Jossue Avendano, Southampton

The weather might have been scorching, but the climbers were undeniably cool.

Awesome, every one.

The 2024 New York State Tree Climbing Championship took place in Albany’s pleasantly shady Washington Park on June 22. Sponsored by The New York State Arborists, the competition offered top tree workers in the state a chance to display their skills and abilities in a series of competitive events, learn new techniques, compete against their peers, visit with friends and win prizes.

Climbing comps feature drama, heart stoppers, derring-do. Grace to take your breath away. Often you’ll find upsets. Sometimes, surprises.

All were showcased in Albany’s Washington Park this past Saturday, along with some majestic trees.

The stakes were high: top scorers from the day’s preliminary round would advance to the Masters’ Challenge, designed to judge contestants’ overall productivity and skill with a rope and saddle in the tree. The top finisher in that event would go on to compete at the 2024 ISA International Tree Climbing Championship in Atlanta this coming October.

Tom Pascale, Mastic Beach

Thirty climbers took part. Although most hailed from New York State, the contest allowed participants from other regions as well if space was available. Many came long distances to attend the competition.

Regulations required that registrants be actively working for an arboricultural/landscape organization or tree service company and perform climbing duties as part of their work.

Participants rotated among five stations: the Work Climb; the Belayed Speed Climb; Aerial Rescue; Throwline; and the Ascent Event.

At each station a climber would complete a succession of tasks in the crown of the tree and signal each one’s completion by ringing a bell.

A microburst two days before the Championship had wreaked havoc in the park, cracking off limbs and downing massive trees.

Crews could be spotted around the competition site cleaning up the wreckage.

The NYSA event provided the opportunity to view some gorgeous trees in the park, including the red oaks and sweetgums and pin oaks in which the activities took place. Strollers could take in other tree sights as well, like an autographed mature ginkgo.

The Competition offered numerous activities for enjoyment.

You could test your strength.

Or visit the Ask an Arborist booth hosted by Landis Arboretum in Esperance, New York. Fred Beglia, Executive Director at Landis, offered a wry comment about contestants and storm damage in the park: “If these guys got together, we’d get it cleaned up in an hour!”

Fred Beglia, Landis Arboretum

Some kids tried a hand at climbing.

Or just fooling around with a rope sleeve.

It was not necessary to be a professional tree person to attend, and fans wandered among the stations to admire the efforts of contestants. Families of climbers positioned themselves to see their loved ones compete.

Sarah Hood-Recant, Midlothian, Virginia

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sponsored a booth. Gloria Van Duyne, Program Coordinator of DEC’s Urban and Community Forestry Program, said, “This competition is great because it brings attention to the tree care industry, which helps raise the topic of taking care of our trees, and it encourages people to think about becoming an arborist as a professional.” She continued: “We take care of trees so they can take care of us.”

Sarah Hood-Recant of Midlothian, Virginia plied her skills at the Ascent, speedily elevating herself up into the crown of a massive pin oak. A tree-climbing arborist and residential crew leader at Davey, she’d triumphed as Mid Atlantic Masters’ winner in April along with fellow climber James Earhart.

Hood-Recant said of that win, “Happy and shocked still!” She went on, “I’m just excited to be here and compete again. You meet so many awesome people at these events!”

Observers near the Aerial Rescue station could hear voices from above as each climber reached the simulated injured climber on a high limb.

“Got a pulse! Looks like there’s no head injury!”

All around, on the ground, competitors urged on their fellow contestants.

“Nice, dude!”


“High feet!”

“Use those legs!”

“Your got it!”

“Bring it”

“There you go!”

“Inner child!”


“Big push!”

“Ring it!”

“Hit it!”

“Take a breath!”

“Go go go!”

Brian Smith, Albany

Brian Smith of Albany told of why the Work Climb was his favorite event. Smith said he liked “the opportunity to just move through the tree. It’s well thought-out — a joy — usually you’re doing this with a chainsaw, a nine-pound infant on your hip! This is an opportunity to put the saw down and see how much you’ve grown as a climber.”

Stephanie Littenberg, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

Another climber, Stephanie Littenberg, traveled all the way from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia to participate. Littenberg was one of two women out of the thirty challengers.

“I love doing this,” she said. “I like competing. It’s my hobby.” When she’s not attending comps like this one, Littenberg works as an arborist for a small tree care company. “My goal is one day to hold the women’s world record for the fastest ascent.” She placed second last year.

Fran Reidy, NYSA TCC Judge, New York State Arborists

Fran Reidy, Region 1 Governor for NYSA and owner of Dryad Tree & Shrub Diagnostics, served on the team of judges for the Belayed Speed Climb. The event tested the ability to climb a predetermined route from the ground to about sixty feet up using the belayed climbing system for safety.

Standing in some welcome shade as a few raindrops pattered down, Reidy said what she liked best about the Competition was “the camaraderie — you have a lot of levels of skill. People who compete are being taught, guided and judged by people with a lot of experience in arboriculture.”

There was plenty of camaraderie in Albany.

Climbing is essentially democratic. Everyone puts on their harness the same way, one leg at a time.

Josh Galiley, Chair, NYSA Tree Climbing Championship 2023-4 and Joel Griefenberger, former cochair, NYSA TCC 1996-2022

After the events concluded, top contestants receive medals of distinction for their performance in each of the five stations.

Mark Moeske, Competition Head Tech and Angelo Schembari, NYSA President

The numbers had been crunched, and crunched again. The winner overall? Stephanie Littenberg, who averaged the top score for all five events. Littenberg would go on to participate in the Masters’ Challenge that followed with three other qualifying contestants.

At the Masters’, it was determined that Champion Daniel Barnes of Schenectedy would be endorsed to advance to the International Tree Climbing Competition in Atlanta in October with financial support from NYSA, Barnes being the New York State-residing climber with the leading score of 277.33.

West Virginian Stephanie Littenberg, however, received a perfect score of 300 at the Masters’ Challenge. As a result, the organizers of the New York Tree Climbing Championship decided to recommend her for the ITCC as well.

According to Angelo Schembari, President of New York State Arborists, Littenberg’s performance at the Masters was “nothing short of aerial ballet.” He said, “Her time was phenomenal, her scoring was phenomenal, and it was phenomenal to watch her.”

Judge Fran Reidy put it simply: “She crushed it.”