Professional tree climbers going out on a limb
YOU would think this is a slow time of year for major sporting events. You, however, would be wrong. The International Tree Climbing Championships is in town.
Yes, it's true. Yesterday, many of the world's greatest tree climbers were swinging from branches on the UH campus. Today, the championship final round runs from 9 to 2 at the Sheraton Royal Hawaiian Coconut Grove.
And this is the real thing. These aren't a bunch of people who decided one day it would be fun to climb a tree. No, they're professionals. They're all either arborists or tree surgeons (I think that's the same thing), except for 2007 European Champion Helmut Schwengels, who is, of course, a baumpfleger.
Interesting people (they would have to be). They almost all seem to have impressive-sounding college degrees. Women's 2007 European champ Paloma Ziegelmeier is not only an arborist, but a tour guide in two famous castles of the last Bavarian king. Ann Koenig went to Ghana as a forestry volunteer. Wisconsin's Joe House, in his spare time, enjoys "rock and ice climbing, high-altitude mountain biking, and reducing global warming." Thank goodness somebody is working on that.
They all seem to be into hiking, except for those from Down Under, who prefer bushwalking (I think that's the same thing).
Surely, they have intriguing stories.
"The competitors right now, it's hard to talk to them because they're in the zone," International Society of Arboriculture official Sonia Garth says.
Of course. Everybody's always in a zone.
But luckily, Big Island boy Dan Kraus has a minute. Yes, we've got a local favorite in the event. He was even the International Tree Climbing Champion in 2005. Dan grew up in Hilo and Volcano and got a head start on this stuff working at his dad's tree company.
"Forced labor as a kid," he says.
He got a degree in psychology (see?) at UH-Hilo. In his career as an arborist, he's rescued almost 500 cats.
It was perfect, the reigning Pacific Northwest champion says. Cats were always ending up in trees, and so was he. Harried pet owners had no idea who to call.
"I went around to about 100 vets," in the Seattle area, he says, "and gave them my number."
Now he shows up like Batman.
(He says most cats would eventually come down, and he tells owners that, but many people just want their crying cat back ASAP.)
He hoped -- halfway through his events yesterday -- that he would qualify for today's final, with the best (official) tree climbers in the world. They'll be there, for the Throwline and the Footlock and the Work Climb. All involve winches, cinches, ropes. The Aerial Rescue event also involves a dummy, and acting ("Hey! Are you OK? I'll be right there!"). Are they athletes? Well, Kraus did blow out an ACL in 2001.
Their feats are impressive, but somehow, more deliberate than expected (precision, safety first). Still, they are a sight to see when they're perched way up there, at the very top. There's a reason they all love it so.
Says Dan Kraus, "It's a workingman's sport."