New England leaf-peeping is a classic tourism comfort food. The quietly-blazing warmth of colors, the serenity of chancing upon them, and the pull of familiarity (certainly, our ancestors were peeping when the states were still colonies) add up to a soothing dish that is basic, life affirming, romantic, and, in many ways, free.
Yet I must admit that unless my family happens to be driving up north anyway, we have never deliberately timed a trip to watch the changing leaves, nor have I ever had the desire to plan a fall foliage-focused getaway. Perhaps I’m selling my kids’ attention spans short or am just being weird about it, but I need more of a reason to take that trip. And the other day, I stumbled across a good one. Tree-climbing classes.
Recreational tree climbing dates back to the first tree, of course, but the practice has been formalized with equipment and rules and safety measures by such outfits as the New England Tree Climbing Association (NETC), an umbrella organization for climbs in seven states. Among them is Connecticut, where NETC-certified tree climbing instructor Gary Gross of Tree Climb Connecticut in Manchester offers two kinds of classes for those aged 7 to 70.
There’s an afternoon “adventure climb” ($60 per person, $30 for kids under 10) that literally shows you the ropes, equips you with a saddle, and permits you after some instruction to start climbing among the 2.5 acres of maple, walnut, and oak trees. For those who’d like to make overnight plans in the area, Gross also runs a two-day class ($280 per single climber, $250 per person, per couple) that covers tree selection, the proper way to throw and set ropes, knot tying, and of course, the art of climbing. Use of all equipment – ropes, harnesses, helmets – is included. Day one is heavily instructional, while day two is spent showing Gross that you remembered what you learned.
Interestingly, if you were to try to characterize recreational tree climbing, the NETC notes that “it’s similar to rock climbing but the techniques and methods were adapted from the tree trimming industry.” Among other techniques, “climbers are trained in the Double Rope Technique (DRT), a system that allows them to let go with hands or feet at any time and still maintain their location.”
What surprises first-time climbers the most? Gross told me that “everyone is surprised at their sense of security and freedom as they experience nature from a whole new angle.”
If you’re up for an afternoon adventure climb you’re encouraged to call for daily availability. As for the two-day classes, there are two this month on October 22-23 and October 29-30, and November climbs “depend on weather and demand” and you’ll likewise have to call for availability. For the record, fall foliage will be optimal in Connecticut until November 20.
Should you wish to try tree-climbing in other parts of New England, dates and rates are posted at the NETC site. And if climbing or the idea of it has only whet your appetite for bolder pursuits with a fall foliage backdrop, you can also head to Connecticut for some rock climbing and zip-lining.