Head in the cloudsExploring the trees of the Pacific Northwest

First published 11 January 2022

TIM KOVAR IS AFRAID OF HEIGHTS--- sort of. "You'd never find me atop a 15-foot ladder," the Atlanta-native-turned-Oregon-transplant said. The lack of safety and support concerns him. What if he slips and loses his balance? What if he falls? Reasonable fears. Which is why it might surprise you to learn that Kovar spends a lot of his time suspended 300 feet above the ground in some of the world's tallest trees.

As a trained arborist, Kovar is used to working at great heights. Mending sick trees---while securely fastened, of course---is his version of a day at the office. But these days, he's putting to use the techniques he picked up as an arborist and teaching those skills to others as a tree-climbing instructor.

As the owner of Tree Climbing Planet---his tree-climbing school which has been based out of Oregon City since 2009---Kovar instructs a wide range of students, from tree climbing instructors.in-training and BBC wildlife cinematographers to everyday inexperienced climbers eager to spend an afternoon scaling tall trees in order to camp overnight in the forest canopy.

It turns out there's a market for people who want to sleep (and otherwise recreate) in trees. In the past couple decades, the Pacific Northwest has quietly spawned a cottage industry based on exploring the canopies of the region's many forests.

Oregon and the Pacific Northwest are home to numerous treehouse resorts. The Vertical Horizons Treehouse Paradise, Out 'n' About Treesort and the posh Skamania Lodge all offer treehouse vacation living. Some of them, like Out 'n' About, will even teach you how to build your own treehouse. And there are day resorts like Tree to Tree Aerial Adventure Park, which offers team-building aerial obstacle courses and zip-line courses that fly you through the forest some 150 feet above the ground.

"There's nothing like waking up just before the sunrise [in a hammock-like apparatus known as a boat] with birdsong above you and birdsong below you," Kovar said. It's peaceful, magical and gives his guests a perspective that most people will never have. "Tree climbing is more about a place than a thing to do."

Just as you'd expect from a tree doctor, Kovar's approach is to do no harm. In fact, his goal is to do good. "We practice what we call 'inspirational tree climbing,'" he said, adding it's safe for both his students and the trees they climb.

Even though Kovar spends most days "training the trainers," Tree Climbing Planet's day classes and weeklong getaways have been specifically designed for people who haven't climbed trees since they were kids and even those who've never once climbed a tree in their entire lives.

Tree Climbing Planet classes in Oregon City run from May through October. Reservations can also be made on a whim.