Waldo Etherington

Waldo is a fascinating crossover between arboriculture and climbing, specialising in tree climbing, rigging and big walling. He has delved into some of the world’s remotest unexplored forests; climbed and measured the tallest recorded tropical tree on Earth; worked on scientific expeditions, film sets and conservation projects and is an expert when it comes to tree surgery, remote location safety and working at height. His typical annual list of adventures would make anyone say, “wow”.

Waldo grew up surrounded by woodland in Dorset and spent the most part of his childhood scampering around in the treetops.

I had access to an infinite amount of rope from the local rope-making factory, so had many elaborate rope swings, zip lines and canopy walkways constructed from an early age,” says Waldo. “As I got older the trees we were rigging got bigger and I discovered that rope could be used for adventures on rock, too.”

Waldo up a tall tree in Borneo
© Waldo Etherington

Waldo found himself fascinated by exploration—of rainforests in particular—and in 2006, when he was only 17, he managed to secure a place as a research assistant on a conservation expedition to the rainforests of Honduras.

When I was there I met two tree climbers working for the project,” says Waldo. “Until then I had never even considered turning my tree climbing into a career but this was when that changed.”

In 2007, when he was 18, Waldo became an instructor for Canopy Access Ltd. and spent the next eight years working predominantly on remote-location expeditions around the world for both wildlife conservation projects and within the TV/film industry, working with companies like the Discovery Channel, the Natural History Unit and the BBC—a highlight of which was working with Sir David Attenborough in 2012.

Another highlight was climbing an emergent tree in Borneo in 2009: 

Being asked to lead the climbing operations for a remote-location film expedition with the BBC in Borneo was a milestone for me,” says Waldo. “Borneo is as you imagine jungles as a kid! Monkeys swinging around, elephants and giant monitor lizards charging about and giant trees, snakes and waterfalls. Just being in that environment is mind blowing but climbing up into an unexplored tree to conduct frontline science for a film project was really special for me.”

When he wasn’t working Waldo undertook self-funded expeditions. His third trip of this type, which took place in spring 2012, was a six-week expedition to Patagonia to discover some unexplored trees. During this trip Waldo and his companions found some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet.

Waldo by a big waterfall
© Waldo Etherington

In 2014 Waldo made his first trip to Yosemite and climbed a number of Valley test pieces, including a sub-12-hour ascent of Lurking Fear (5.7 C2, 19 pitches) on El Capitan. He returned in 2016 and made a single-day ascent of Zodiac (C3, 16 pitches), as well as big wall lines in Zion National Park. 

With time Waldo became a highly qualified rope rescue instructor, rope access technician and arborist, and developed a keen interest in technical rigging, rock climbing and mountaineering. 

I began taking on jobs requiring technical rigging on rock faces in remote places and developed my skills as a rigger,” says Waldo. “In 2014 I started Remote Ropes, a technical rigging organisation specialising in remote-location expeditions, and gained a reputation for extreme rigging jobs in remote places.

As Remote Ropes gained traction Waldo started guiding private clients to some of the most remote unexplored places on Earth, which involved helicopter drop-offs and first descents of giant waterfalls. He also worked with athlete Leo Houlding, helping with filming and rigging logistics during Houlding’s expeditions in Guyana, a big wall in Borneo, and the Mirror Wall expedition to Greenland in 2015, which Waldo says cemented his love for big wall climbing: “I have never been so cold and terrified in my entire life. It was brilliant.” 

Waldo teamed up with Houlding again in 2018 to support his 23-hour ascent of the Triple Crown, in the Bugaboos, with Will Stanhope. While out there Waldo also climbed the North and South Howser Tower and Finger Berry Jam (5.12a, 6 pitches).

In 2019 Waldo and Leo were adventuring again, this time on a expedition to the Amazon jungle of Guyana to establish a new route on Mount Roraima, the 2,810-meter tepui (flat top mountain) that was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. The team of six climbers, plus two local guides, trekked through 53km of pristine jungle, climbing trees (Waldo was in his element) and crossing swamps just to reach the base of the 600-metre overhanging prow.

Waldo with local Amerindian guides, Troy and Edward, on the first ascent of a new route on Mount Roraima.
Waldo with local Amerindian guides, Troy and Edward, during the first ascent of a new route on Mount Roraima. © Waldo Etherington

While many in the climbing world may not have heard of Waldo, he is a prominent character in the realm of tree climbing and has achieved the winning time and score in every tree climbing comp he’s ever entered. However, Waldo admits, he always ends up being disqualified for one reason or another, which he puts down to his being a “crowd pleaser.”

Alongside his passion for tree climbing and rock climbing Waldo enjoys speed flying, surfing, biking and skating, and despite his abundant qualifications and inspirational adventures, when asked what he is best know for Waldo says it’s most likely “hauling heavy bags fast”.