Trunking Ethics

Trunking is a unique pastime, resulting in some unique but very reasonable ethics. Any climber should be able to follow them with ease and understand their basis in common sense. I request that you, as readers of this blog and potential trunkers, respect and follow these guidelines to protect the integrity of trunking, OU’s campus, and your own safety.

Safety is paramount. Climbing is one of the most efficient methods of putting oneself into risk of bodily harm. Tree climbing is especially dangerous due to the lack of established safety gear and the distance and obstacles between the climber and the ground. Therefore, it is each climber’s full responsibility to be aware and considerate of their own safety and the safety of anyone below or near the tree. An uncontrolled fall from any height in a tree could result in sprains, broken bones, or worse for the climber, a spotter, or an innocent passerby.

In following with the above question of safety, it is also a climber’s duty to know their limits. Trunking is a non-competitive sport, and active efforts to push one’s physical limits greatly increases the chance of injury. When climbing with more than one person, avoid being directly below one another whenever possible, only climb trees that can support the appropriate weight, and descend from the tree in reverse order from ascension so as to avoid awkward crossings. It is also noteworthy that tree climbing can be more abrasive than rock climbing due to the roughness of most types of bark. People with easily broken skin or problems with bleeding should consider this and take necessary precautions before climbing, such as wearing long pants. For any prospective climbers, if cautious climbing isn’t appealing, try bouldering in a local climbing gym or other physical activities. Trunking relies on internalized discipline and appreciation to be truly safe and worthwhile.

Second only to human safety, the protection of the trees and proper respect of nature is core. Trees, unlike rocks, are living organisms, and deserve treatment that exceeds even the best rock climbing manners. First comes the tree’s livelihood. Never climb in a way that would directly harm the tree itself. Examples of this include ripping off bark or limbs, putting excessive weight on an unreliable branch, or destroying or removing fruit, leaves, or sprouts intentionally. No good tree climber would even imagine cutting their initials into the magnificent life-form holding them aloft. A climber also should not climb a tree if it cannot fully support his or her weight. Even if the tree supports weight, if climbing causes any damage to the tree’s bark, it should be stopped immediately. Tree bark is like skin; without it, or if it gets damaged, the tree is prone to infection. Some trees have sturdier bark than others. These are the species that should be used for trunking. Overuse of popular trees, like common bouldering areas, may see greater wear at some point. If this happens, trunking in those areas should be halted until the trees can fully recover.

After the trees themselves comes any animals dependent on the trees. Squirrels, birds, and insects make homes in these trees and have first rights to all their resources. Yes, even bugs should be left to their own devices unless posing a clear health threat. While observing and appreciating nests or other phenomena, direct interaction should be avoided if at all possible. Tree climbing is meant to be an excellent means of experiencing and interacting with nature without disturbing or disrupting its flow.

The third obligation a climber has to nature, beyond its core needs, is to preserve its beauty. This is why tree climbers should not use heavy gear, physically mark routes, or use large amounts of chalk while climbing trees. Finally, obviously, do not leave trash or non-native materials in or around a tree while climbing. Trees are for everyone, and tree climbing has no special claim over hammockers, slackliners, or people just enjoying a bit of shade.

That’s the basics of tree climbing ethics. Beyond these, good judgement and proper outdoorsmanship should always be exercised. Happy climbing.

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