The International Tree Climbing Competition Comes to the Arboretum July 28-30

The International Tree Climbing Competition Comes to the Arboretum July 28-30

-By Karen Zill

For three days in July, visitors to the National Arboretum will have the opportunity to witness an exciting contest as dozens of arborists compete in the International Tree Climbing Competition (ITCC). Managed by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), the competition takes place July 28–30 in conjunction with the ISA’s annual conference, which is being held at the Gaylord National Convention Center.

Having the competition here is a first for the Arboretum, whose staff has long lobbied to host the event. In her proposal to the ISA several years ago, former director Dr. Colien Hefferan described the Arboretum as “the perfect setting for the climbing contest” with its “large trees in open areas.” “After pushing for this for years, we are very pleased to be the site for the competition,” says staff arborist Susan Greeley. She echoes Dr. Hefferan’s sentiment recognizing “the incredible opportunity the competition provides for the Arboretum to gain international recognition.”

Tree climbing competitions started in California as a way to train climbers to perform life-saving aerial rescues. The popularity of these contests grew, and in 1976, they became part of the ISA’s annual conference. Europeans entered the competition in 1994, making it an international event. The arborists competing in July are men and women who represent chapters throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, and all have won local or regional tree climbing events.

The site for this year’s competition is the Arboretum’s flowering tree collection, where the oaks are suitably tall for the participating arborists to demonstrate their skills as they vie for the world championship. There are five events that simulate working conditions that arborists encounter in the field. These serve to qualify the competitors for the Masters’ Challenge Championship, which determines the world champions. The qualifying events are scheduled for Friday, July 28, and Saturday, July 29, with the championship event to take place on Sunday, July 30.

The ITCC comprises the following events:

  • Work Climb tests the competitor’s ability to move about a tree using a tree-climbing rope and harness and perform several work tasks.
  • Aerial Rescue is a timed event that tests the climber’s ability to climb to and safely lower an injured climber who is unable to descend without assistance.
  • Throwline is a timed event in which the competitor attempts to toss a line through two of eight targets, testing his or her ability to accurately place a climbing line in a tree at heights of up to 60 feet.
  • Belayed Speed Climb tests the climber’s ability to climb a predetermined route from the ground to about 60 feet up a tree using a belayed climbing system. (Belaying is a method of securing and slowing a climbing line, using a knot, a mechanical device, or a person to tend the slack in the rope.)
  • Secured Footlock measures the contestant’s ability to perform a vertical ascent into a tree using a specific approved hitch for fall protection and the footlock rope-climbing method on a doubled climbing line.

Competitors receive scores based on their performance on each of these preliminary events. The top finishers move on to the culminating event—the Masters’ Challenge Championship. This event judges contestants’ techniques and skills with a rope and saddle in the tree, with work tasks similar to those in the Work Climb event. The top scoring male and female competitors are named the World Champions.

In addition to the tree climbing competition, the Arboretum will host a variety of other activities on July 2–30, including tree and plant ID walks, bonsai workshops, and an Arbor Fair. The Arbor Fair is a free public event that will feature educational exhibits, information sessions, tree demonstrations, and interactive children’s activities. There will also be a fun climb for kids and adults who want to try out their own tree climbing skills.

For more information about the ISA and its mission, go to

Photo Credit: ISA


Leave A Reply