• A Sudden Light Interior

Tree Climbing

Way up in a redwood

Garth way up in a redwood.

Climbing trees in the backyard is something we all do as kids, but to climb into the elders as Harry and Ben did is to join the tree in its scale, scope, and tempo.  I have done it, and it is truly magical.

In the early weeks of conceiving this novel, I knew that it had to do with the history of the Northwest, and the history of the Northwest has to do with trees.  Timber.  Working in timber was a dangerous job for the loggers; it was extremely lucrative for the timber barons.  I read many accounts of logging and saw many films about scaling to the heights of the tallest trees.  And then I read Richard Preston’s book, The Wild Trees.

What a great book.  He tells all about his adventures climbing the great redwoods and Sequoias in California, and more.  I did some searching on the Internet and found that one of his early instructors and climbing partners, Tim Kovar, lived not far from me, down near Portland, OR.  I signed up for his class, and he taught me how to climb.

Recently, Tim and I climbed an 800 year old redwood in California.  It was truly incredible.  We climbed in the early afternoon with my friend and bookseller from Oakland, Michael Barnard, owner of Rakestraw books.  Later that evening, Tim called me.  “Have you ever seen a sunset from a redwood?” he asked.  So he and I climbed again at dusk.  We reached the top of the tree—more than 200 feet high—just as the sun touched the horizon.  We watched the sun fade into the ocean, and then we descended the tree, reaching the ground in total darkness and making our way back to our cars.  It was an unforgettable experience, and one that I will cherish.  As Tim says, “Climbing a tree isn’t about getting somewhere, it’s about being somewhere.”  When I was in that tree, who is known as Grandfather to those who have climbed him, I felt held by his embrace and by his spirit.

From A Sudden Light

page 114

“Higher we go, and higher still into the tree’s bosom. The rush of adrenaline is so intense it is explosive. Nothing but our own muscles and strength keeping us alive. Rubbing pitch on our hands to grip through the sweat. The need to focus on one thing—the next branch—until the branches swallow us, and, soon, we can’t even see the forest floor.”

page 348
“The world spread out before me in all directions, and I clung to the swaying spar of tree as the wind circled us and pushed us about. The mountains and the water and the city sparkled in the distance. The houses and the people below…In that moment I knew why Ben and Harry had climbed trees to the very top; I knew what they felt; I felt what they felt.”

 More about tree climbing

  • Tim Kovar of Tree Climbing Planet

    Tim Kovar is the founder of Tree Climbing Planet and a Master Tree Climbing Instructor with 20 years of teaching experience. His love and respect of nature, coupled with his wanderlust spirit, led him to metaphorically and literally take the vertical path less traveled. As Tim says, “Climbing a tree isn’t about getting somewhere; it’s about being somewhere.”

  • Garth Climbing Giants

    Michael Barnard from Rakestraw Books (Danville, CA) and climbing instructor Tim Kovar of Tree Climbing Planet joined Garth for his 200-foot-plus climb up an ancient redwood.

  • View from the treetopsView from the Treetops

    This video is from a National Geographic special in which tree researching pioneer, Steve Sillett, climbs a giant redwood. It gives you a taste of modern tree climbing. Check out the rest of the video for some spectacular footage.

  • Old Time Redwood LoggingRedwood Logging in California, 1940’s

    The history of the Northwest and California is all about trees. Gold ore was what they chased in 1849, but trees were the real gold. Entire cities were built from swaths of the forests. And some of the greatest giants the world has ever known were felled to build our country.

  • World Record Unassisted Tree Climb

    This might be Trevor! POV video of the World Record for the most distance free climbed (unassisted) up a tree 200+ feet.

  • view up treeGlossary of Tree Climbing and Related Terms

    A to Z of tree climbing terminology.

  • Tree Trek ExplorationTree Trek Exploration | Tree Climbing Training and Adventures

    Tree Trek Exploration trains adventurers, researchers and educators to move through the forest canopy at will, using the latest and safest tree climbing techniques and equipment. They also offer two inexpensive public “try it” tree climbs each month for those who aren’t sure if this adventure is right for them.

  • Tree Climbing USA – “Hanging Out With Shady Characters”

    Tree Climbing USA is an organization devoted to increasing awareness and knowledge of tree climbing. They offer training and conduct climbs for climbers of all levels of skill and experience.

  • GOTC Vice-President Bill “Wild Bill” MaherThe Global Organization of Tree Climbers (GOTC)

    In 2007 a group of some of the most experienced tree climbing instructors and facilitators came together with the goal of creating an inclusive, non-profit, and democratic organization to serve the tree climbing community.



  1. Bill Lewis
    Posted September 17, 2014 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Climbing trees, whether one is an ant, slowly ascending, or a monkey with five hands, is an individual journey. And, we know which climbers have fear – only the one who can appreciate the accomplishment.

    • Sarah Cyr
      Posted September 21, 2014 at 2:25 am | Permalink

      Hi Bill – Thanks for your comment. Are you a tree climber yourself?

  2. Posted September 21, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I would best describe this activity as a real low high. As Peter Jenkins said: “It is rather at place to go that a thing to do”. Join us at a school near you or Oct 1st at Shaw Nature Reserve for our 13th international gathering also know as the “RENDEZVOUS” /

    See you at the top!

  3. Arlene Millman
    Posted November 20, 2014 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Loved viewing incredible video of adventurous Garth “at one” with majestic redwood, as he embarks on tree climbing journey. Wish I could partake in a memorable tree climbing experience. But, alas, ancient redwoods are noticeably absent in the northeast. Perhaps someday. Arlene
    “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” — John Muir

    • Courtney Williams
      Posted December 11, 2014 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      Hi Arlene – thanks for watching the clip and sending your feedback! On a lark, I Googled “tree climbing northeast” and came across this site: http://www.newenglandtreeclimbing.com/ Looks like you could have a tree climbing experience where you live! Cool thing to do on your birthday, maybe? I’ll be sure to send your comment along to Garth. Those trees are breathtaking, aren’t they? Their scale and majesty certainly put into perspective the smallness of humans who bicker over and destroy them. Have you read A Sudden Light yet, Arlene? Much more about human frailty and the timber industry in Garth’s newest!

      • Arlene Millman
        Posted December 14, 2014 at 4:45 am | Permalink

        Hi Courtney,, Thanks for the input about tree climbing in the northeast5. Will put it in my tickler file for next spring, which coincidentally is also my birthday!. Yes, I have read A Sudden Light several times, and each read provides additional insight into Garth’s brilliant multi-generational saga. Love the supernatural thread running through this latest tale. Have purchased as gifts for friends who are in tune with the existence of human frailties, and the dilemma of greed versus ethics in our spiritual universe. Courtney, appreciate your comments. In love and light, Arlene

  4. Jerry Warren
    Posted November 24, 2014 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    Thank you Mr. Stein for “A Sudden Light” – a day’s delight of reading !

    • Courtney Williams
      Posted December 11, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your message, Jerry. I’ll let Garth know that you gobbled his book up so quickly. I had the same experience!

  5. Posted February 28, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Permalink


    Is the Grandfather redwood you climbed one that’s legal to climb without a complex permit process?

    • Garth Stein
      Posted March 1, 2015 at 12:20 am | Permalink

      Grandfather is located on private property, so no permission is needed except for the property owner. If you’re interested, Tim Kovar is hosting a limited number of climbs in March. His website is wwww.treeclimbingplanet.com –Garth

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  • A Sudden LightSimon & Schuster presents the spellbinding and transcendent new novel by the author of THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN
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