By Katie Leslie The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
For most children, climbing a tree is a rite of passage and just requires finding a sturdy specimen with lots of low branches. Not so for kids like 10-year-old Caleb Lloyd, who recently learned how to take his tree-climbing prowess to a much higher level.Hanging nearly 40 feet in the air, his arms and legs dangling near the branches of a massive water oak tree, the fifth-grader at Kipp Strive Academy called to his friends below:
"Do you guys have a portable TV you could put up here?"
He was the first to scramble to the top of this tree on the grounds of Brown Middle School in southwest Atlanta. But he didn't do it in the most common way -- by climbing up the trunk and hoisting himself above the branches. Lloyd was strapped into a harness held by thick ropes, and he used his own strength and a clever knot system to pull himself from the ground straight into the air.
Leading the charge was Peter "Treeman" Jenkins, a world-renowned professional recreational tree climber and a certified arborist. Jenkins, a former rock climber, founded Tree Climbers International some 25 years ago, developing safe rope-and-saddle systems and protocols now used around the world, he says. With his wife, Patty, he runs tree-climbing schools in Atlanta.
While TCI hosts tree-climbing expeditions for individuals and groups, the recent climb at Brown Middle School marked its first experience with Atlanta Public Schools.
"The kids are always excited because it’s a brand-new thing [to them]. They’ve never hung on a rope, so the idea of hanging suspended, the Peter Pan effect, is totally awesome to them," Jenkins said as he hung from a tree. "It’s very empowering because they look at it and say, ‘I can’t do that,' but then they can. It's a confidence builder."
Eighteen kids from environmental groups at Brown Middle School and Kipp Strive Academy participated in the climb, made possible through an introduction by Robby Astrove, coordinator of Trees Atlanta's Beltline Arboretum Education Program. The tree selected for the climb, estimated to be 75 years old, was inspected and prepared for climbing by Bartlett Tree Experts.
For some students, it was their first time climbing a tree.
Brown Middle School teacher Jennifer Hall said the technical tree-climbing adventure was the culmination of the students' environmental efforts. Through their "G-Force" program, students have learned about global warming, started recycling programs, performed cleanup around school property and participated in nature-drawing activities with the Atlanta Audubon Society.
But the rope-and-saddle tree climb was the high point of their year if you ask seventh-grader Victor-Alan Weeks.
“I thought it would be mind-blowing, and when I got up there, it was a big adrenaline rush," said Weeks, 13. “If it was available to do, I’d like to do it as a hobby.”
At one point, nearly a dozen students from the two schools were suspended in the air, some trying to get higher while others were content to simply hang and chat with their peers.
"It's completely social," Astrove said. "They're creating a community in the canopy."
Naajia Muhammad, 13, was the first girl to pull her way to the massive branches from which the ropes were hung. The Brown Middle School eighth-grader said she has never climbed a tree in the traditional way -- with just her hands. Hanging from a branch some three stories high, she could almost see her home, she said.
"It was a great view," she said. “Everything looks greener up there.”