This weekend Theresa and I traveled to Deception Pass to do something which was a grand departure from our usual routine, but something that has intrigued me since I first saw the technique demonstrated on some documentary involving the upper canopy of a forest. We booked a class with AdventureTerra to ‘Canopy Climb’; that is we used fixed rope to ascend our way to the top of a 200’ Douglas Fir.
Between the classes I’ve taken for rough water kayaking, then the classes I subsequently taught at Deception Pass and finally the Deception Pass Dash races I’ve filmed, I’ve lost caught of the number of visit to this uniquely beautiful location. The areas is not only beautiful but has quite a bit of history as well.
The Deception Pass area has been home to various Coast Salish tribes for thousands of years. The first Europeans to see Deception Pass were members of the 1790 expedition of Manuel Quimper on the Princesa Real. The Spanish gave it the name Boca de Flon. A group of sailors led by Joseph Whidbey, part of the Vancouver Expedition, found and mapped Deception Pass on June 7, 1792. George Vancouver gave it the name “Deception” because it had misled him into thinking Whidbey Island was a peninsula.
Since the founding of recreational tree climbing, sometime in 1980’s, there have been no known serious accidents or death from recreational tree climbing in more than 30 years with proper equipment and protocols. Simply stated, recreational tree climbing is amazingly safe. As long as you follow the basic rules, protocols and have the right equipment, tree climbing is far safer than most daily activities like riding a bike.
Comforting words, but as we pulled into the parking lot and I looked at the tree we were going to climb, easy to spot as the lines were already fixed, they lost some of that power. Somewhere along the lines when someones says, ‘Take it easy…”. Yea, easier said than done!
But what comfort I lost as I look upward to a dizzying height, remember this is coming from someone who’s spent the majority of his life at sea-level, our guides Leo and Shara re-installed. They had different personalities, Leo was calm and soft spoken were as Shara was quick to laugh and engaging, but they both had an obvious confidence born of experience and it was easy to place my trust in them.
I remember a lesson I took in guide training where my instructor stated, “I won’t pass you unless I feel I could trust my children with you.” That’s been the litmus test ever since and I can honestly say I’d trust my children with either of them.
They first fitted us out with and explained all the necessary gear one needs to reach the top of the canopy. Then Leo did a quick demonstration on using the gear and the different techniques to ascend. Apparently, there’s no one size fits all. Then Theresa and I each did a quick test climb to about 30’ just to get acquainted with the everything. Once back on the ground we did made some minor adjustments and it was time to head for the top; 200’ over our heads.
This is when the nerves started to get in! I think I’m a fair representation of the average guy. I’m not particularly afraid of heights but I have a healthy fear of failing. I’d say the first 50’ were the most uncomfortable. I was flailing trying to find my own technique, I wasn’t quite trusting my gear yet, and I was very much aware of the ground as it was still in my peripheral vision. But I found the higher I got the more relaxed I became. Trust, technique and the enjoyment of my increasingly better view all overcame my disquiet.
Once we reached the crown, which was above the other tree tops, we had a stunning view of both the Deception Pass Bridge and nearby San Juan Islands. In fact, it was so exhilarating that we spend close to an hour hanging up at the top.
So what’s the takeaway? Do it! Despite the soreness I’m feeling as I write this, and it’s everywhere, I’d highly recommend at least trying this activity once. How hasn’t, as a child, loved climbing trees and the sense of discovery and freedom it brought? Well this is that but magnified 10 fold. You can contact AdventureTerra here and book your own experience. Weather permitting they operate through November then will start up again next spring.
Let me know what you thought of the experience in the comments below.