There will be a lot of pressure on Rebecca Seibel this weekend.

The 44-year-old Minneapolis arborist will be competing against 61 of the world's best professionals in the International Tree Climbing Championships, held this year in Florida.

While the competition is certain to be fierce, there will be less danger than she faces on a typical day of trimming trees: She won't have to make these climbs while carrying a running chain saw, the way she usually does.

"You've got to pay attention to what you're doing," she said of her work. "There's no daydreaming on the job."

Seibel, who counts herself as one of the first female arborists in the state, remains one of the few.

"There still are only a few of us," she said. "Even on the international level there aren't that many. We're rare, but growing."

As a girl, she'd been interested in trees, so she decided to spend her life in them.

She launched her own tree trimming company at one point, but she sold it three years ago when she discovered that climbing the corporate ladder wasn't as much fun as climbing trees.

"I was spending too much time at a desk crunching numbers," said Seibel, who works for Bartlett Tree Experts, the firm that bought her operation. "I needed to get back in the field. Now I have a vertical office — it's in the trees."

She qualified for the weekend competition, which is sponsored by the International Society of Arboriculture, by winning a regional tournament. There are cash prizes on the line, but the contest is more about professional esteem. The top male and female climber each win only $500, which won't cover the travel expenses for most competitors, a roster that includes climbers from as far away as New Zealand and Japan.

Seibel isn't focusing on winning as much as she is on achieving a personal best and getting a chance to socialize with her fellow competitors.

"This will be my fourth international competition," she said. "My goal is to improve my times from last year, but half the fun is seeing everybody."

Tree-hugging climbs

If the idea of a tree climbing competition brings to mind images of lumberjack contests that turn up occasionally on ESPN, think again. For starters, the arborists' primary concern is the health of the trees.

"We don't wear spikes" to jab into the trunk the way lumberjacks do, she said. "We won't do anything that damages the tree."

The competition consists of five timed events. As with most professional contests, the events test work-related skills by paralleling on-the-job situations.

For instance, there's the "secured footlock climb," which is basically pro-climber-speak for what phy-ed teachers refer to as shinnying up a rope.

"Basically, you lift your body weight by locking the rope in your feet and pulling yourself up with your arms," Seibel explained. "You have to climb up 50 feet and ring a bell that's at the top of the rope. It's a good core workout. It's good for your arms and legs, too. It's good for everything."

There's also a "work climb" in which competitors use a series of ropes to visit five stations in a single tree, each requiring the performance of a certain task, and a "belayed climb," in which a climber follows a predetermined route up the tree.

Wondering how arborists get those ropes up in the tree in the first place? There's a test for that, too. The contestants throw weighted lines at targets sprinkled from 30 to 50 feet up a tree.

"It's a great test of your accuracy," Seibel said. "A little luck never hurts, either."

The last competition is an aerial rescue that simulates an injured co-worker. The climbers ascend a tree, secure a dummy in a safety harness and then return to the ground with the dummy.

All five events take place on one day — what Seibel calls "a full day." The semifinals will be held on Saturday. The climbers who make it to the finals get to do it all again on Sunday.

On-the-job prep

Seibel hasn't practiced a lot for the competition. Not that she's overconfident; she doesn't have the time. She's usually in trees from sunup to sundown.

"My work is my training," she said. "Fortunately, I've always been athletic."

Besides, being based in Minnesota gives her an advantage over some of her competitors, she thinks. "We go all year-round," she said, meaning that in the dead of winter she's climbing while wearing several extra pounds of cold-weather gear that makes her that much stronger.

"Spring is liberating," she said.

Seibel is a self-taught climber.

"My degree is in biology," she said. "Some colleges teach field work to arborists, but I had to pick it up on the job."

Whether she wins or loses at the championships, one thing is certain: she'll be in her happy place.

"I really get into climbing," she said. "I love to be in the trees."