing on public-owned land. If you're on private land, then we strongly recommend you get permission from the landowner to avoid serious trespassing charges.

Fortunately, most wilderness and backcountry climbing is done on federal- or state-owned land, where permission often is not needed.

There are no specific federal laws that prohibit recreational treeclimbing with ropes, particularly when there is no harm to the tree ("But I'd better not catch you using spikes on these trees," said one ranger). Climbers should be aware, though, that some public lands have local regulations due to specific conditions. For example, so many inexperienced rock climbers have been expensively rescued from a backcountry cliff just a couple of hours north of Atlanta that the district ranger now arrests anyone caught in the area with climbing equipment, and confiscates their equipment.

And, just because there's no specific law against treeclimbing, that doesn't mean you are free from arrest. John Routon, a retired deputy sheriff who is a master treeclimbing instructor, has pointed out that any experienced law enforcement officer or ranger can find a lot of different ways to charge someone who's been climbing trees if he or she thinks it is necessary.

The climber who wanders into a crowded national or state park on a Saturday morning in an orange arborist T-shirt, wearing a harness with a pruning saw hanging from it, is going to attract unwelcome attention. If the climber walks up to the nearest sequoia or redwood, fires a line into the topmost branches and begins an ascent directly over a popular hiking trail, then he or she has shown a complete lack of respect for the other visitors and has immediately made it more difficult for other treeclimbers to be accepted by the public and the rangers. And he or she probably will have to pay a stiff fine in state or federal court.

If enough climbers show this kind of disrespect, federal officials will make a law against treeclimbing. It is every treeclimber's responsibility to make sure that the non-climbing public doesn't become the anti-climbing public.

The best way to stay on the good side of rangers and other forestry officials is to practice the principle of respect at all times. This is done by showing respect to your climbing tree, the wilderness around you, fellow climbers, other visitors to the forest, and the rangers who have the often difficult task of keeping it safe and clean for everybody. If a ranger tells you to stop doing something (even if you know you're right) then follow his or her orders as quickly as you can safely do it. Once you've stopped, then politely ask for an explanation. The ranger, particularly on a busy weekend, might not have time right then to fully outline his or her objections to your activity, but should be willing to set up an appointment to discuss it at a later time. Most rangers are willing to work with outdoor recreationalists who approach problems in a professional manner.

Of course, if you are really climbing in a wilderness area where you're well off the beaten path, the chances of meeting a forest ranger are slim. Most have too much work to do to routinely patrol every remote corner of the backcountry. They likely will confront you only if other forest visitors complain about your activity.

Treeclimbers should learn the differences between the various kinds of federal- and state-owned public lands, and know that each has its own set of rules.

The most restrictive areas for treeclimbers are usually national parks and state parks. Nationally, these are run by the National Park Service, a branch of the Department of the Interior. Park Service rangers are primarily involved in providing large numbers of visitors with the opportunity to safely view nature up close. State parks generally have similar missions and are normally run by rangers with attitudes similar to their federal counterparts. Many of these parks have regulations which require that people stay on designated hiking trails and in designated areas. Any unusual activity -- tree climbing is definitely one of those -- is immediately stopped because they fear it might harm someone or interfere with another visitor's enjoyment of the outdoors.

Second are national and state day-use historic sites, battlefields and monuments. On the federal level, these are also run by the National Park Service and are generally too small or too crowded for enjoyable treeclimbing activities. The regulations at many of these sites are similar to those in national parks.

Next down the list are national and state wildlife refuges, where any activity that disturbs wildlife is generally discouraged. Nationally, these refuges are run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is a separate branch of the Department of the Interior, but it cooperates closely with the National Park Service and with the Agriculture Department's U.S. Forest Service. Small groups of two to four people who climb in out-of-the-way areas likely would be ignored by rangers unless they become destructive or noisy, or pose a real or perceived threat to wildlife or other visitors. Many wildlife refuges have strict limits on the number of daily visitors, and permits may be needed before you can legally venture into the backcountry.

The least restrictive areas for treeclimbers are national and state forests. National forests are run by the U.S. Forest Service, a branch of the Department of Agriculture that was formed in 1905. The mission statement of the Forest Service, updated in 1960, says " National Forests shall be administered for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes. This administration must be carried out in a way that provides the achievement and maintenance in perpetuity of a high level annual or regular periodic output of the various renewable resources without impairment of the productivity of the land."

State forests are usually run by the various forestry commissions in each state. The rangers in both national and state forests are primarily involved in fire and pest protection for the trees, although some have been designated to work with the various visitors to the forests.

There are two types of national forests, and treeclimbers should be aware of their differences.

The first type of national forest is the kind that is managed for the normal production of timber and pulp. These areas are usually served by well-maintained logging roads and they have generally loose regulations that allow a wide range of recreational activities for visitors. Professional guides are allowed to lead groups into most national forests, and people are generally allowed to camp anywhere except in areas specifically posted for no camping. Many national forests are also managed as wildlife management areas for hunting.

The second type of national forest is the designated wilderness area. Most roads into designated wilderness areas have been closed off and allowed to grow up, motorized vehicles are prohibited, logging is generally not allowed, and commercial activities such as professional guide services are not allowed. Backcountry camping is generally allowed, except in areas specifically posted for no camping. Hunting is allowed in some wilderness areas on specific days.

State forests generally have rules and regulations similar to the national forests.

Treeclimbers have found that most rangers in national forests and state forests usually get along very well with visitors who respect the regulations and the rights of other visitors.

Some of those other visitors are hunters and fishermen. Although many people do not think the taking of wildlife is ethical, it is legal just about everywhere in North America. And the fees they pay for hunting and fishing licenses amount to many milliions of dollars each year that are used for conservation projects, trail maintenance, protection from forest fires, wilderness safety programs, and the purchase of more wilderness areas. It was mentioned earlier in this chapter that the average backcountry search and rescue costs about $23,000 -- a lot of that money comes from those hunting and fishing fees.

In fact, the treeclimber who has a valid hunting or fishing license, depending on the season, has a great excuse when a ranger asks what he or she is doing out in the woods. "I'm scouting this area for my hunting (or fishing) group" might be a little white lie, but it sounds a whole lot more sensible to the ranger than "I'm gonna climb that big ol' hemlock spruce over there!"

Suggested ethics for treeclimbers

Wilderness is, according to the U.S. Forest Service, "a location for renewal of mind and spirit. This rejuvenation is more than what might occur from simply redrawing or escaping from urban pressures. What makes the wilderness experience unique is the tranquility, peace and silence to be found (there) and the opportunity it affords for contemplation."

But without rules and ethics, even the most remote stretch of backcountry can become as trashy, noisy and unhealthy as a Paris street corner when the French garbage collectors are on strike. Almost every hiker has come across the rusty refrigerators, oily engine blocks and ripped sofas that have been wantonly discarded in the middle of the night beside forest service roads. Most campers, at one time or another, have been awakened at 3 a.m. by carloads of drunken teenagers. And nearly everybody has come across the occasional campsite so badly littered that nobody else would want to camp there.

Those are just a few of the reasons why we have to follow rules, why many organizations and agencies have to develop lists of ethics, and why the government has to hire extra forest rangers.

Rules, it has been said many times, are what you follow when other people are watching; ethics are what you follow when nobody is watching. And a major part of any wilderness ethic is wilderness etiquette.

Edward Abbey, a conservation writer and outdoor ethicist in the mid-1960s, puts it this way: "We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our (forests) with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places."

If Abbey is right, and most wilderness visitors think he is, then we owe it not just to ourselves but to all of humanity to follow some rules of conduct when visiting Mother Nature's most holy sanctum.

Here are a few ethical tips compiled from lists by the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, other organizations, and other treeclimbers. They include general tips for all forest and backcountry users, and specific tips for recreational treeclimbers.

All tips are centered around the no-trace ethic so future visitors can experience the same beauty, peace and quiet that you enjoyed. No one wants to do more damage than a favorite spot in the forest can stand.

1. Plan ahead to minimize impact! Avoid holidays and popular weekends. Treeclimbing usually isn't much fun when there are large crowds using the forest and adjacent recreational areas.

2. Limit your group size! The U.S. Forest Service recommends six or fewer as the optimim number of people in the backcountry, and the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society both suggest eight. Actually, many areas can handle more people if they're careful. Treeclimbing groups should use common sense to determine the number of people their climbing area can handle, and large groups could easily be split into several smaller teams that climb in widely scattered trees.

3. Pack it in, pack it out! Do not leave even one piece of litter in the forest or at parking areas. In fact, treeclimbers can score a few points with rangers by cleaning up the occasional mess left behind by previous visitors to the forest.

4. Minimize your impact on the forest! Wear clothing that blends with the terrain or woods, avoid loud noises and shouting (two-way radios work well with treeclimbers), follow existing trails when possible and avoid trampling bushes and other undergrowth. Walk single-file in the center of the trail and try not to kick up dirt and stones.

5. Avoid over-camping in an area! Most wilderness campsites will return to normal in just a few months if they're not overused. Pick a site that's invisible from popular trails and other camping parties, and camp at least 25 feet from natural water sources and "beauty spots" in the forest.

6. Don't contaminate water sources! Never wash dishes, clothes or yourself directly in streams or springs, always use biodegradable soap and dispose of wastewater at least 100 feet from the stream. Latrines should be dug at least 100 feet from the stream, and should be thoroughly filled in before leaving the area.

7. Use extreme care with fires! When possible, avoid building a campfire. If you must make a fire, make a fire ring with rocks, do it in the safest possible spot and keep it small, so it can be easily and quickly extinguished to avoid forest fires. Never cut standing trees or pull up vegetation to build a fire. Check for fire danger before entering a wilderness of backcountry area. Campfires are often illegal during high-peak fire seasons.

8. Respect wildlife! Don't disturb wildlife if possible, and never feed a wild animal. Mother Nature has done a wonderful job of providing wildlife food and habitat in the last few million years and it's not likely that man can improve on her efforts. For example: white oak acorns have extra protein to give animals more energy in early fall as they gather food, while red oak acorns usually drop a few weeks later and have extra fat to help animals store up weight for the winter. Wild berries from dogwoods, persimmons, hollies and other trees and plants are loaded with the right carbohydrates and complex vitamins that wild animals need in various seasons. Your picnic lunch likely does not contain the nutrition that most wild animals need to survive. Also, avoid climbing a tree where a wild animal has its nest or den.

9. Respect your climbing tree! A wilderness climb is done in a wild tree, as opposed to a tame tree in the park that has been cleaned up for inexperienced climbers. Use a cambium saver or rope saver when necessary. Do not cut or break small limbs that get in your way; instead, if you're experienced enough to climb in the wilderness then you're experienced enough to find a way around them. Leave your arborist saws at home or back at camp. Remember that many other forest visitors will get upset if they see you carrying saws into the woods, and they most likely will complain to the nearest ranger. Climbing spikes should never, ever be used in a wild tree and are, in fact, illegal in many state and federal forests.

10. Protect other visitors to the forest! Don't climb in a tree that overhangs a foot trail or road, don't block trails or roads with your equipment and packs, and don't allow inexperienced people to stand under your climbing tree. For security reasons, it is often best to hide your packs and other non-climbing equipment well off the trail while you're aloft.

11. Be friendly with strangers! Most people will eventually understand your activity if you take the time to explain it to them in a friendly and professional manner. Point out to them that you have done everything you can to protect the tree from the impact of climbing. Show them how you get the rope in the tree and how you ascend the rope. You might even gain another recruit or two for our growing sport of recreational treeclimbing. Some climbers, particularly the solo ones, leave printed brochures at the tree base which not only explain what they're doing but look official and lend an air of legitimacy to the climb. Tim Kovar at Treeclimbing Atlanta has a good brochure that he uses.

12. Cimb in out-of-the-way places when possible! You'll have fewer complaints from other forest visitors and you'll probably have a more enjoyable climbing experience. And remember, many rangers stick to the main trails and the forest roads since they have too much work to do to check out every isolated spot in the forest.

13. Obey any orders from a ranger! If he or she tells you to stop climbing in a tree or refrain from another activity, then do it as quickly as safely possible. Do it pleasantly and without argument, then politely ask the ranger to explain his or her reasons for stopping the climb. Rangers sometimes might not have time right then to discuss it, but are usually willing to make a future appointment. Many rangers will work with you in the future if they know you're willing to follow the regulations.

14. Always tell somebody where you will climb! Write out the directions to your climbing area, where you plan to park, what trail you plan to hike, and when you plan to be back. Include, if possible, the exact longitude and latitude of the tree and the telephone number for the ranger district office or the proper law enforcement agency.

15. Carry a map of the area and a compass! And know how to use them. A GPS receiver is also great if used in addition to the map and compass. A cell telephone is also desirable, particularly if there are inexperienced backcountry climbers in the group, and should be carried even if you can't get service at the tree and have to hike to a nearby hilltop or high point for emergency service. Discuss the route to the climbing tree and its location with everyone in your party, and establish a place to meet if you get separated.

16. Always follow the rules for safe treeclimbing! Always take your first-aid kit, and make sure any supplies that were used on the last trip have been replaced. Make sure your ropes and harnesses are in good shape, never climb above the limb where your rope is anchored, check your knots and down lines frequently, and never allow an inexperienced person to climb without close supervision. Climb in teams of three or more if possible, and encourage climbers to take turns as the ground person.

17. Limit the number of climbers in a wild tree! In the excitement of ascending a wild tree that has never been climbed before, it's quite easy to get too many ropes and climbers into the tree at one time. Experience has shown that three to four ropes and climbers is the maximum most wild trees can handle, particularly if there is a lot of brush at the base of the trunk that will tangle lines. If possible, one climber should remain on the ground as a support person and to keep the various ropes and lines from becoming intertwined.

18. And, if you insist on solo climbing...! Solo climbers face extra risks when they go into the woods alone, but there are ways to minimize those risks. When you go aloft in a tree, make sure you have a figure-8 or a rescue descender (or a rack), a mechanical ascender such as a Jumar or Ropeman, and a 12- to 15-foot safety strap that you can use to tie off with if your rope gets hopelessly tangled beneath you. You will then be able to climb back to a safe limb, tie off with the safety strap, untie the knot system, reset for a single-rope system, and safely make an emergency descent to the ground. Sure, you might have to go back later with another rope to get your first one out of the tree, but it's better than hanging around up there for days while you wait for a forest ranger to stroll by.

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