Championship in Pruhonice is no monkey business

The Prague Post

Climbers from across the Continent will take to the trees

It looks like something you would see at the zoo: hands over feet scampering up branches to the tops of leafy trees.

These aren’t monkeys though; they are the best human climbers on the Continent, and they are taking to the trees June 12-13 at the European Tree Climbing Championships in Pruhonice.

“Trees are a very important part of the human environment, and meeting the people that take care of trees is always exciting,” said Svetlana Vávrová, who is in charge of local arrangements for the championships. “The championships are very popular for the general public because there is a combination of action in the treetops and seeing the actual work that tree climbers do.”

The International Society of Arboriculture puts on these regional and international competitions. They are designed to replicate the conditions arborists meet in the field and provide not only a competitive angle but also the opportunity to learn new techniques. All the participants are professional tree climbers, working for municipalities or in forestry or land management. Competitions have run since 1976, and, in 2001, a women’s division was added. Climbers compete in five categories: foot lock, throw line, aerial rescue, work climb and speed climb, and all test the climber’s ability to do a particular task quickly and accurately.

“There are two timed events: the secured foot lock and the secured speed climb,” said Vávrová. “In those [events], climbers simulate access to the tree crown, and both are very dynamic. Aerial rescue demonstrates how climbers are able to help each other, and, because this event combines time and skill performance, it is probably the most interesting.”

The work climb event tests a climber’s ability to move around in the tree using various pieces of equipment, while competitors in aerial rescue must save a person stuck in a tree. Accuracy really comes into play in the throw line task, in which participants must toss two different types of line at certain heights in the tree. The speed climb is fairly self-explanatory: Climbers must race to the top of the tree (usually about 18 meters), following a pre-determined route. Nimbleness is also a plus in the foot lock, in which contestants ascend the tree using special equipment. Just as important as their comfort in the trees is the professional work they do up there. An emphasis will also be placed on proper pruning and other tree care.

“Attendees can look forward to a very amazing spectacle; tree climbers will show off the brave skills they use in their everyday work,” Vávrová said. “On Sunday, spectators will see the foot lock head to head: a very dynamic challenge between the finalists in this event and the Masters Challenge.”

The Masters Challenge is the championship round of the competition. It’s designed to test the competitors’ overall capability with a rope and saddle harness, and they are judged on their overall knowledge of climbing techniques, use of equipment and safety habits.

Vávrová says they are planning for about 50 climbers, both men and women from all over Europe, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic.

“We expect the best climbers from all over Europe,” she said. “Each country can have up to three delegates in the men’s category and two in the women’s. Most famous will be Bernd Strasser from Germany who is an eight-time world champion in tree climbing.”

The best climbers from this event go on to the International Championships, held in the United States at the end of July.