Room With a View: Recreational Big Tree Climbing

In the treetops of Oregon's ancient forest, 200 feet in the air, Rob Miron feels right at home. Suspended between heaven and earth, he is high above a tributary of the Blue River.

It is in forests like these that scientists are unlocking mysteries about climate change and ecosystems that hold more than half the species on earth.

It is a special place that Miron has felt destined to share with them.

"I think the first time I put a harness on I was right around 8 years old," he said.

Arborists by trade, Miron and his business partner, Jason Seppa, are taking eco-tourism to new heights. They are pioneering the sport of recreational big tree climbing. Rob's company, "The Pacific Tree Climbing Institute," has helped about 5,000 people climb trees since the company's inception five years ago.


For 24 hours, along with three other novice climbers, I will push my limits.

'Ordinarily, I'm on the Ground'

Miron and Seppa will guide us into the old-growth canopy. We will be atop trees that were already centuries old when Christopher Columbus discovered the New World.

If we have the nerve, we will spend the night hundreds of feet in the air, suspended from branches likely never before touched by human hands.

Helen Kennedy, one of my climbing partners, is a fearless 30-year-old veterinarian. Minutes before we start, she assures me she is eager to begin the climb.

"I'm ready for an adventure," she says.

Her husband, Adam, is a forest scientist whose climbing experience ends at the top rung of a ladder.

"Ordinarily, I'm on the ground," he says.

My third climbing companion is Catherine Heising. She's using this climb to mark a personal milestone.

"This is my 50th birthday celebration," she says.

And then, there's me: I'm hoping to cross "climb and sleep in a really big tree" off my life's to-do list.

We will each be on one rope, with no other safety lines.

For Miron and Seppa, this is more than a business. It's a chance to share and teach about a world that few will ever experience.

We hike back into the forest and are speechless as we see for the first time the trees that we will climb.

As magnificent and imposing as these old-growth Douglas firs appear in pictures, it is nothing compared to standing at the base of these behemoths and looking up. Way up.

We try to catch a glimpse of the little hammocks, called "tree boats," that will be our beds.

They look so tiny from the ground.

It makes us wonder if trying to conquer these giants is such a good idea.

'I'm Freaking Out a Little Bit'

"The gold ascender is your upper ascender. Blue ascender is your lower ascender," Miron tells me. "Go ahead and sit back in your harness. Put your feet in the foot stirrups."

He shows me how, one movement at a time, I will rise into the tree tops.

"Hold the rope with your left hand and the ascender with your right hand. Lift your knees toward your chin and raise the lower ascender. Keep your feet directly underneath you. Stand up and push the top ascender up."

And with that, we're on our way. The first 20 or 30 feet are easy.

But the farther we get from the ground, the closer we come to our own fears.

Even our mountain climbing veterinarian is experiencing apprehension she didn't anticipate.

"I'm freaking out a little bit, but I'm relaxing a little bit more now, too," said Kennedy.

There's a whole new reality when you get about 60 feet off the ground and you're hanging by a single rope.

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