BAKERSFIELD — If you want to find Shane Lumbra, all you have to do is look up.
The 26-year-old Bakersfield native was branch hopping more than 50 feet off the ground Wednesday in a massive red oak at Lakeview Cemetery in Burlington, his favorite climbing spot. Clipped into a harness and ropes and using little else but his feet and muscular, tree-tattooed arms, Lumbra ascended his rope to the tree’s higher branches.
Lumbra was practicing on Tuesday for the New England Tree Climbing Competition, which is sponsored by the International Society of Arboriculture (or ISA) and will be held at the end of the month in Oak Ledge Park in Burlington. The winner will go on to the International Tree Climbing Competition, which will be held in Milwaukee, Wis. in August.
Lumbra has been climbing trees since he was a kid. A high school teacher introduced him to arboriculture as a way to turn his natural love into a career, and Lumbra attended Paul Smith College for their forestry program.
Now, several years later, Lumbra clambers up trees and walks among their limbs for a living as an ISA certified arborist. He lives in Colchester, where he runs Sunset Tree Company.
When asked what draws him to being in trees all day, Lumbra said it’s what he’s always done. “[I] always was a climber.” He added, “The view is pretty sweet. You can, pretty much from anywhere, see the waterfront, the Adirondacks, or over the hill, Mount Mansfield.”
Lumbra does most of his tree work in Franklin and Chittenden counties. He said he does a lot of structure pruning and tree removals, and he also does structure support and cabling to prevent limb failure.
“A lot of times, trees will have a limb that will start growing and will have a poor crotch,” Lumbra explained.
While Lumbra said he enjoys his work, he also mentioned that there are some nail-biting moments, like when a dead tree limb suddenly breaks, when power lines are involved, or when he stumbles upon a beehive.
“Usually you get nailed,” he said of the latter. Lumbra said he also runs into a lot of squirrels.
Winter tree work in freezing temperatures isn’t always fun either. “It can be miserable,” Lumbra said.
Lumbra has only fallen once, when one of his climbing spikes broke. He shrugged it off, though mentioned he cut his hand on his chainsaw.
For these reasons, Lumbra likes to have another person around while doing tree work. “It’s smart to have a second person on the ground who’s capable and who can assist you if something particularly bad were to happen,” he said.
An arborist buddy, 26-year-old Adam Becker of Winooski, was there to spot Lumbra Tuesday night. Becker works as an arborist assistant for the City of Burlington Parks and Recreation Department, which is where he met Lumbra. Becker is also helping organize the ISA climbing competition.
Lumbra plans to practice climbing four or five more times, most likely with the company of Becker, before the competition on May 30 and 31, “to physically improve so I’m not huffing wind,” he said.
He is practicing for the various categories in which he’ll be tested: aerial rescue, belayed speed climb, secured footlock, throwline, work climb, and if he qualifies, the master’s challenge. Among other tasks, Lumbra will make timed climbs, set up ropes and rescue a dummy.
At the end of his practice session, Lumbra spoke more about why he climbs trees every day, and why he spends so much time in their looming, quiet company.
“I like them,” Lumbra said. “The fact that [a tree has] been through so much and has just stood the whole time.”