Kids of the Wild’s very first organised event was a day’s tree climbing with the brilliant adventure company Flaming Monkey in Northumberland. Thirteen children and adults aged 6 to 45 joined us last weekend for two sessions in the woodlands of The Alnwick Garden.

tree-with-climbing-ropes-attached

It was a gloriously sunny Saturday and surprisingly warm for the first day of October.

Pre-climbing nerves

Caroline had spent the previous week in nervous excitement. Me too actually! Other than a few occasions of basic rock climbing with my sister I haven’t done anything out of my climbing comfort zone since 1999 when we camped with friends on the Isle of Skye for a little Munro bagging. We climbed up and abseiled down the In Pinn (Inaccessible Pinnacle) and did a Tyrolean traverse from cliffs to a sea stack.

Cue gratuitous inclusion of poorly scanned old photo of Wild Mummy on Tyrolean traverse, Isle of Skye…

woman-on-tyrolean-traverse-between-cliff-and-sea-stack2

I had no idea what to expect from tree climbing having purposely not watched Flaming Monkey’s excellent promo videos until after the event.

Great instructors

Husband and wife team Kevin and Ancha and their daughter Freya couldn’t be more friendly, calming and helpful. The children immediately relaxed in their presence despite their pre-climb nerves. Wild Mummy however bounced around in excited anticipation, feeling 16 again.

two-girls-hanging-in-harnesses-from-beech-treeThe tree was a statuesque 120 year old beech; massive, beautiful and no doubt terrifying in the eyes of our intrepid Kids of the Wild.

Briefing and demo

Before the simple and concise safety briefing we were kitted out with helmets, gloves, knotted ropes with foot loops one end and special harnesses with thigh pads attached (for ‘hanging about’ in the air).

Kevin gave a short demonstration and then picked a deeply nervous Caroline as his first climber. She stepped up to the task admirably despite daunted glances towards us and immediately picked up the technique.

There were 15 minutes of chaos as we were individually clipped onto ropes using special safety carabiners that the children couldn’t unscrew when high off the ground. We all climbed on the same tree which was comforting and added to the camaraderie.

Each person took their own time to work out the process and soon all seven of us were scaling the tree at different heights and speeds.

How it’s done (kind of..)

Essentially, the rope with foot loops is attached to the climbing rope with a moveable knot tied beneath a knot which attaches the safety harness to the climb rope. You place one foot in each loop before loosening the knot, pushing it up the climb rope to just below the safety harness knot. This causes your legs to bend in an ungainly hanging crouch. You then put your full weight in the foot loops, pushing your body into a standing position. The safety harness knot is then pushed up the climb rope before repeating the first step again.

Slowly but surely

You climb a couple of feet up the rope each time; a slow, tiring process but with great views and a profound sense of achievement – until Kevin shinned up the rope like a spider monkey and put us all to shame!

Looking down

Confidence and achievement

The thrill of achieving something dangerous in a secure environment is a true testament to the power of pushing one’s physical and emotional boundaries in the arms of Mother Nature – Kids of the Wild

All the children set their own pace, returning to the ground (under supervision) when they chose or just swinging in the harness and chatting. Every centimetre they climbed was entirely by their own action. It was an incredible confidence booster for them.

Caroline initially climbed about 15 feet then went down before climbing a further three times, reaching higher each time.

Ancha and Kevin were always on the ground for assistance, giving each child a strong sense of personal satisfaction as they weren’t being physically guided, pushed nor forced by the adults; they were in complete control and all the achievement was their own, though obviously they were safe at all times as Kevin could leap up a rope at a moment’s notice if anyone panicked – which nobody did. And there were certificates for everyone too.

Awesome kids of the wild

I can’t recommend this adventure activity enough.

Flaming Monkey is a brilliant company and you should definitely contact them if you visit the north-east.

Tree climbing in this way is a great test of strength, endurance and courage mixed with a little brainpower to master the technique.

Scary branch balancing

I climbed to the top of my 50 foot rope and stayed up for a while enjoying the view, the clear air and the satisfaction of watching the children have so much fun below me.

Twice I stepped onto the tree itself which was an odd experience. I immediately became nervous and felt decidedly unsafe, a weird shift in consciousness because when climbing trees without a safety rope I’m fine. The swap from harness security to trusting my body for security (even though the harness was still there) was an odd one at such a height.

But that’s why I love the wild; it shows and teaches us something different every time we experience it!

HUGE thanks to Kevin and Ancha for an unforgettable experience. We will be back!

Thanks also to Kevin, Caroline and Tracy who added to the photo stock after a Kids of the Wild camera focus fail