THE TREE CLIMBER
Tree climbing is not among the skill sets that forestry loggers need to hone in their line of work. A visiting tree climbing specialist explains some of the skills needed.
ICAN FIND REASONS TO LOOK FORWARD to climbing any tree, but if I had to specify, the most grand, most beautiful and largest trees are my favourite,” says three-time champion tree climber and third-generation arborist, Mark Chisholm.
Visiting New Zealand to run safety workshops for STIHL, Mark says he was exposed to tree care at a young age.
“My father was taught by his father,” he says. “I was immediately attracted to the camaraderie of what I saw and how much everyone really enjoyed being on the job together…the hard work and difficulties you survive being part of a team and laughing after work.”
The family’s Aspen Tree Expert Company, based in New Jersey, has been around since Mark – now in his forties – was six years old and he says he couldn’t have asked for a better mentor than his father. That and his philosophy of always remaining a student are the two things he credits to his staying power and success in the business and the competitions.
It’s clear from chatting to him that Mark knows his stuff. What initially drew him was learning to climb.
“It is still probably the foundation of why I love what I do,” says Mark.
“I’ve always been attracted to being in the trees and doing the actual aerial work. I may be working on a small street tree project today..…tomorrow I could be doing some big crane removal and the next day I could be pruning a majestic, sprawling tree that’s been there 500 years and trying to preserve its life. I like a little bit of everything. It’s a pretty unique profession.”
Asked how he reconciles his love for trees with the inevitability of cutting them down, he says it’s about upholding your values and integrity as a tree lover, adding: “It’s not just about money.
“You need the right purpose, the right reason like the tree is dying, hazardous or could hurt someone.”
Mark believes that’s true of logging too and says: “I think being a logger in today’s world means you have to be a good steward of the land.
“Most logging operations tend to be wise in that they’re not just removing trees and not thinking about how to replenish the forest. I can definitely see that being responsible is pretty easy nowadays and I think what we get out of those resources is just an amazing thing.
“I mean all the things that we do with the wood. I think it’s a lot better than developing things out of plastics.”
Though he enjoys speed and agility events – pretty clear from the fact that he holds the world record in the 50-foot secured footlock climbing event, with a time of 13.8 seconds – Mark’s favourite event at the world championship is aerial rescue. Climbers are given a scenario such as an electric shock or a chainsaw accident and challenged to come up with a plan to control the area, make sure they’re safe, climb to the victim, care for them and get them out of the tree safely, all within a four-to-seven-minute window.
In terms of dangers that would face an arborist compared to a tree feller on the ground, Mark says accident stats in the US sometimes pair the two together and they’re always in the top three (depending how the fishermen off the coast of Alaska fare).
“When they separate us out I find for the amount of people doing each profession, logging is a little more dangerous,” he adds.
Mark thinks that’s because a lot of people miss the hidden dangers. They focus on chainsaw safety and proper cutting techniques but not aspects like the terrain.
“Like something that could hold a tree up and kick it a certain way and you’re not prepared for that movement and you’re on a slippery slope for example,” he says.
“Or there’s a vine connected to the tree behind you and it pulls the top out in your escape route. All these things I don’t think tree climbers have to deal with. Taking a chainsaw into the air has its own dangers, of course, but part of what keeps us safe is that actually it’s a pretty controlled environment if you follow the safety recommendations.”
He adds that in logging there are so many things that influence the safety environment, including the terrain, the weather, the tree, the type of wood, how sound it is and whether it’s going to split when you cut it.
Mark goes on: “And it’s not just like arborists who are cutting down sometimes one tree all day. Fellers are going out there and cutting down one tree after another after another after another. So
Up he goes….Mark Chisholm takes his time with this climb, but he holds a world record for tree climbing.