Kissing the sky in Oregon

Feb 9, 2011
Outside Magazine
Oregon Tree Climbing

Getting high with the Pacific Tree Climbing Institute

When I was a kid, I watched Swiss Family Robinson so many times that the VCR expelled the tape in a tangle. When I was a kid, I escaped into a tree after peeing on my sister and spent the entire day in its upper reaches until, starved, I came down to face my spanking. When I was a kid, I hammered together an unwieldy tree house overlooking a highway and collected a pile of stones to slingshot at passing cars.

A significant portion of my childhood, in other words, was spent up in the air, defying the laws of gravity and parents. So it feels perfectly natural when I seek out the Pacific Tree Climbing Institute, based in Eugene, Oregon. My guides work as arborists during the week and lead climbs over the weekend. I meet them at the base of a 250-foot, 500-year-old Douglas fir in the Willamette National Forest. They don't supply me with spurs—only a helmet, gloves, and a harness that links me to a rope attached to the crown of the tree. With two ascender clips, I inchworm upward, my body spinning in the air.

At 150 feet, the branches begin to claw at my arms. For the next hour I snake my way up until I reach the top, where I sway in my roost and take in the sunset, then switch over to my descender clips and sink down to where the hammocks wait. My voice joins the owls calling all around me when I wish my guides goodnight and fall into dreams on this ultimate air mattress.

DO IT: Day climb plus an overnight in a hammock, $600; pacifictreeclimbing.com.

Filed To: Climbing