Along with KTS, I have been involved in the ITCC for the last 25 years. It has been an incredible journey. The ITCC is hosted by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). The ISA is comprised of 43 individual chapters throughout North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific region. Each chapter has an annual qualifying tree climbing championship that follows the same format and rules as the ITCC. The winner of the chapter-level competition qualifies for the opportunity to compete in the ITCC. Each chapter can send one male and one female climber; however, not all chapters have a female representative. The ITCC is hosted by a different chapter every year. This year, the competition was held in downtown Washington, D.C. at the National Arboretum, a very interesting and historic place. I have competed 10 times at ITCC and for the years I did not compete, I volunteered to help set-up the events; I also had the experience of being a judge at one of the preliminary events.

So, here’s how the competition works: There are five preliminary events. The climbers with the highest combined score move on to the final event, called the Master’s Challenge. At the chapter level, the number of climbers that make it to the Master’s depends on how many participants there are. At the ITCC there are 5 male and 3 female climbers.

The Work Climb is part of the preliminary events. For this event, the climbers start at a predetermined anchor point at the top of a large spreading tree. The climber must complete four work stations in the tree that simulate daily tasks. While completing these tasks or stations, they are judged on safety, style and balance. The speed in which the climber completes the event is also scored.

Aerial Rescue is another preliminary event. A rescue mannequin is suspended in a tree with a climbing system. Competitors are given a scenario of how the worker became injured. The climber will need to do a risk assessment, devise a rescue plan and finally execute the plan by bringing the mannequin to the ground. This event is my personal favorite. It helps hone skills that hopefully will never be used.

Throw ball event tests your skills at throwing a small shot pouch attached to a very thin and light-weight string to predetermined targets in a tree. These targets are anywhere between 45’ and 70’ high. Once a target is hit, the competitors then attach and install the climbing line into the tree. This simulates how climbers install his/her access lines to work in tree tops.

There are two speed events which are based on pure speed. During one event, competitors simply climb the structure of the tree. They are belayed during this event; meaning, the ground technicians are tending slack in the safety rope and also lowering the climber to the ground after the climber has rung the bell at the top. The other speed event, competitors simply climb up a fixed rope installed in the tree. Climbers are allowed to use many different configurations of equipment to ascend. This event is quite interesting as you can see many different styles and uses of ascending equipment.

After the scores are tallied, the final event is the Master’s Challenge. This event tests the skills from the preliminary events. Climbers start on the ground with a predetermined time limit, usually between 25 and 35 minutes. The climbers need to complete a risk assessment, use a throw ball to install their access line, then complete four different stations in the tree which simulate common situations tree climbers do every day. This is always done in a large mature tree. I enjoy watching/judging this event since each climber has such different solutions to complete the task.

About ten years ago, women began competing in the ITCC. They had separate trees and separate time frames. As the years went by, the female climbers wanted to compete with male climbers. Now, female climbers compete on the same trees with all the same rules and time restrictions. Although the tree and times are the same, women only compete against other women. If men and women were competing against each other at last year’s ITCC Master’s Challenge, the female climber would have taken second place over all.

Being part of this event either as a competitor, volunteer or spectator has had many benefits. I have met climbers from around the world. We often communicate throughout the year on different climbing and rigging techniques, as well as arboricultural practices. Their desire to learn from each other is inspiring. Through this, it helps keep our team up to speed on safer, more efficient techniques to strengthen their skills, as well as providing a better service for our clients.


Todd Kramer
Training & Performance Manager
ISA Certified Arborist IL-1189AT, CTSP #039


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