If some of you missed last year's event, just follow this link to see what you missed, and then you can join and will not be deterred by names such as karabiners, friction knots and tree entry techniques. Year 2013 allowed us to visit the Jardin de l'Etat in Saint-Denis where the first challenge was held. In 2014 we upgraded to the CBNM (Conservatoire Botanique de Mascarins) or Mascarin Botanical Garden which is in Saint-Leu. For those of you not fully familiar with the island's geography, Saint-Leu is on the Western Coast of Reunion and is famous within the surfer world as it offers a special left wave (do not ask me for details here, I am a landsman!) The CBNM is not situated on the shore but at some 500 meters in elevation with a fantastic view of the coast and it will be more detailed in a specific article to come soon.
A botanical garden is not usually the kind of place where people are allowed to climb trees, send throw bags up the branches, speed around through the limbs and set up monkey bridges, one may argue. True indeed but let me remind you that my small heavenly island happens to be in cyclonic area and thus year 2014 began with a rather bad cyclone which did wreak havoc amongst trees and bushes. This allowed our local arborist committee to make a deal with the botanical garden's authorities, who offered the use of the place in exchange for some tree surgery work. Now we would not climb fragile or endangered endemic trees of the collection, as we are tree lovers at heart and not fake modern Tarzans!
Good climb, mister President! Flying!
After several tours of the place we decided to set up the various events in Eucalyptus camaldulensis and E. tereticornis which grow freely in the garden. Those trees originate from Australia and a few amongst the 600 species of the genera have been imported on Reunion, where they obviously enjoy the soil and climate. They grow to some 20 meters high with powerful main branches and an open crown, qualities perfectly suited for a climbing challenge.
The usual events of such a competition will be held; five trees are chosen and we start working on them two weeks before the event. Dead limbs, broken ones and suspended branches are removed; anchor points are selected and tested for efficient mechanical strength. Bark protection is set up at points where climbers will repeatedly step, so as to preserve the tree integrity. Rescue ropes are systematically set in case of need. Trees have to be large enough, sound, offering a good view for both juries and spectators. The five events are throw bag, rapid climbing, foot-locking, aerial rescue and work climb which all require different installations. Teams are designated to get the tools and gizmos required for each event. As I am to set up the foot-lock, I get two climbing ropes, karabiners and pulleys, cambium savers, bell and measuring tape. Strange paraphernalia? Not really, let me explain. The foot-locking event consists in a speed competition: one has to climb up a 15m rope using the ‘foot-locking' technique which means locking the rope with both feet while advancing the friction hitch or mechanical rope grabber. In order to make sure the competitor reaches the required 15m, a bell is attached exactly as this height and the rule specifies that it must be 38cm from the climbing line (actually I had it fixed at 40cm but nobody complained so far!) This implies of course that the climbing rope should be set higher so the climber would not bump into the attachment branch. A second rope for securing the climber through a back clip has to be installed, close enough to be efficient but not too close so it would get in the way. After some sweating and grunting the whole thing is set and I can belay back to the ground. The other teams come back and we get together to set ropes and monkey bridges for children who always love those activities.
Firemen to the rescue! Helping the casualty down
Happy casualty and savers...
Before the challenge itself we have a day with firemen for technical rescue exchange. Those people are a specialized team who deal in rescues in places such as cliffs, factories chimneys, tall buildings, caves and other places where casualties may happen. As we also go through special training for arborist rescue it sounded like a good idea to meet and share knowledge and technical data. Without going at length through the day it indeed was very interesting and we managed to compare our respective skills through combined practice, as you can see on the images it was a friendly day.
Now we start the challenge! On Saturday morning the competitors gather and have to go through the PPE verification before anything else. PPE stands for Personal Protection Equipment - the tools we use to climb and work safely, including harness or saddle, ropes, karabiners, lanyards, helmets, ascenders and so on. Those have to meet national requirements of strength (a climbing rope has to stand up to 2200kg pulling), they must be in good condition and each piece has to be precisely identified with unique factory number, date of purchase, date of first use and yearly inspection. So each competitor sets his things on a table and trained checkers will go through every piece of equipment, rejecting any suspicious one. Then a number is attributed and a matching T-shirt is handed to every climber. While the competitors warm up, the various juries walk to their respective trees and make sure all is ready for the events. Climbers called "squirrels" go up in the various trees and set as comfortably as possible, they will be in charge of security and for assistance during the whole event.
Climber's tools of the trade
More gizmos and toys!
Not much stress but serious
Most of the day climbers switch from one event to the other, some show up smiling while other are more concentrated or tired. One can hear supportive shouting, bells ringing and applause. Juries carefully write down notations and commentaries while each climber performs his task. All data will be fed in the computers and by the end of the day the three best climbers are designed. The happy guys (sorry, no female competitor this year!) are offered prizes; unsurprisingly they get chainsaws amongst other goodies! And the top climber is awarded an opportunity to go to France for the national event in June.
Squirrel with a helmet
It is now time for me to climb back up and dismantle the foot-lock installation so please stay a little while longer and enjoy a fresh pineapple juice at the committee table. I hope you will be back for 2015!