It was a simple objective that needed 24 arborists’ brains and bodies: get a dummy from a Hawthorne Park tree to the ground in six minutes.
For Doug Tripp of Grants Pass, the dummy was “Steve,” unable to get down from the tree because of a laceration on the leg. Tripp identified himself to Steve as a certified arborist and scampered up the trunk to a fork, telling judges he’s applying gauze and dressing the pretend wound.
“You doing OK, Steve?” Tripp asked.
As Tripp deftly tied bright-colored ropes connecting himself to Steve, he told judges he’s using a buddy pull with Yosemite finish.
“All right, Steve, I’ve almost gotcha to the ground here, buddy,” Tripp said, watching the dummy’s head on the way down. An audience of about half a dozen, many of them arborists themselves, clapped and hooted.
“There’s a guy I want savin’ my life up there,” one said.
The aerial rescue was one of five stages in Medford’s first tree-climbing competition sanctioned through the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture. The beat-the-clock stage was also among the most technical, according to Damien Carre of Portland, who coordinates the ISA competitions throughout the region.
Carre said the rescue stage of the competition “could save a life.”
Other stages were a work climb, simulating on-the-job pruning within five minutes; an ascent climb, in which competitors go for their best time climbing 60 feet with rope; a speed climb, which lacks a rope-tie challenge; and a throwline station, where arborists search for a secure, load-bearing limb.
The five teams totaling 24 competitors included locals and tree workers hailing from Washington, British Columbia and Southern California. Carre said he arranged the teams in a way that apprentices could learn from experts.
The Southern Oregon Regional Tree Climbing Competition was the headline event for the city of Medford’s revitalized Arbor Day celebration, rechristened this year as Southern Oregon’s Urban Forest Carnival. Elsewhere at the park, kids tried their hand at chopping firewood at a booth sponsored by the nonprofit Jackson County Fuel Committee, strapped in for an ISA kids climb, made silly faces at photo booths, got their faces painted and had shaved ice and other treats.
Adam Airoldi, tree program supervisor for Medford Parks and Recreation, said his goal with having Medford host the ISA competition was to show people “what professional modern tree care looks like.” In addition to the rescue component, tree work requires knowledge of biology and tree health.
“It’s more than someone with a chainsaw,” Airoldi said.
A spirit of camaraderie was apparent at the competition, with other teams cheering competitors on the ropes, and others in their industry showing their support.
Among spectators was Johnny King of Medford, an arborist with three decades of experience who works for Wright Tree Service.
“Whoo! Getcha some,” King cheered as a climber seemingly flew past the halfway point of the ascent challenge.
King, whose employer deals only with tree work involving power lines, described being an arborist as challenging work that can be deadly. He’s always thinking about the best way up, what’s below and how limbs will fall.
Tree work doesn’t always include the warm, clear skies at the park Saturday, but what’s kept him going for 30 years is “being in a different spot every day.”
King also seems to enjoy the wordplay associated with his line of work.
“They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but for us it does,” King joked. “It’s a tree-mendous job.”
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.