What do you do if you’re passionate about trees? You climb them of course! If they’re trees the size of the one in this post, you are going to need mountain climbing gear and some serious climbing skills though.
Two years ago Leon Visser – a Cape Town based tree-surgeon – visited our area to climb the huge Karri gum trees in one of the local plantations. Karri gums are not indigenous to South Africa (they are Australian trees), but are grown here commercially. The purpose of that visit – besides the chance to climb a big tree – was to determine the heights of the largest trees in South Africa for the South African Champion Tree Project. You can read all about that visit (and how serious tree climbers climb these giants) in the post What do tree surgeons do on their day off?
Last week Leon was back again with a group from the 2013 Explore: The Ancient Trees of Africa expedition.
From the team’s mission statement . . .
South Africa has some of the most diverse range of habitats on the planet, and has incredibly rich levels of both biodiversity and endemism. The team plan to travel overland from Cape Town in the South, all the way up to the Limpopo province in the North East of the country, a journey of roughly 4000km.
South Africa is the fastest developing country in Africa, increasingly bringing humans into conflict with nature. Forestry and mining activities, as well as many other issues, are contributing to the devastation of once pristine habitats at an alarming rate. Unfortunately these activities are also South Africa’s largest source of income and as such unlikely to stop any time soon.
Working together with official government departments in South Africa, we aim to climb and record some of the country’s key champion trees as well as begin the hunt for new noteworthy specimens. Some of these trees are beyond 80m tall and others such as the Baobabs are believed to be up to 4000 years old! By filling in gaps in official tree data, and by potentially finding and adding new specimens to South Africa’s champion tree register, we can help get these trees protect by law and aid in the conservation of invaluable habitats at risk of being lost.
The Big Tree they were climbing this day, was a huge Outeniqua Yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus). These giants tower above the canopy of the surrounding mature indigenous forest, and are easily visible if one flies over the forest. This Yellowwood can be found just outside the town of Knysna in the Southern Cape. It is a short distance from the road, so is a popular stop for tourists.
While they were up there, the tree climbers measured the tree. In its old age it has shrunk a little, down to 36 metres (118 feet)
Going up . . . This is one of the climbers using the ropes already attached to the top of the tree to pull himself up. Yes, he’s climbing the rope itself. One of the reasons for using this method, is not not to damage the tree. I can imagine that this would require some serious arm muscles and strength. [To read more about the process go to this article.]
After me telling Willie to stay with the other spectators at the bottom of the tree and not feel the urge to climb the tree too, he naturally had to get up the tree! The tree climbers had brought with them a small motorised winch and harness, which could zip inexperienced tree climbers to the top in a couple of minutes. So Willie says he “did not technically climb the tree”! Yeah, right . . . Although he did get some beautiful photos from the top. [Watch the video at the bottom of the post to see the winch in action.]
Video: The winch in action.