Recreational tree-climbing becomes a draw for OKC enthusiasts – some into their 50s, 60s and 70s.

Kenton Peters learned to climb a tree with ropes and a harness so he could safely perform his job. Now he’s sold on doing it just for fun.

“It’s exhilarating, being able to climb to a place you normally couldn’t,” says Peters, who teaches recreational tree-climbing for the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department. “It’s fun and it’s safe. You are tied in, and the ropes are not going to break. It’s a great workout.”

Peters mastered the technique when it was his job to trim trees at the Crystal Bridge Conservatory at Myriad Botanical Gardens. He’s taught classes for about 10 years and typically draws teenagers and 20-somethings.

But after an adults-only class was advertised in August water bills, more registrations came from the bucket-list crowd.

“I thought if I can play tennis, I can do this,” says 74-year-old Paul Gragg, who has a pecan tree in his yard that he’s itching to climb.

After ascending to near the top of a 60-foot elm in Will Rogers Gardens, where Peters works as a naturalist, Gragg adds: “I am very glad I did this. It takes more energy than I had expected.”

With knowledge from the class, Kevin Conley, 52, plans to go home and practice his knots. The Blake’s hitch, the figure eight and the overhand are essential to tree-climbing.

“My wife will be very happy that I do this safely now,” Conley says. “She signed me up for this.”

Conley says he climbed trees in a less-safe manner to trim branches and put up Christmas lights, but he also wanted to take up the hobby.

 “I’ve got two teenagers that want to do it, but I’ve got to figure it out first,” he says.

Tom Zercher, 75, says he has wanted to learn since stumbling across The Wild Trees, a book about people who pioneered climbing California’s redwoods.

 “It was absolutely fun,” Zercher says after making it to the top of his rope. “I could have just dangled up there for a while. I just might go buy the gear and do this again.”

John Borgert, 65, an elementary school art teacher, got the itch after taking his 10-year-old son to one of Peters’ classes.

“Getting off the ground was a big learning curve,” Borgert says. “Once you are in the air, you can’t use your other leg.”

In addition to pulling with their arms, climbers propel themselves, each with one leg placed in a foot loop, a separate rope attached to the main one. 

 “Trust your knots and relax,” Peters says to his four students as they start up the tree.

Ephraim Taylor, 31, of Broken Arrow, trims trees for a living; for fun, he enters International Society of Arboriculture competitions. This year he won the fast rope climb by ascending 50 feet in 11 seconds. Taylor says competitors share new techniques, focus on safety and learn aerial rescues.

“It’s a blast,” Taylor says of the competitions. “I’ve become a much better climber because of it.”


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