Cheers to a Successful ISA Tree Climbing Championship Year

Cheers to a Successful ISA Tree Climbing Championship Year

Tree climbing competitions (TCC) are a staple of the tree care industry, and, just as tree climbing techniques and equipment have advanced over the years, so have the competitions. Today, competitions not only provide educational opportunities for arborists, they also encourage the use of industry safety standards and best practices, create an environment that allows educational interactions between tree care industry professionals, educate the public about the industry and create positive public exposure for the profession.

“[Tree climbing championships] are always a great opportunity to expand our industry and share knowledge on the latest tree climbing techniques and gear,” said John Gauthier, the head judge over the 2019 North American Tree Climbing Championship (NATCC).

ISA hosts four TCCs a year in partnership with our chapters and associate organizations. Three of the competitions are regional—Asia Pacific (APTCC), European (ETCC) and North American. The winners of the regional events go on to compete in the International Tree Climbing Championship (ITCC). Tree climbing competitions simulate working conditions of arborists in the field. The competitors are scored individually in each event—Aerial Rescue, Work Climb, Ascent, Belayed Speed Climb and Throwline. The competitors’ scores from all five events are combined, and the male and female competitors with the highest combined scores compete in the Masters’ Challenge Championship. The Masters’ Challenge is designed to judge the contestant’s overall productivity and skill with a rope and saddle in the tree.

“This is a unique time when we (climbers) get to focus on our climbing skills in an isolated way,” said Craig Bachman, the head judge for the Belayed Speed Climb at ITCC 2019. “In a work setting, climbing is simply how we ‘commute’ to each work site within the tree canopy. At a TCC, climbing receives a special focus that leads to great opportunities to learn from one another and incorporate new ideas into our own climbing skills toolkit.”

As the new year begins, ISA would like to take a moment and highlight some of the accomplishments and the winners from the 2019 tree climbing competition season.

Asia Pacific Tree Climbing Competition (APTCC)

The 2019 TCC season began with APTCC 2019 held in Christchurch, New Zealand and hosted by the New Zealand Arboricultural Association. The winners of the event were Barton Allen-Hall and Jess Hamer from Arboriculture Australia.

“I think the community has grown a lot,” said Andy Neverman, an arborist who served as head technician at ITCC 2019 as well as several New Zealand competitions. “[Competitions] are getting technically more challenging each year. It’s getting harder to judge the Masters’ Challenge as new equipment and methods become available—which is good.”

Additionally, APTCC 2019 was awarded the Best Event of the Year Award by the 2019 APAC Association Awards. APAC described APTCC 2019 as a successful international level sporting event.

“While the event was essentially an international level sporting event for the top-level tree climbers, the opportunity also helped to get the community of Christchurch involved in the event and leave behind, not only memories of an exhilarating sporting event in Christchurch’s iconic Botanic Gardens, but a legacy of increased appreciation of the importance of Christchurch’s tree assets and their benefits to the communities they serve,” APAC said. 

European Tree Climbing Championship (ETCC)

The ISA Germany Chapter hosted ETCC 2019 in Putbus, Germany. The champions were Josephine Hedger from The Arboricultural Association (United Kingdom/Ireland) and Frits Van der werff from the Belgian Arborist Association.

International Tree Climbing Championship

The ISA Southern Chapter hosted ITCC 2019 held in Knoxville, Tennessee, U.S. where Hedger and Scott Forrest from the ISA New Zealand Chapter emerged victorious.

“It’s a fantastic feeling to come here and win for a fourth time and it really is unbelievable,” Forrest said after receiving the trophy during the awards ceremony.

Both Hedger and Forrest have each won four Masters’ Challenges at ITCC. “To get it again after such a long period of time is an amazing feeling,” Hedger said. “I love this sport and I love the community. I’ll keep climbing for a couple more years and when I’ve had enough I’ll come back and volunteer.” Bachmann from the Pacific Northwest ISA was awarded the ITCC Arthur Bruce Smith Volunteer Spirit Award, James Earhart from the Mid-Atlantic Chapter ISA won the ITCC Competitor Spirit of the Competition Award and the New Zealand Arboricultural Association competitors, Stephanie Dryfhout and Forrest, were the Team Competition winners.

“I have volunteered at the ITCC since 2016 and I never imagined being recognized in this way by the competitors,” Bachman said. “They all bring so much positive energy and enthusiasm to the event, representing their home chapters and countries. I was honored and humbled to receive this important award from such an exceptional group of climbers and arborists.”

North American Tree Climbing Championship

The 2019 TCC season ended with NATCC 2019 held in San Diego, California, U.S. and was hosted by the Western Chapter ISA. In the end, Krista Strating from the ISA Ontario Chapter, and Earhart emerged as the NATCC 2019 champions. Both climbers are returning NATCC 2018 Masters’ Challenge winners.

“[The competition] went off very well because we had great trees and a great group,” said Philip Ruiz, the NATCC chair person. “What stuck out was the satisfaction of the competitors. They were very happy with the weather, the location and the site.”

This championship marks Strating’s fourth NATCC victory. “It feels great,” she said. “Marilou Dussault and I are the only women to have won this competition, and we’re always rooting for each other since we’re both Canadian. As long as one of us wins, it’s always good.”

This was Earhart’s second consecutive time winning the NATCC Masters’ Challenge. “It’s something you put a lot of time and effort into, and I have a lot of pride in that,” he said. “It feels great when you can come out, do your best, and have it pay off in the end. It’s such a fun stop on the journey.”

Earhart and Strating will both go on to compete in ITCC 2020.

Thank you

None of the competitions would be possible without the help of our many volunteers. Volunteering at TCCs often means long days with very few breaks. Every year the competitions and the expectations get bigger, and, thanks to our amazing volunteers who dedicate their time and energy, we are able to participate in an exciting event, educate the public and create positive exposure for the industry. Their efforts make the event not only a success, but a wonderful learning and teaching environment where participants from around the world can share their knowledge of trees, climbing and arboriculture. ISA wants to thank all of its volunteers throughout 2019 and we hope to see you all in the years to come.

ISA would also like to thank the Operations Committee Chairs and the committees as a whole for their hard work.  They volunteer countless hours to make all of our events a success. Thank you to all of the local chapter representatives as well who are always willing to go above and beyond.

Additionally, ISA would like to thank our generous sponsors for their support. Your contributions help make our vision a reality. As we continue to grow, please know partnerships with our sponsors are vital and you are truly appreciated.

Lastly, ISA would like to highlight the competitors, without whom we would not have tree climbing championships. They work diligently all year to reach the regional and international levels. We are in awe of their talent and skill, and it’s been a pleasure watching you all compete.

We don’t think this small measure of thanks is enough for all you do throughout the year, so we will be spotlighting our volunteers and climber members in future ISA publications such as ISA Today. If you know of either a volunteer or a TCC climber who best exemplifies the industry, please email us their name, contact details and a short description of why you think they should be highlighted to

Theme picker

Image Database

ISA has a vast inventory of arboriculture- and urban forestry-related images that were compiled with the help of our members and volunteers.

Through a partnership with Forestry Images, ISA has thousands of photos and graphics available for use. ISA either owns the photos or has permission to permit their use.

Access the Image Database to browse the collection of images.

International Tree Climbing Championships

Press Releases

For inquiries about ISA news and media opportunities, contact our Communications Specialist.