Tree climbing isn't just for kids

Think of it as rock climbing with branches

MEADOWS OF DAN, Va. – "If you really start to push, you can get really crazy with it -- but you can get hurt pretty bad doing these things."

That was some of the early advice from Bob Wray, an expert recreational tree climber, as he prepared to take a first-timer up a tall tulip poplar on his property. Wray climbs trees like many adventurers climb rocks and boulders.

A short time earlier, Wray had been tying a series of knots in various ropes. The knots that are to keep climbers suspended 40 to 50 feet in the air.

"You can't make a mistake. Here, there are no mistakes," Wray warned.

Wray began his mastery of tree climbing 18 years ago, on his property just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Meadows of Dan.

Bob Wray examines his phone while hanging out 45 feet in the air.
Bob Wray examines his phone while hanging out 45 feet in the air.

"I'm an Eagle Scout and I am knot-tier and that's what we're going to be climbing on ... is knots. And I taught myself all the knots and then walked out here with a book and kind of, sort of did it for over a year," Wray explained.

Later, he took some classes to hone his skill. 

And he kept on climbing.

These days, he teaches those classes and guides clients.

He describes being in a tree as "magic."

"That's the word. That's the word we use all the time. Once you pull yourself up off rope, you become a kid again. I mean, you're Peter Pan. You get to swing around," he said.

After signing her life away, client Yvette Ladd was ready to find that magic.

But before you find the peace and tranquility that comes from being among the branches, one must acquire a bit of technical mastery. There's a progression to the sport of tree climbing.  

For Wray, the initial attraction was the gear.

"I loved all the carabiners, all the gear, all the knots. Now they are just the utility items I need to get up there," Wray said.

But the amount of gear and knots is overwhelming and it can be intimidating at first.  For some, it's even more so than the heights they'll be seeing.

10 news photographer Will Chadwell gets a shot of Bob Wray preparing for the climb at Blue Ridge Tree Climbing.
10 news photographer Will Chadwell gets a shot of Bob Wray preparing for the climb at Blue Ridge Tree Climbing.

"If you think you can't do it, then you won't be able to, but if you're not a complete couch potato, you can absolutely do this," Wray said.

He began his instruction, showing Ladd the basics.

"Push your knot quickly. Good. Sit down and relax. You're climbing!" Wray said. 

And so Ladd began her slow climb up the tree.  A yoga instructor, let's just say she had no trouble.

"Once we were up, I thought 'Wow, there's been no fright about being high. And I haven't even looked down once.' So then I decided to look down and see what that was like and not quite as scary as I thought it was going to be," Ladd said.

Rising a bit more than a foot at a time, she arrived about 45 feet up.  The magic, she said, was starting to show itself.

Ever the nature philosopher, Wray was climbing along with her.

"Well, you get to be a kid again.  We all climbed trees as children.  I certainly did. Now, we get to do it safely.  And we get to climb all the way to the top.  Any tree we want," Wray said, dangling from a rope and harness.  

"The thing that I likened to yoga is this play of opposites. And so when I'm teaching yoga, I talk about the balance between effort and ease. So what I was noticing up in the tree, was the same thing," Ladd said.

"There's nothing like being up there and leaving all your troubles on the ground. They're all gone. You can't take them with you," Wray said. "That's the magical part of it and it happens every time I go up. Every single time."

"The only other thing I was that I would add is just how much easier it is than one might think," Ladd said. "I'm not exhausted. I was sweating but it's humid."

It was a sparkling testimonial and perhaps a bit of evidence that there really is magic among the branches.

Bob Wray teaches tree climbing and leads trips on his own property and as a guide at the Primland resort.
More about Bob Wray:  http://www.blueridgetreeclimbing.com/BRTC/About_Me.html
More about Wray's company, Blue Ridge Tree Climbing LLC  http://www.blueridgetreeclimbing.com/BRTC/Welcome.html
More on Climbing with Wray at Primland  https://primland.com/activities/

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