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Morton Arboretum hosts world tree climbing championship
By Susan Dibble | Daily Herald Staff

Eden Gutirrez of Prospect Heights rescues a dummy from a tree during an Aerial Rescue contest. Arborists from 15 countries will compete this weekend at the Morton Arboretum in an international championship.


Daily Herald file photo

Anja Erni of Switzerland is the female winner of the 2009 International Tree Climbing Championship.


Courtesy of The Davy Tree Expert Co.

Jared Abrojena of California, the 2009 male international tree climbing champion, reaches for a station in the tree.


Courtesy of The Davey Tree Expert Co.

An arborist helps a boy climb a tree using ropes. Visitors will have a chance to climb like the professionals during the Recreational Tree Climb at the international competition.


Courtesy of The Morton Arboretum

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Published: 7/23/20 12:01 AM

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If you go

What: International Tree Climbing Championship

When: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24 and 25; Arbor Fair 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 24

Where: Morton Arboretum, 4100 Route 53, Lisle

Cost: Free with regular admission of $11 for adults, $10 for seniors 65 and older, $8 ages 2 to 17, free for younger children

Info: (630) 968-0074 or

As a kid, John Meiszner was always the first to scoot up a tree and persuade others to follow.

When he discovered in college that tree climbing actually could be a profession, he went for it.

Meiszner, now 34 and an arborist for Elmhurst, doesn't have to climb trees in his current position and thinks he might be getting a little old to play Tarzan.

But habits die hard. You'll find him this weekend at the Super Bowl of the tree world, the 34th annual International Tree Climbing Championship on Saturday and Sunday, July 24 and 25, at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

"I'm a previous state champion," said Meiszner, who lives in Countryside. "It's hard to pass up an opportunity to compete at an international level. I got back into it."

Meiszner is among 54 arborists from 15 countries who will show off their skills scaling stately oaks in the arboretum's Daffodil Glade. They'll compete for cash prizes, but even more than that they'll have an opportunity to share techniques and expertise at the event coordinated by the International Society of Arboriculture.

The competition helps kick off the society's annual International Conference and Trade Show running July 26 to 28 in downtown Chicago.

It's a friendly contest, Meiszner said.

"It's called a competition. To me, it's more like a celebration," he said. "It's nice to get together with a group of guys (and gals) who are enthused about what they do for a living and take it to a higher level."

Fifty to 60 feet, to be more exact.

Tree scaling skills

Each one of the 39 male and 15 female competitors has gotten there by winning a regional competition. At the international contest, they all compete in five events in the preliminary rounds from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

During the Aerial Rescue, the climbers retrieve and bring back to the ground a 110-pound "Rescue Andy" dummy. The Work Climb has them traveling to four stations on a tree and ringing a bell.

In the Secured Footlock and Belayed Speed Climb, the arborists ring a bell after ascending a rope 40 and 50 feet respectively within 60 seconds. Many do it within 16 to 20 seconds.

They demonstrate their skills in showing how they'll get off the ground in Throwline by throwing a rope and hitting two of six targets 35 to 60 feet high.

The Work Climb draws the biggest crowd and best demonstrates what arborists do as part of their normal work life, said Todd Kramer of Aurora, an eight-time contestant in the international competition and a volunteer at this year's event.

"It's the most athletic event," he said. "It's the most fun to watch."

That is, except for the Head-to-Head Footlock and Master's Challenge Championship that the winners in the preliminary rounds advance to from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

The cash prizes are modest. The first-place male and female master champions receive $500 each. Even more important than the prizes is the chance to learn new techniques and introduce the public to what arborists really do, said Kramer, a member of the family-owned Kramer Tree Specialists in West Chicago.

"The whole thing surprises people because our profession is not very well known," he said. "There are so many ways to get the work done. That's why the competition is fun to see."

Arborists commonly climb trees to prune them or inspect them for problems, said Brian Malatia, arborist supervisor at the Morton Arboretum. Not a competitor himself, Malatia is pruning the trees of deadwood in preparation for the competition.

In a profession commonly rated as one of the most physically dangerous, safety is paramount, Malatia said. Climbers use ropes and wear helmets and harnesses, known as saddles.

"I tell people here, you won't catch me off the ground unless I have a saddle or rope on," Malatia said.

Arbor Fair

Visitors will have a chance to climb like the professionals do with a rope and saddle at the Recreational Tree Climb. The climb and other tree-related activities are offered during the Arbor Fair from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Kids can try a low-to-the-ground limb walk, do leaf rubbings, learn to identify parts of a tree, and enjoy stories and songs.

Visitors also may go on guided tree walks, participate in the Great Tree ID Challenge, see knot-tieing demonstrations and watch a chain saw carving. They can find out about plant diseases and insects, learn how to select tree stock and plant it, and read the stories that tree rings tell.

The STIHL Tour des Trees ride to raise money for tree research and education will arrive and hold an opening ceremony between 1:30 and 3 p.m. Saturday.

That's all in addition to seeing the best tree climbers in the world demonstrate their skills high in the leafy green.

"I think people are blown away by how big and organized the event is," Meiszner said.