If you have been participating in Season Spotter, no doubt you’ve seen tens – if not hundreds – of photos taken from above the top of the forest canopy. And, you’ve probably wondered, “How do they get the camera up there?”
Most of our forest cameras are mounted on triangular metal towers:
This photo shows the view looking back down the tower at the Bartlett Experimental Forest, which is about 95 feet high (and only 18” across on each side). At one of our sites, the Wind River Experimental Forest, the tower is 250 feet high and is situated in the middle of a forest of giants – old growth Douglas-fir trees that are more than 500 years old and over 200 feet high.
Climbing any of these towers is an amazing experience. We wear safety harnesses, like rock climbers use, and as we climb we tether ourselves to the tower with slings, ropes, and carabiners. Once you’re about 30 feet up, you really begin to feel the exposure. By the time you are 50 feet up, you’re often getting into the canopy, and by 70 feet up, you are usually starting to get above the trees. At this point, you begin to realize that you’re getting into a totally different environment from when your feet were firmly planted on the ground. For example, in the summer, it can be buggy and humid at the bottom of the tower, but pleasantly breezy and cool at the top of the tower. And of course the views are amazing!
I’ve been doing research from towers like these for more than a dozen years, and for me, spending half a day hanging in my harness—tinkering with instruments, adjusting sensors, and installing new gadgets, while looking out over the tops of the trees—is one of the highlights of my job.