Juneau's Richert competes in Great Outdoor Games

Local lumberjack athlete in three events televised this week

Posted: Friday, July 19, 2002

During the week, Cal Richert can usually be found in his Juneau cubicle at the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska, pushing paper while Muddy Waters plays on his tape player.

But sometimes Richert's office is about 100 feet up a pole, where he pushes a saw.

By day, Richert is a forester/natural resource manager for the local Native organization. During his off hours, he's a competitive lumberjack.

Richert was in Lake Placid, N.Y., for ESPN's Great Outdoor Games last week, where he competed in three timber events - speed climbing, tree-topping and the team relay. Highlights from the July 10-14 made-for-TV competition will be aired this Saturday through Aug. 2 on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC.

"I think it's good, logging shows are a tribute to our history," Richert said when asked why he competes. "Logging was a big part of this country, especially in the (Great) Lake states and New England. That's where they'd have these long log drives and events like log-rolling were born. In the West, there were a lot of steep areas where you needed to rig the trees, and that's where events like tree-topping come from."

While Richert competes in all the lumberjack events in smaller meets, such as Juneau's Gold Rush Days. At bigger meets, his specialty events - speed climbing and tree-topping - provide a vertical challenge.

Richert was ranked 10th nationally in the 2001 United States Axeman Association's speed-climbing point standings, even though he missed several events because of Alaska's distance from the national competitions. In speed climbing, the athletes use leg spurs and a restraining belt to see how fast they can climb a tall tree or pole, where they ring a bell before scrambling back down.

In tree-topping, the lumberjacks again climb the tall tree or pole. But this time they've got a saw hanging off their belt and they have to cut a slice off the pole's top. The event ends when the cut log-end hits the ground.

The rules for both events are very strict, as shown during the semifinals of the tree-topping event at the Great Outdoor Games. One of the competitors left a sliver of uncut wood on his slice, and it had to be measured to make sure it fell within the 1/8th-inch allowable limit. The sliver proved to be legal, barely, but Richert said that competitor is known for giving his saw a little twist as he completes his slice and that sometimes breaks it off with an unclean edge.

"In competition, if you don't have strict rules then the ones you do have are easy to bend," said Richert, who also owns Last Frontier Forestry and Tree Service. "In the speed climb, everyone has slightly different gear. Everyone's modified it a little bit. In the speed climbing, two guys were penalized and I was able to move up in the standings."

Richert was supposed to compete in the logging events at Juneau's Gold Rush Games on June 30, but the competition was canceled following the death of lumberjack clown Terry Selby from a fall off one of the poles used for speed climbing and tree-topping. But Richert did get a warm-up competition before the Great Outdoor Games.

Richert competed in the Longview Go Fourth Logging Show on July 4 in Longview, Wash., where he took fifth in the choker event, fifth in the tree-topping and third in the obstacle pole bucking. Those performances were somewhat disappointing, since Richert won a couple of the events last year.

"I just hadn't been training as much as I did the last winter or so," Richert said. "I've been building a house. But it was good to do that show so I could get fired up for the GO Games."

When Richert went to Lake Placid, he only expected to compete in the tree-topping event. But another competitor from the speed climbing was injured and Richert was the first alternate. He placed eighth in the speed climbing, fifth in tree-topping and did the speed climbing leg for his third-place team in the relay.

"I didn't expect to do so well," Richert said. "I was first alternate in the speed climbing, but someone got hurt. I figured, even if I got last place it's still $600 and that could help pay for my trip. I ended up eighth and won $900. That's why Longview was such a bummer, I didn't win as much money as I expected and I've got mortgage payments to make on my house."

Richert said he did have some problems in the relay, where the eight top females in the endurance competition were named captains and then drafted four male lumberjacks each for their teams. The relay started with speed climbing (Richert's leg), then continued into the stock saw, the horizontal block chop, the women's single buck and the standing block chop.

"I broke my spurs in the first heat of the relay," Richert said. "In the team relay I had to climb three times, and I had to borrow someone else's spurs for the last two. I wasn't used to them and they stuck a few times."

The speed-climbing event will be aired at 11:30 a.m. (ADT) Saturday on ABC, with a repeat showing at 5 p.m. Saturday on ESPN. The tree-topping and team relay events will both be aired at 4 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN, with a repeat broadcast at 9 a.m. Wednesday on ESPN. The timber events will also be broadcast three different times on Aug. 1 on ESPN2.

Richert was the only Alaska resident in the Great Outdoors Games. But the timber competition was organized by Rob Scheer's Lumberjack Sports International, which runs the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show in Ketchikan. Scheer's LSI group also organizes the Stihl Timbersports Series and the Outdoor Life Network's Ironjack series.

"It's good to do the traditional events and keep the culture and tradition alive," Richert said of the logging shows and competitions, which offer modified glimpses of the way logging used to be done before power saws and helicopters became part of the industry. "It's cool to see some of these cultural and history things stay alive. A lot of logging has changed and very few people do the old style way. These events are old style, but with better equipment."

Charles Bingham can be reached at cbingham@juneauempire.com.



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