Certified American Mountain Guides Association instructor Jon Richard added tree climbing to his repertoire in 2009 at the behest of a customer. He now offers recreational classes and school programs that teach hands-on tree climbing skills (knot tying, rope and harness techniques) as well as environmental awareness. “We want people to have an experience that is intimate and positive with nature,” he said. “This is guaranteed to give you a perspective like no other.”

Tree climbing isn’t your traditional outdoor sport. What’s unique about the activity?

We provide our guests with the opportunity to explore very tall trees that could not be climbed without ropes. Participants have the freedom to explore without the risk of falling since they’re attached to a safety system. The perspective from the canopy is truly unique, which few people have the chance to experience. Just like with rock climbing, we climb trees because we can. We believe there’s great reward for individuals who are willing to engage in activities that fall outside of the norm.

How would you describe one of your tree climbing courses to someone who has never experienced one?

The canopy of a tree is majestic and truly an incredible place that few people get to see. It’s also difficult to describe without experiencing it for yourself. Our guests describe the canopy as a peaceful place, and some find it to be almost magical. They also enjoy the change in perspective that the canopy provides. It’s amazing what you can see just by ascending a short distance above the ground. The other awesome thing about tree climbing is everyone has their own climbing system, so it makes a great activity for groups.

How should people prepare for one of your classes, not only in their dress but in terms of their mental state?

We recommend athletic clothes that are comfortable to move around in. We also require that our climbers wear close-toed shoes. We provide all the necessary climbing equipment, which includes a tree climbing saddle, a helmet and climbing gloves. Participants should be well rested and open-minded.

What gave you the idea to start your tree-climbing courses, and what’s your background in the sport?

When I started Vertical Voyages in 2009, I offered rock climbing courses exclusively. I’m now offering tree climbing per a former customer’s suggestion. She sent me a video she found online. After watching it, I purchased some tree climbing equipment and explored some trees behind my house. Soon after, I piloted a small program at a camp in southern Illinois and decided this would be a great addition to my other offerings. I became a Global Organization of Tree Climbers Facilitator in 2012.

What do you want participants to take away from their tree climbing experience?

I want my students to have a better sense of the size and scale of trees. I want them to feel proud of what they accomplished and feel empowered to engage in other challenging activities. We also want to instill a sense of respect for the environment and a realization that we depend on the natural world for the things we enjoy.

Vertical Voyages

Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of Terrain magazine