An Interview with Tree Climbing Expert & Wildlife Artist Richard Symonds
Richard Symonds generously agreed to share his experience climbing trees with the folks from Hammock Town. Richard has been committed to wildlife conversation for over 20 years. Entirely self-taught Richard dedicated his life to painting and drawing wild animals in their natural habitat. He’s held various exhibitions and auctions around the world. 🗺
In 2006 Richard hit headlines completing his first life-size oil painting of an African bull elephant named “Tembo”. Richard’s painting sold for a staggering $100,000.00 to a private collector with a large donation from the sale going directly to The Born Free Foundation.
Richard has a rare ability to capture the true essence of each animal he paints. His artwork
has been published in many leading magazines, books, Limited Edition prints, greetings cards and multi media.
Without further ado the interview with tree climbing expert Richard Symonds!
Q1. How long have you been climbing trees
Like most people my earliest memories of climbing trees was as a young child in my parents garden. I specifically remember climbing a big chestnut tree that was by the road and just loved watching the people and cars pass by underneath me knowing that no one knew I was up there spying on them!
I didn’t revisit climbing trees again until 5 years ago by my Polish brother in law. He introduced me to tree climbing again some 40 years later but this time with ropes, ascenders and a multiple of shiny climbing gadgets! After my first proper high climb on a 35m beech tree in Poland I knew I was hooked on this great hobby and sport!
Q2. How did you learn to climb trees and how do you continue to improve your tree climbing skills?
Well this is where I must say ‘please don’t try this at home’. I learnt all my initial climbing skills from the University of YouTube! Well as you can imagine I went out and bought all the fancy gear I would need to fulfil my new found interest but had no clue how to even tie a granny knot!
The saying ‘All the gear, no idea’ perfectly summed me up. Hundreds of videos later and a lot of knot tying practice whilst in the bathroom later, I was ready to conquer the dizzy heights of my local trees. Luckily I came to no harm and got away with a few dodgy moments unscathed until meeting up with a bunch of fully trained and hugely knowledgeable arborists at my local woods. We would regularly meet up and I was like an eager sponge learning and soaking up all the skills from my newly made friends with all the techniques and knots you could ever wish to know.
Q3. What is your favorite type of tree?
I would have to say either a beech tree or redwood. The beech tree is a smooth and beautiful looking tree, usually around 25-35m high with plenty of branches to walk out on or put a hammock up for a rest and a chill out.
For height and sheer size though, it has to be a redwood. These trees are just simply enormous and go up and up! The tallest I have climbed was 68m but my favorite redwood is a tree just half a mile from my home which stands at 41m high overlooking our local lake and park. We have a little tradition amongst our climbing friends to name our trees and I named my tree ‘Shakira‘. It is always a challenge to climb, I never tire of it and the 360 degree view from the top is breathtaking, much like the real Shakira I can only imagine!
4. What gear do you use to climb trees?
As mentioned before I love a good gadget and climbing trees certainly fulfills that need with its huge array of shiny climbing tech to get you up and into the canopy of your favorite tree.
My preferred technique is called DRT (Double Rope Technique) which is basically a rope thrown up and over a limb of the tree with one end of the rope connected to the climbers harness and the other end running under the climbers foot which he uses a foot ascender to step up and climb the rope. I use a mechanical ascender/descender called a zig zag which allows you to go both up and down the tree with a very smooth and easy input.
5. What hammock are you currently using and why did you choose it?
I have a few different hammocks that I own and use, the easiest and simplest to carry up a tree and set up at height has to be a standard DD Hammock. It’s small and compact enough to carry in your climbing bag and when climbing you want something really straight forward and easy to set up especially when you are out of breath like me having scaled up 40m!
It’s a really great little hammock and the ropes they use grip the branches so well and never seem to slip, which is handy when looking down 40m! I also own a Hennessey Explorer Deluxe which is a great comfortable hammock I use for kayak trips down the river or sleeping out in the woods for a night.
If I’m after the ultimate luxury I set up one of my Tensile Stingray Tents. These are the Rolls Royce of Hammocks and can fit my wife and child in too for those family trips away.
6. What is your dream tree that you would love to climb, where is it located and why is it your dream tree?
My dream tree would have to be the same as all the other tree climbers out there, Hyperion. This redwood is the largest tree in the world standing at 115m high in California, USA. Its magnificent and towers over the other redwoods in the area, it’s a giant among giants.
The feeling of climbing up the largest tree in the world would be unbelievable and unforgettable, knowing that it has been standing for hundreds of years before me and probably hundreds of years after me. To be able to spend a moment of time on something so big, old and awesome would be humbling and even spiritual.
7. Is there anything else you want to share?
I was once asked why do I like climbing trees? Different to rock climbing trees move and sway with the wind are alive and accessible in all directions. They make you feel very small and insignificant in the big scheme of things and are often hundreds of years old.
They will outlive us and see more than we ever will, our very lives and existence depend on them. Climbing is both challenging and potentially dangerous but it is never dull or boring and different every time. If you have never tried I urge you to have a go and come to your own conclusions, you won’t regret it!