High Profile: Tree Huggers

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Bill and Shelly Byrne know what it’s like to be up a tree: the pro tree climbing duo are the owners of Alexandria-based EarthJoy Tree Adventures, one of the largest recreational tree climbing companies in the world.

Bill: A good, playful tree has limbs you can hang on, walk out on, and swing from. Sycamores and oaks are always good climbing trees. Around here, our favorite place to climb is A.J. Jolly Park in Alexandria.

Shelly: I really like climbing where there’s not a lot of noise and traffic—arboretums are great. Being in a tree is very peaceful and kinesthetic—it puts you in your body. I get to the point where I’m literally craving being in a tree.

Bill: The tallest tree we’ve climbed is a Douglas fir that was around 125 feet tall.

Shelly: We love games. The “Monkey Game” is a popular one—it’s like Capture the Flag but in a tree. We also make up different challenges like the Super-Squirrel-Twirl—twist as many times as possible mid-air, in-between landing back on a branch—or rappelling upside down like Spiderman.

Bill: There’s a Tree Climber’s Rendezvous [in St. Louis this October]. There are tree climbing championships, too.

Bill: The most people we’ve had in a tree at one time is 22. I’ve seen climbers aged 5 to 95.

Shelly: From my personal perspective, women make better first-time climbers. Men come in trying to muscle up the tree, and burn out quickly. Women tend to be more about the techniques, asking questions about how they can do this in the most efficient way. 

Bill: We had this cherry tree when I was a kid, with these big, black cherries. I’d climb to the top and pick that tree clean.

Shelly: The longest I have been in the trees is about eight hours, but we do have climbers who spend the night in the trees. There are hammocks made specifically for that. You hang them 50 feet in the air and watch the sun set
and the moon rise.

Originally published in April 2014 issue.

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