Climbing Trees in Monteverde, Costa Rica
A spider monkey I am not. They run up and down tree limbs with ease, swooping from one branch to another. Meanwhile, I huff and puff and awkwardly hoist myself from one climbing hold to another. I have the upper body strength of a T-Rex but yet seem to prefer to try to pull myself up the tree rather than push myself with my legs. This makes for very tired arms and quick descents from the tree when the strength gives out.
Knowing this, I still signed up to take a go at the Arboreal Climbing Park at Sky Adventures in Monteverde, Costa Rica. I’ve become something of an adventure traveller in recent years, even though some of the stuff I do scares the crap out of me, and always want to push myself and try something new with each trip. This trip it was tree climbing.
Costa Rica is full of amazing adventure opportunities. Zip lines, rafting, night hikes, horseback riding, volcano hikes, surfing, ATV tours, and even bungee jumping. I tried the big ones like zip lines and surfing on my first trip here in 2012 and just could not bring myself to sign up for bungee jumping. I’m pretty brave behind a computer screen, but not that brave yet. So when I saw that Sky Adventures had opened a tree climbing area in recent years, that checked the right boxes for me: something new, something a little adventurous, something that would make me push myself.
I met my guide after I finish my guided Sky Walk and he got me suited up in harness and helmet. Honestly, it’s a bit alarming how often I wear a helmet while on vacation. It turned out that I was the only one signed up and I was a bit glad for the dedicated attention, though it meant I wouldn’t have rest time while someone else had a go. There are seven trees available to climb, ranging in height from 33′ to 60′. I attempted to scale three of them. The easy three.
We approached the first tree and I got the rundown of how the automatic belay system worked and a brief tutorial on how to climb. At Sky Adventures they’ve used straps to keep the climbing holds in place without damaging the tree. Conservation is a big deal in Costa Rica and I like that the activities I’ve done have always been conscious of that. The bonus of the straps is that they can give you a few extra places to stand or hold onto. My guide scampered up a few holds to show me how it was done and then leaned back, let go, and drifted back to the squishy grey landing pad at the base of the tree.
How hard can it be?
I took my first step up and immediately realized that this would require more upper body strength than I had estimated. The first few holds were easy to grip and there was strap available to stand on but as I got up a bit higher I panicked. My legs started feeling shaky, my breathing became rapid and shallow, my arms were Jell-o. I was only about 10 feet off the ground. I soldiered on until I reached a spot where I’d gotten myself into an awkward situation where I hadn’t reached for a high enough hold and instead was trying to hold myself to the tree at chest height, which was instead pushing me back from it. My guide shouted up helpful instructions but it was too late. I lost my grip and down I went. It turns out, this was the most fun part!
I tried abseiling for the first time on my canyoning trip in Slovenia and discovered I wasn’t half bad at it. Coming down from a climbing tree at Sky Adventures was like abseiling without the work of lowering yourself down. The pulley system they have catches you and automatically lowers you down and a good rate. All you have to do is hold the safety rope and keep your knees bent to push back from the tree if you get close. If someone would hoist me to the top of the tree I’d jump back down all day long. The problem was, I had to climb up there myself to get to the fun bit.
Turns out, harder than I thought
After that first attempt I tried to shake it off and collect myself. I have a history of overreacting to physical things. I’m not proud of it. But I am proud of the fact that it didn’t stop me from trying it again. The second time it was easier, though I got myself jammed up in the same spot again. The third time I made it further. It turns out I was about three or four more steps away from reaching the top and ringing the bell. Alas, the bell would stay silent that day.
After a fourth try we moved on to another tree. I practically scampered up the first half dozen steps on this one. Whee! And then I got myself crossed up and couldn’t hold on. Down I came. My forearms were really getting tired by this point. Even though I knew I should be using my legs more to propel me upwards, I’m so awkward, I just kept relying on my arms, especially my right one. My guide even gave me a forearm massage to try to loosen up the muscles while I laughed at my awkwardness. I made another couple attempts at that tree before moving on.
My third and final tree was easier… in theory. But I was getting tired. My arms felt ok on the ground but as soon as I would pull up once or twice I could feel the strength going out of them. My third attempt on the third tree and I was ready to call it. No shame.
While I know I didn’t do as well as most people who try tree climbing I’m still pretty happy with what I did. I know I pushed my own limits and didn’t give up.
A few more push-ups and maybe next time I’ll be ringing that bell for all to hear.
- Company: Costa Rica Sky Adventures
- Location: About 20 minutes from Monteverde
- Length: 1.5 hours
- Cost: $40 USD
- Gear required: Sneakers (climbing shoes if you own them) and comfortable, non-loose clothing
Be sure not to go climbing trees without travel insurance. In case an injury means you need to cancel all or part of your trip, travel insurance will help you when you need it most. I recommend World Nomads as travel insurance for tree climbing in Costa Rica.
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