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Climbing An Oregon Giant

by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on September 11, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:35 PM


Oregon's forests are famous for varied outdoor recreation opportunities that tens of thousands of people enjoy each year.

Grant McOmie went the extra mile for this week's "Grant's Getaway" when he visited an Oregon forest, but saw it from a different point of view.

He climbed a real giant; a giant, old growth Doug fir tree that reached hundreds of feet tall.

It's an adventure that required the right equipment, experienced guides and no small amount of nerve.


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High above the Willamette Valley in the Willamette National Forest, follow the roadway that traces a trail along Fall River, near Lowell, Oregon and you could discover adventure that's guaranteed to take you to new heights.

I met a group of climbers along this roadway near Fall Creek Reservoir.


As I discovered, they were a small corp of climbers that was a breed apart from typical rock or mountain climbers.


While these folks use much the same gear and included harnesses, ropes, mechanical ascenders and even helmets.

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But this hearty collection of people who joined two guides with the Eugene-based Pacific Tree Climbing Institute don't climb tall mountains, rather they ascend Oregon's tallest trees.

Jason Seppa, co-owner of PTCI and a lead guide in my adventure, coolly showed each newcomer the correct way to wear a harness and how to handle the ascenders; the main mode of movement up the giant trees.

He also advised us why wearing our helmets was so critical:

"If you hear someone shout 'Headache!" - Well, headache means something is coming down - maybe a little branch, or somebody's dropped their water bottle. Sometimes that can happen, so wear it at all times."


The team had gathered to climb three of the tallest giants in the forest.

Trees that had been nicknamed "The Three Musketeers" because the trio of 600 year-old Doug fir had grown so closely together.

Robb Miron, Seppa's partner in the company, explained the advantages of climbing big old trees: "They are really climber-friendly with a lot of limbs and a lot of architecture. When you're up in them, it's the kind of a feeling that you get being inside a grove of trees."

PTCI operates under a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service and their climbing techniques and equipment do not damage the trees.

Seppa and Miron called it "eco-friendly" climbing as they teach both newcomers and experienced alike on how to reach for the tallest heights of the trees without hurting the trees they climb.

They employ the same equipment and skills the two had learned as full time arborists in Eugene, Oregon.


Jason explained: "People see all of these ropes (each climber has his own dedicated line that's been secured in the top of the tree) going up into space and don't really know where the ropes end - it's quite mind blowing for the person to see as they walk up to the tree."

The trained arborists turned their attention to recreation climbing six years ago and agreed that the forest has much to offer people.

Usually, that begins by overcoming any doubts or fears of heights.

After all, the goal is to climb perhaps 250 feet or more above the ground.

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"It's interesting," noted Miron. "You get up into the canopy and you can't see the ground anymore but it's almost like the height gets easier for many people. You are so focused on what's in front of you - the tree itself and then the physical act of climbing, you don't really think about the height."


Ah, the climbing technique! Now that does take some time to master.


First, it required a "jug" or thrust with my left hand that was holding onto one of the mechanical ascenders. That move was quickly followed by a solid stand up move on my two feet that were resting in two looped straps that were attached to the ascenders. With my right hand in another ascender, I picked up the excess rope and tighten the line.


That procedure was repeated over and over as I made my way up the tree.

But I felt a bit like an inchworm as I watched more experienced climbers take to the task with relative ease.

No doubt about it, I was the slow poke in this group of climbers!


Approximately halfway up the tree - at nearly 150 feet - Seppa and Miron had set up a tree camp of sorts with half a dozen "tree boats."

Tree boats are fabric hammocks, approximately seven feet long - that were tied off onto nearby branches. The hammocks provided a "rest stop" as you could lie down or sit down inside of one - before moving further up the tree.

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I discovered they also provided a well-earned rest. I was flat out bushed by my efforts. I felt I earned my rest in a tree boat.

I wondered allowed if I had established a new PTCI record for taking so long to get but halfway up the giant tree.

"Oh no, not at all," noted Seppa with a smile. "Each person takes his or her own time - there's no rush at all."

He added that men are often in too big of a hurry and miss the sights along the way, while women often prove better climbers than their male partners.


"Oh yes," he noted. "Women bring a lot better climbing technique to this than the men. More fluid and less muscling - guys like to muscle things up while women have more finesse and seem to sneak right up nice and smooth."

Once climbers reached the end of the line, approximately 280-feet off the ground, the payoff was nothing short of spectacular.

There was a genuine rush of energy and excitement at the accomplishment and the unmatched view of the surrounding forest.

"A sea of green," said Seppa. "As far as the eye can see - nothing but tree tops. It's quite cool."


Rob Miron noted that the view close at hand was equally impressive too: "Oh my, so much vegetation that you'd never expect - salal, ferns and mosses and lichens - a real variety of flora that you can never appreciate on the ground because you wouldn't know that it even exists way up here."

When it was time for us to return back to ground, mechanical descenders made the journey down incredibly easy.

I simply held on to the rope in one hand and the device in the other and with a quick release, I gently slid down the rope at a controlled speed.

I decided that it was much more fun going down the tree than it was going up.

Miron estimated that he'd led many hundreds of clients up into bog old trees over the years.


People really like climbing The Three Musketeers and everyone he has ever taken up has a new-found respect for the giants of the forest

"Oh, it's the sense of accomplishment, the sense of doing something that they never thought they could do. And then it's the closeness that you feel with nature. Basically, anyone that comes with us on one of these trips is amazed one way or another."

You might consider "Climbing An Oregon Giant" a part of your entry in a unique travel contest. It's called the Oregon 150 Challenge and it offers a unique dream vacation as a grand prize.