Climbing Trees Is Serious Business!

Tree climbing is one of those unique outdoor activities that has stood the test of time. Today's middle-aged men have fond memories of shimmying up Tembusu trees in their youth, searching for Y-shaped branches to make into catapults. These days, tree climbing is regarded as an adventure activity, complete with modern safety equipment such as helmets, harnesses and ropes.

Some people go out on a limb in the course of their work. Only tree climbers do so literally

There is a certain group of tree lovers, however, who can be found up in the canopies of trees in the middle of the workday. No, they aren't hiding from their bosses. Among NParks' arborists (aka 'tree surgeons'), a select handful are certified tree climbers, who climb the trees in parks and gardens when their job requires it.

With his full safety gear – harness, ropes and helmet – Clayton is perfectly comfortable hanging in mid-air with his legs barely touching the branches of a tree

Climbing trees is an essential skill for Clayton Lee, an arborist who has been with NParks for five years. "You can see different aspects of the tree up close," he explains. Just as a medical surgeon examines a patient thoroughly before deciding whether to operate, arborists inspect a tree all over to assess if it is healthy.

To be a tree climber, an arborist first has to pass a basic tree-climbing course, which teaches climbing techniques that do not injure the tree or the climber. It is sometimes possible to reach the crown of a tree by using a crane, but when practical reasons get in the way, the arborists return to the tried and tested method of climbing.

While it is a part of their jobs, these climbers also thoroughly enjoy the experience of tree climbing, and the peaceful feeling of being high up in the trees. "Being up there, you get a good bird's eye view, and fresh air too," said Mohammad Affisshan, a climber with three years under his belt. "It's the only job that brings you so close to nature."

Gan Khing gets a closer look at the branches of this tree from her elevated perspective

And don't mistake tree climbing for a boys-only occupation. One of NParks' female climbers, Goh Gan Khing, is confident that climbing is gender-blind. "The others never treat me like a female in the first place!" she quipped. As a bonus, she receives more praise and compliments at climbing competitions than the male climbers do, just for standing out among the boys.

Not all arborists are tree climbers, and neither are all tree climbers arborists. If you are interested in tree climbing for industrial purposes, you can take a hands-on course in Basic Tree Climbing offered by the Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology (CUGE). Or you can also try your hand at recreational tree climbing with the Sunny Island Tree Climbers. Either way, getting close and personal with trees will prove nothing short of exhilarating, according to girl climber Gan Khing. "You can be in your own world up there!"

If you love trees too, but are limited to viewing them from ground level, fret not. Take part in our contests to win a Know 10 Trees calendar, or a copy of the book, Trees of Our Garden City (2nd edition)!

By Germaine Ong

Each climb requires a few types of rope for different functions. Here, Gan Khing prepares a bee-line rope

Clockwise from left: tree climbers Clayton Lee, Goh Gan Khing, and Chan Chung Leong. (If you wondered how the photos in this article were taken, take a look at what Chung Leong is holding in his right hand...)

Total Comments: 2

Li-San 11/27/2013 8:40:33 AM

Hi Shiho, For safety reasons, the public isn't allowed to climb the trees in parks and along roadsides, especially without harness. However, you may be interested to know that you can attend a course on tree access and aerial rescue. More details <a href="" title="here" rel="nofollow">here</a>.

Shiho 11/19/2013 7:08:16 PM

I am looking for a tree that you can climb without a harness-are there any good climbing trees in any parks in Singapore?
Enter the captcha

Have views or comments on this article? Let us know via this form. If you would like to give us feedback on any other areas relating to our parks and gardens, please submit via