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Orange County tree climbing business goes to new heights

There's a new business in the Triangle that will take you to heights you may not have achieved since you were a kid.

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In the trees
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

There's a new business in the Triangle that will take you to heights you may not have achieved since you were a kid.

Patrick Brandt, a local dad and tree climbing enthusiast, has launched Piedmont Recreational Tree Climbing. He plans to start offering regular public climbs at parks in Orange County this spring and summer. And, very quickly, he's captured a lot of people's attention.

"There certainly is plenty of interest," he tells me. "Slots are filling up quickly for the summer."

People have, of course, been climbing trees for centuries. But, "recreational tree climbing" began to take off about two decades ago when it started in the Atlanta area. Since then, it's sprouted, so to speak, around the world, including Japan where it's very popular, Brandt said.

There's even an association - Tree Climbers International - that educates tree climbing instructors and has developed safety guidelines and techniques. Climbers use a system of ropes and pulleys to help them climb high and, eventually, get back to the ground. Brandt tells me that in the decades of recreational tree climbing, the worst injuries have been some blisters and bumped fingers.

"It’s almost impossible to get hurt," he said. "It’s certainly impossible to fall. Everything is way over engineered in order to be super safe."

Brandt started recreational tree climbing about five years ago. He's run climbs for friends and co-workers and at the N.C. Botanical Garden, but it's not been a regular endeavor until this summer. By day, Brandt is a biochemist who runs training programs for PhD students at UNC-Chapel Hill. (Another side business for Brandt, which involves the trees: Cat rescue).

"I love being outside and I thought it would be a new way to enjoy being outdoors," he said. "I like the peacefullness of being up in the trees and having a new perspective on the forest."

But he's also enjoyed teaching others to appreciate the activity. He has gotten training from both Tree Climbers International and Tree Trek, based near Atlanta, and also bought the required liability insurance.

Climbs, at the moment, are scheduled in Orange County's Blackwood Farm Park and River Park from May to October. The fee is $18 per climber for a 50-minute climb. A portion of the ticket price goes to help maintain the parks where climbs are scheduled. Private tree climbs also are available.

They are designed for ages 6 and up and of all abilities. "I've had gray haired ladies who have climbed with me and have had a great time," he said.

Strength also isn't required. There are setups that give the climber a mechanical advantage, for instance. Brandt said it is definitely possible for children and adults with disabilities to climb using their own power. Climbers can rise between 50 to 80 feet in the air depending on the tree they climb.

Brandt tells me that he'd like to continue climbs all year, as long as the weather is good and the people keep signing up.

"I want to give people an opportunity to get outside and get into a tree," he said. "I find that when people - as soon as they are up in the tree - they have a much bigger appreciation for trees and nature and ecosystems. Time just slows down when you are in the tree. It really helps you see how amazing these plants and trees are."

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