A collaboration by David Katz and Colin Crilley

Photos contributed by others where noted

This past week Colin, Jake, Jeff and I taught five students the skills and techniques to climb Giant Sequoia. The course proved to be one of the most rewarding and successful courses I've worked for Cornell Outdoor Education and the growing Cornell Tree Climbing Institute. Enjoy this second major update, and stay tuned for the third update in early June. 
The first images here are of the surrounding landscape. 

View from the canopy down on the San Joaquin valley

Giant Sequoia near the cabin

A view from the nearby summit of Big Baldy 8211'

Whitaker Forest Cabin at night with headlamp streaks

Night Sky and young "light painted" Giant Sequoia

During preparation days last week, as an instructor team, we developed a skills-based progression that would allow the students to rig their "own" tree, meaning to climb the tree from ground to crown. To pull this off, we spent three solid days teaching, practicing and coaching climbing skills and techniques. Our curriculum was focused on three major components: A) safety B) challenge and C) reward. Building off a foundation of safe protocols, advanced climbing skills were introduced to complete the challenge of climbing these big trees. The challenge component was easy to address: tall trees, slippery branches, climbing through a blizzard, etc. The reward came in various forms: amazing dinner food, sunset from the canopy, laughing to the point of crying, etc. The images below help illustrate the first few days on course. 

Instructor Jeff and our five students on Day 1 in front of a Sequoia dedicated to State Forester Merritt Pratt on the Whitaker's Forest property

Dave teaching student Simon basic knots - Photo by Laetitia

Student Laetitia throwing her rope higher in an Incense Cedar

Colin teaching safe use of the crossbow - Photo by Jeff Deutsch

Student Laetitia shooting the crossbow to get an initial line in the tree - Photo by Jeff Deutsch

Pasta meal cooked by students after a long day - Photo by Nicole

After getting an initial line up in the tree and dialing out the outdoor/indoor living scene, time to climb the big trees! The next few images document the students climbing the Giant Sequoia. 

Student Laetitia jugging up rope - Photo by Jeff Deutsch

Student Brian jugging up Giant Sequoia

Student Simon jugging up rope

Student Nicole jugging up Giant Sequoia

Student Brian jugging up Giant Sequoia

On the fourth day of course, the students achieved the challenge of "summiting" an old growth Giant Sequoia. To ensure safety, instructor teams supervised two small student groups which climbed to the canopy of two separate trees and caught a view looking west down to the San Joaquin valley some 5000' below. 

Student Jerry looking for a path upward through the lower half of the Giant Sequoia canopy - Photo by Jeff Deutsch

Student Nicole hanging out on a branch in the lower reaches of the Giant Sequoia canopy

View down on the lower canopy from the top of a Giant Sequoia

Students celebrating after spending four days working on getting to the "summit" of a ~250' Giant Sequoia

After the students "topped out" in the summit of the tree, Colin and Dave rigged a couple hammocks for the following overnight in the tree. Good to weight the hammocks to test them out :) 

Dave testing out a hammock

After the multi-day rig-a-thon, we planned a overnight in the crown of a giant sequoia tree. The morning of May 25th looked gloomy and we kept an eye skyward all day attempting to track the oncoming storm. Grey skies and light snow flurries began to fall in the early afternoon. By the time Jake and Colin began jugging up the tree to prepare the final hammocks the snow began to fall in heavy squalls. The weather continued to fluctuate miraculously from sun and calm to wind and snow. To our advantage the wind was light and the threat of lightening seemed minimal. Our assessment of the situation was a stable snowstorm, so students kept jugging up the rope. An additional surprise was that student Nicole (senior tree climbing instructor for Cornell) skipped her graduation ceremony to join the course and we celebrated her graduation in style: A) In a blizzard B) In the Canopy of Giant Sequoia C) With a group of new friends. 
As the crew settled into their hammocks the setting sun created a dramatic orange sky looking down valley to the west. While slipping into their sleeping bags the crew looked skyward to a spectacular crescent moon and the crisp clear sky and stars high above. 
The next few photos illustrate the overnight in the blizzard. 

Looking into the snowstorm and sun from the canopy

Instructor Jake graduating Nicole from her undergraduate studies at Cornell the night of the overnight

Sunset looking west from the canopy

Sunset on Fresno from the canopy - Photo by Laetitia

Snow covered trees as seen from the canopy the morning after the overnight - Photo by Jake Rudin

Hammocks with snow the morning after the overnight - Photo by Jake Rudin

Jake rappelling with soaking sleeping bags

Dave jugging up the rope to retrieve hammocks

Did we meet our course goals? I think so...we traveled from ground to crown to ground safely, met significant challenges along the way, and we were rewarded with success. This draws to a close one of the best courses, and I look forward to the next week of collaboration with UCB. 

Cranking this out while sweating it out in Fresno. Thanks everyone for participating. 

Until next time, ~Dave and Colin~ 

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