Casa Grande, Ariz. – Once a year, a small group of a grown men climb some of Arizona’s tallest trees, just for fun and sport.
They are tree workers; professionals who cut and prune for landscaping or utility crews.
They meet in a city park somewhere in Arizona each year to test their skills at the Arizona Tree Climbing Championships.
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Most of the drills are for overall climbing ability, but the most popular is the timed aerial rescue.
Tree workers are susceptible to injury, so the drill gives the men a chance to practice emergency scenarios.
Climbers are given six minutes to tie-in to a harness, climb a tree, secure a dummy, and safely lower it to the ground.
Juan Barba, one of the judges of the competition, said he deliberately plots difficult courses for the men to negotiate.
“Climbers are judged for smoothness and safety.” Barba explained. “If they do it smoother, faster or with more panache than the other climbers, they get extra points.”
The Arizona Tree Climbing Championships are sponsored by the Arizona Community Tree Council, an educational organization that works with Arizona arborists.
Dave Spillsbury considers his line of work a natural follow-up to a childhood spent climbing trees.
“I have more fun now than I had as a kid,” he said with a laugh, as he released his harness and waited to hear his score.
Juan Barba said tree workers are a tight community.
“Even though they compete, they’re still very close and willing to share.”