Saturday, 23 August 2008

Climbing trees in Western Australia's South West

The three major ‘climbing trees’ around Pemberton in the South West of Western Australia are the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, the Gloucester Tree and the Diamond Tree. And they’re terrifying, as I discovered when I tried climbing the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree.

Childlike dream
It is many a man’s dream to be a child again. The constant diet of icecream and fishfingers, the ability to get away with saying and doing bad things because adults think it’s cute, work being a particularly tough sum in maths… it’s enough to make anyone go nostalgic.
Arguably, though, the best thing about being a child again would be regaining that complete lack of fear. Cars can’t run you over, you’ll never fall off anything, and playing with matches won’t hurt a bit. You can also gleefully scamper up precarious-looking trees whilst adults look on and wince.

Tree climbing in the Pemberton Forest
Nowadays, tree climbing is a bit more risk-packed. It takes a considerable amount of alcohol to feel infallible these days, and the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree in the Pemberton Forest of South West WA is a thing of stomach-tightening fear rather than glorious opportunity.

Warren National Park
In the Warren National Park, 10km south of Pemberton, this karri tree soars 69m in the air, and someone has thoughtfully built a flimsy looking staircase around it. As protection, you have a mesh that is little better than chicken wire, and you are treading on thin strips of wire. One misplaced foot, therefore, and you’re going to be in an awful lot of trouble.

Fear of heights – not ideal for the task in hand
Hate heights. Hate them, hate them, hate them with knobs on. Climbing something so high and blatantly dangerous is not my idea of fun, but with the rest of the group chickening out (Boo! Hiss!), someone has to restore some honour.
Gingerly stepping onto the first rung, it mercifully doesn’t give way under my elephant weight, but my legs start to turn to jelly as soon as an unsafe jump-off distance is reached.

Viewing platform
Roughly a third of the way up is a viewing/ recovery from impending asthma attack platform. Great view, lovely trees, but after you’ve just clambered up the equivalent of a two story building, any pictures you attempt to take are liable to be shakier than a blancmange on a particularly vigorous washing machine. Especially when there’s the best part of the climb to go, and then the getting down part…

Getting to the top of the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree
After about twenty minutes of self-flagellation about being a coward to back out now, it’s time to start the baby steps again. Taking on every rung is a triumph of willpower, knowing that coming down is going to be even more terrifying.
‘Aided’ by shouts from the ground of “Look out for the missing rung” and “If you fall, you’ll probably die instantly – no pain,” somehow the top section is conquered. Once there it’s easy to imagine how Sir Edmund Hillary felt. The biggest kid, up the biggest tree of all, the king of the playground.
Then, of course, there is the matter of getting back down. Any chance of a helicopter ride chaps?

Getting to the Pemberton climbing trees in Australia

Nearest International Airport: Perth

Using public transport: The trees themselves – all of which are around Pemberton – are not easy to get to by public transport, but are within a short enough taxi ride. To get to Pemberton from Perth, use the direct TransWA bus.

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