Climbing a 200 Foot Redwood Tree

March 2020: I have a long bucket list of things I want to do before I die. This list consists of other things besides just traveling. Previously on my list until I accomplished the goal was: Flying a plane solo, rock climbing, sky diving, swimming with sharks….My list is long and always growing. One item on the list that i wanted to do for years was climb a Sequoia or redwood tree. But I just couldn’t find any adventure outfitter to provide such an adventure, until one day when reading Nat Geo Adventure magazine, I came across an article about a tree climber who wants to promote forest conservation and the sport of rock climbing by taking people with him to climb redwood trees. After reading the article, I googled his name, g=found his Facebook, and inquired about joining. he told me he had a waiting list for the time being and would start doing these trips in a year possibly once he finalizes a few preparations.  A year later, he reached out to me and invited me to a climb of a 200-foot-tall redwood Tree on private property in the mountains outside Santa Cruz, California.  I was off to check off another item from my bucket list.

 

Some Interesting Facts About Redwood Trees

The reason why I really wanted to climb a Redwood Tree is because I am fascinated by them. It is the tallest living organisms on earth. An organism that was alive during the rise and fall of many civilizations, survived many wars, and forest fires, plagues, droughts…  I have climbed rock faces before and this was amazing but to climb an ancient living organism just as tall as a cliff with its own ecosystem of animals, plants, insects, birds was an experience that I couldn’t pass up.  Redwood Trees have many amazing facts. Here are just some:

  • Can live for two thousand years. They are living history books. Their tree rings tell a written record of climate history.
  • Can grow hundreds of feet
  • Tallest tree on earth. They can grow up to almost 400 feet tall (Note the Sequoia can be more massive but the Redwoods are taller).
  • They only grow on the Pacific Northwest from Northern California to southern Oregon.
  • They have been perfected by nature to out survive everything except for humans. 
  • Only 5 percent of remaining old growth Redwoods remain.

 

Big Basin State Park

Before the climb on Sunday, my wife and I decided to make a weekend trip out of the redwoods. So, we booked a rustic cabin with no electricity and only a woodfire stove inside for two nights at Big Basin State Park. This would be our base for hiking and exploring the old growth red Wood forests. Big Basin State Park is famous for being California’s oldest state park and for having the oldest Redwood Trees in the world. Big Basin is also a refuge for rare wildlife such as the mountain lion which is very common in the park and in the campground evidently, even though I sadly didn’t see one.

Our cozy rustic cabin

The rustic cabin surrounded by giant Redwood trees that we stayed in with a wood fireplace. despite the fire which we kept going all night, it was freezing. 

Road through redwoods in Big Basin State Park

It rained for most of the day when we hiked in Big Basin, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the ancient forest with its lush ferns. As soon as the rain started, colorful salamanders came out in droves and could be found all over the trails. The forest in the rain was a magical place. The forest was soaked in rain when we were there, but fire is also a natural part of its cycle. The seeds actually need fire in order to germinate.

Salamander that came out in the rain.

Paula admiring giant tree

Tree fungus on Redwood

The Climb

We drove to the private property, where a grove of old growth redwood Trees was located and met Tim Kovar and two other climbers that would assist our climb. Tim and the others previously set up the ropes on the giant tree by shooting them up over the limbs with a special kind of crossbow. Then through a process I still don’t understand very well, they are able to secure the ropes and anchor them to the treetops so that others are able to climb the tree from the bottom.

After introductions were made, we tried on our climbing and safety equipment to make ensure we had the right size, and we were given a quick abseiling lesson on the do’s and don’ts.

 

Richard getting a climbing lesson 

After a quick 30-minute lesson, the rest of our training would be by trial and error while on the tree.  But our climbing guide assured us we would be ok and that they would help us if we needed assistance. Then before the climb, Tim and the other guides gathered us together in a kind of prayer circle, Tim thanked the tree for allowing us to climb it and asked for its blessings. Regardless of one’s spiritual beliefs, it is easy to revere and be in awe by something as ancient and majestic as a Redwood tree.

Each one of us has an assigned tree climbing guide. The tree was so large that I couldn’t see Richard climbing on the other side of the tree. Via ascender and descender devices attached to the rope that was in turn attached to our harness, we slowly climbed. The first 100 feet or of the tree was mostly without branches and we used our feet against the tree to stabilize us to keep from spinning. It was a slow-going process and exhausting, especially since we were still learning how to do it. Essentially, we would push ourselves up the rope by one foot at a time. We would unclamp the ascender while simultaneously pushing off of a rope loop by our feet using our leg strength to give us momentum up the rope. Good core strength was definitely needed for this activity.  This process would repeat itself one foot at a time for about ten minutes until you would need to rest. If a branch was nearby, I would rest on it otherwise I would just hang from the rope and lean back into the harness.

The view below during the climb

Photo Paula took of us while climbing the tree

Once we reached the top of the tree to where the rope anchor was set. It took us about 1.5 hours to climb to the top. We rested on a huge branch while the birds, who were not used to visitors at these heights, angrily chirped at us.  We had a small lunch-protein bar and Gatorade and switched from ascending device to descending device. Our climbing guide gave us a quick lesson and we leaned back over the edge trusting the rope and began going down.

Going down took approx. 30 minutes and the only difficulty was trying to keep from spinning and stabilizing yourself on the rope and to avoid getting the descender stuck.  If this happened, you would need to slightly lift yourself up from your harness and pull the rope up from the descender to get it un-stuck.

View of us climbing

Relaxing at the top of the tree

View of us descending 

Me descending down the tree

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