LAYTON -- One obvious pun to start: Tree climbing involves ropes and carabiners and other rock-climbing gear, but you would be barking up the wrong tree if you thought they were the same.
Rock climbers hang on to rocks and use the ropes for safety, said John Dallinga, a 34-year-old Ogden tree trimmer who also climbs rocks.
But "in tree climbing, you hang on the ropes and use the tree branch for balance."
Dallinga, last year's Utah champion tree climber, was standing under one of the giant elms in Layton Commons Park on Saturday morning watching a man up amid the branches and leaves in that tree not only hang from ropes, but use one to swing.
It wasn't quite as graceful as Tarzan, but Dallinga still called out "Nice one, Kyle!" and then kept on explaining why that guy, and himself, and a whole bunch of other guys were climbing trees.
Layton Commons was host of Utah's championship tree-climbing competition. It was supposed to be a two-day event but got rained out Friday, so all the climbers were cramming all the competitions into one day.
This not a bunch of kids trying to see who could get to the top of an apple tree first. The competitors are professional arborists, people who work for tree-trimming companies around the state.
They make their livings climbing trees, so naturally they like to get together once a year and see who's best. Dallinga said the winner gets bragging rights and the chance to go to the international tree-climbing competition in Portland, Ore.
Dallinga got into tree work seven years ago because "it was a good job opportunity and I fell into it and loved it." The competition uses the same skills tree climbers use every day: rigging ropes, climbing ropes, maneuvering around inside a tree without falling out.
"It gets trimmers thinking about how they can do things more efficiently for the competitions," Dallinga said. "It's really helped out the industry."
The competition tested five skills: work climb, aerial rescue, belayed speed climb, secured foot lock and throw line.
The last didn't involved getting into a tree, just getting a rope up to the top of one so you could. All the others involved guys (almost all climbers Saturday were men) getting up into trees.
Mark Malmstrom, of Logan, has been trimming trees for 18 years and, at 42, calls himself the "old man" of the business.
He was pondering ropes dangling nearly 50 feet from a very tall tree. In a few minutes he would have to get to the top of those ropes using something called a "foot lock."
In a foot lock, the climber clamps the rope between his feet in such as way that it is looped over one foot and held in place by the other.
The climber can then pull, slide, and lift himself up the rope with his arms while pushing with his feet. Then he releases the rope with his feet, clamps onto it again and repeats.
Malmstrom said tree trimmers use the foot clamp to get up a tree quickly. The world record for getting to the top of that 50-foot rope by foot clamp method is just a tad over 13 seconds.
The reader is probably thinking, "Wow. I bet those guys are in great shape."
The reader is correct. No beer guts were in evidence at the competition, at least among the competitors.
"There's a sticker in our truck that says 'Your yard, our gym,' and it's true," Malmstrom said. A few guys might lift weights, but someone who can haul their own body weight up a 50-foot rope in 13 seconds doesn't need to.
Malmstrom loves tree trimming. It gets him outdoors and it's good steady year-round work that pays the bills. A lot of the work is for the electric company, so a winter storm that brings tree limbs down on power lines means extra pay for him.
Malmstrom's turn at the rope came up. He stepped into a harness, double-tied his shoe laces so they'd stay tied, rigged a safety rope, inspected his gear, leaned back and nodded at the time keeper.
He had one minute to get to the top.
He lifted with his arms and swung with his legs. His body rocked back and forth, rising steadily. His feet gripped and pushed, his arms reached and pulled. In 30 seconds flat he rang a bell at the top.
"I thought I could do better," he said after he slid back down, "but figured just go steady."