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We go to college to learn useful skills. At Cornell University, one of those skills is tree climbing!

Key Stats
Program: Cornell Tree Climbing Institute
Program Type: Classes in tree climbing
University: Cornell University
Department: Cornell Outdoor Education
Location: Ithaca, New York
Students: max 10 per class (for 4 instructors)
Program URL: https://treeclimbing.coe.cornell.edu




Spend the night in the treetops. Peer down into a nest. See birds flying beneath you.

While so many college classes contribute to stress, this is one that can help you unwind. At Cornell University, you can learn to use the proper equipment to climb trees– and relax. 


“One of my favorite proverbs is ‘the strength of a tree lies in its ability to bend.’ Sitting up in a tree and feeling the sway from the wind reminds me of that, and the need to be flexible and strong in all parts of life.” — Zoe Maisel, Cornell student graduating 2018

What kind of a class is this?

The Cornell Tree Climbing Institute is a part of the Cornell Outdoor Education (COE) program. A tree climbing class counts as a PE credit, and is thereby open to students of all majors. In fact, all of the classes are also open to the wider public.

What will I learn?

The key problem that you will learn to solve is how to reach the first branch.

“Nearly everyone has climbed a tree in their lifetime, but there is always that one tree where the first limb is out of your reach.” — Mark Holton, COE Associate Director

You’ll learn to place a rope in the tree, move it around, climb up, and move safely from place to place.

Can I really spend the night in a tree?

Yes! You will have the opportunity to spend a night up in the trees — from 8pm to 8am.

The school has built several platforms in big oak trees. First, you’ll climb up and congregate on the decks to have dinner and read Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. Then, you’ll rig up a hammock and spend the night in nature.

Why should I learn to climb trees?

21We see trees all around us, and when we learn how to climb them it gives us a powerful connection to our childhood. There is an element of nostalgia and adventure.

“What it really comes down to is that there’s just something very archetypally cool about climbing a tree.” — Mark Holton, COE Associate Director

You will come to feel a connection with nature and, above all, you will find it to be relaxing. You can climb up in a tree just to read book, watch the sunset and relax.

Beyond that, learning about ropes and knots can be quite interesting. There are amazing things to learn about nature as well– whether lichens, monkeys, birds or something else.

How could tree climbing be useful for my future career?

Tree climbing is good exercise and a great outlet to escape the stresses of economic life. However, it also has its professional outlets.

If you’re interested in canopy research, ornithology, biology, insects, climate change or arborist tree work, you may find that tree climbing is much more than an activity for general recreation.

Where would I climb?

Most climbing takes place near the university in New York.

However, there are also opportunities to travel to exotic locations to climb. For example, a fall course takes students to Costa Rica for 10 days. Another course take participants to climb the California Redwoods in May, and yet another heads to Madagascar in December.

22How much does it cost?

The Tree Climbing course for PE credit at Cornell costs $295 for students. However, if you’re hoping to travel somewhere more exotic than New York, the price of the class can shoot up.

To climb the California Redwoods or the trees in Costa Rica or Madagascar, you’ll be looking at $1100-$2100 as a student. Keep in mind that these prices don’t include the cost of airfare, and prices are generally $400-700 more if you’re not a Cornell student.

Do I have to be a Cornell student to participate?

No. Classes in Recreational Tree Climbing are open to the public. There are also courses specifically for scientists and professionals that focus on canopy research, as well as courses for educators that want to teach tree climbing.

Prices for these classes range from $45 each for youth to up to $388 for private lessons.

Is entry competitive?

Only in the sense that the classes tend to fill up quickly

Why is this program unique?

At Cornell, tree climbing classes are open to everyone. There are very few college programs that teach tree climbing, and those that do limit their classes to students of certain majors.

The scope of the Cornell program is also quite impressive. “There is really no element of tree climbing that you cannot learn here,” explains Holton. You can learn to climb in deserts, tropical forests, and even in the biggest trees in the world. “There is no other academic institution where you can learn to climb a giant sequoia,” says Holton.


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