Pole Climbing


In pole climbing competitors scale a 20 foot debarked pole, preferably sweetgum, but often yellow-poplar, as fast as possible. Quickest time from when a hand touches the pole until the competitor touches the top of the pole wins. Each competitor gets two climbs, with only their best climb counting. They may wear shoes or climb barefoot, but cannot use spikes, cleats, or adhesive substances on their feet. They may use adhesive spray on their hands. The event has been run every year since 1960, except for 2009 when it had to be canceled due to rain.


Pole Climbing - 2022 Conclave

Click HERE to view the video on YouTube.

Thanks to Dylan Thompson for shooting and providing this video of Tyler Berry pole climbing at the 63rd Southern Forestry Conclave hosted by the University of Tennessee.

Pole Climbing - 2016 Conclave

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Thanks to Chelsea Lopez for shooting and providing this video of Ellart 'Dutch' Vreugdenhil pole climbing at the 59th Southern Forestry Conclave hosted by Clemson University.


Pole Climbing Tips & Techniques Videos

Click HERE to view the video on YouTube.

Many thanks to Sarah Fuller for her work in shooting, recording, and editing this video.

How to Climb a Pole

While on a metal pole in a park, this video does a good job breaking down the same biomechanics we use in our event at Conclave. Click HERE to view the video on YouTube.

Pole Climbing World Championships

Most pole climbing events around the world climb taller poles (e.g. 50 - 100 feet) and do so using equipment. While this pole climbing technique is NOT what we do in the Southern Forestry Conclave, this video does a good job highlighting the techniques and appeal of this unique timbersport. Click HERE to view the video on YouTube.


A climber's helmet for safety, shoes that provide a good grip, and an adhesive for the hands are all that are needed for a pole climber. While numerous different adhesives work well for pole climbing, Mueller's Stickum Spray is cheap and readily available on amazon.com and other vendors. It is best removed from the hands with WD-40. A variety of styles of helmets may be easily found by searching 'climbing helmet' online. For shoes, any style with a soft rubber sole that grips the pole work well. One style that works particularly well is the so-called 'chukka boot' with 'gum sticker soles'. The soles are flat and rubbery, but are not actually sticky. They vary in the sole material, so take care to find a pair with soft rubber, but not too soft that it wears out in a few climbs. This usually requires trial and error, and a few returned items.

The pole itself should be a de-barked sweetgum or yellow-poplar. It should be relatively fresh (e.g. 4 - 6 months depending on climate), as they tend to crack under the stress of climbing once they become too dry. They also rot where buried in the ground. Do not climb a pole that has been up for too long! Debarking is best accomplished with a draw knife. Large knots can be removed with a chainsaw, and small knots can be removed with a wood rasp. Care should be taken not to sand the pole, as the fine sawdust can make climbing difficult. If a pole is sanded or ground, extra steps must be taken to remove any and all sawdust so climbers do not slip. Poles are dangerous to climb when wet (especially if that water is frozen), so this is typically an afternoon event reserved for sunny days.

Historical Context

Pole climbing has been a sport or a necessary component of jobs in various fields for centuries. During the heyday of wooden ship-building in America, a period when America's forest products industry supplied naval stores and was a dominant economic force, mast climbing was common for both work and sport.

Photo Credit: Pole and mast climbers from a pre-1851 engraving. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6835692

In forestry, there are a host of reasons to climb trees. In the western USA and Canada, steep terrain often requires cable yarding to move harvested logs to the logging deck, as slopes are inaccessible by ground-based skidders or forwarders. Typically loggers must climb large trees, top them, and anchor cables that will be used in these yarding operations.

Photo Credit: A 1945 photo of a logger climbing a tree on the Queen Charlotte Islands, Vancouver, British Columbia. http://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/logger-climbing-tree-on-queen-charlotte-islands

Photo Credit: A logger topping a coastal redwood in Mendicino County, California, to create a spar tree used in a cable yarding operation. http://www.mendorailhistory.org/1_logging/spar_trees.htm

Live trees are commonly climbed by arborists managing forests in urban areas. The International Society of Arboriculture maintains the arborist certification program for professionals in the USA, and provides a wealth of information for those interested in becoming arborists and learning safe tree climbing techniques.

Photo Credit: SFA forestry student Paul Patterson demonstrates tree-climbing techniques used by arborists. Thanks to Sarah Fuller for providing the photo.

Similar techniques are used in the electric utility industry, where linemen routinely climb utility poles to affect repairs and install equipment. While logging was the deadliest job in 2014, according to Time Magazine, linemen ranked ninth.

Photo Credit: A lineman repairs a transformer after having scaled the utility pole using climbing and safety equipment. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1596041