Sunday, January 15, 2012

Camping with the Redwoods

 This weekend, I may have experienced one of the top five camping moments of my life. I wanted to measure a few more redwoods, and practice bushwhacking through the rain forest. So I packed up my camping gear, my measuring tape, map and compass and drove to a place I've never been before. I'm going to keep this post vague because I was asked to.
 Bushwhacking through the redwood forest was just as difficult as I imagined. I brought along a reel of orange plastic ribbon and tied it to branches along the way. I decided to number each ribbon so that upon my return, I would be certain that I retrieved each piece. I did not want to leave any trash in the forest.
 I pretty much walked as far as I possibly could and then stopped and turned around because the vegetation was so thick, I felt completely trapped. I could have plowed away, but I was already pretty exhausted. My mental energies were mostly consumed by ribbon placement and trying to find the best route. I started measuring the trunks of trees that stood out amongst the rest. Usually, I measured the circumference at breast height, or eye level. I didn't see anybody the first half of my day.
 Once I returned to my original spot, I ate some lunch and tried to recuperate a bit. I was feeling very satisfied that for one, I did not get lost, and two, I was not being lazy. After eating some lunch, I decided to explore another area.
 Immediately, the trees looked above and beyond other's I've seen to this point. Out came the measuring tape and I recorded the numbers in my notebook. It was turning into a beautiful sunny afternoon in the redwood forest.
The trees began to get larger and larger the further I entered the forest, the closer I got to the creek. It was a little time consuming to keep stopping and break out the measuring tape and book, but it was fun anyhow.
Eventually, the sun began to sink lower in the sky and I had to start thinking about a place to camp. There was no way I was going to drive to one of the campgrounds and spend $35, so I just needed to pick a spot.       
There were too many trees begging to be measured. As soon as I finished measuring one, another one would pop into view. It's so fascinating how the eye and brain works. I've noticed that if I spend my time looking for mushrooms, I can't see the trees. If I am looking for tall trees, I can't see the fat ones. If I am looking for fat ones I can't see the tall ones. Walking through the forest is like walking through one enormous pop up book. New things are constantly popping up and disappearing.
Just as I was winding down my measurements for the day, I heard this strange sound coming through the forest. It sounded like a pop followed by a fizzy sound. It obviously wasn't natural, and I assumed someone else was nearby. My curiosity was peaked, so instead of turning around, I decided to push a little deeper into the woods. All of a sudden, the forest opened up and I was standing in a grove of some of the biggest trees I had ever seen in my life. Then I saw another man walk out from behind an enormous redwood with a strange camera.
 "That is the biggest tree I have ever seen in my life!" I exclaimed.
"There are even bigger ones down that way," the man told me.
"Some trees in this grove are 370 feet tall. In fact, the Stratosphere Giant is located here, although we try to keep it a secret."
My heart was beginning to pump out of my chest.
"No way!!!" I said. I knew exactly who I was talking to. What were the chances that I would meet this guy in a spectacular redwood grove. The man started telling me about this new camera he was using, although I didn't really understand what he was talking about. He was just as eccentric as I imagined while reading the book the "Wild Trees."
"Your name isn't Michael Taylor is it?" I asked.
"Yes it is, how did you know?" he responded.
I'll be damned!! How cool is this?!! Although thankfully I didn't yell this. I had a million questions to ask him, although after explaining how I knew him, I could tell he probably wasn't the type that is comfortable with celebrity. I went on to tell him that I was planning on camping somewhere for the night.
"If I were you, I would camp right here," Michael Taylor said.
"Will I get in trouble?" I asked.
"Nah, just pick a spot."
With that kind of permission from the "man of the redwoods," I was stoked, to put it simply.
Before departing, Michael shared with me his website which you can find here. 
I felt like I had just met my hero.
 I found a great spot to camp amongst the tallest trees in the world. Temperatures were plummeting. After firing up the Jetboil and eating a hot dinner, I crawled into my sleeping bag. I could not believe how dark it was. Almost pitch black. I don't think I've ever experienced darkness like this other than being in a cave. Thankfully I remembered my headlamp, but once it was off, it was DARK. A feeling of surrender came over me. There will be no moving tonight. Even if it starts storming or trees start falling, or animals start creeping, there will be no moving from this spot. It is so dark that becoming lost is a certainty. Other than the low frequency of the creek babbling away a hundred yards or so, and the constant ringing in my ears, the forest was dead quiet all night. Not a single sound was to be heard. I woke up often in the middle of the night, still not a sound.
 When morning finally arrived, it was cold! I pulled my sleeping bag and ground pad out from under my tarp and lay staring towards the tops of the trees. The first of the morning's rays from the sun lit up the tops of the canopies, and the trees looked like giant tiki torches.
Not long after I packed up my gear, it began to rain a little bit. I measured a few more trees in the area. Michael Taylor told me what the Stratosphere Giant looked like, but it appears that I did not find it. After looking at a picture of it when I got home, none of my pictures were a match.

The tree in the picture above had a small hole in its side that led into the tree. I crawled in, dropped about three feet to the ground, and the inside was completely hollow. There was water dripping from the inside of the tree onto the ground on the inside. It was just like a cave.
The picture above, I will name the "Taylor Tree," although I am certain it already has a name. It's the tree I saw when I met Michael Taylor, and he deserves a tree named in his honor. It is the record breaker with a circumference of 51 feet 8 inches! I seriously am starting to think that the game of finding the largest tree may already be over. From what I've read, there are bigger ones, but they also are in secret locations, and may be in places I wouldn't be able to get to.
 The picture in the photo above had a little surprise. Barely visible and tied to a knobby piece of bark was a thin black rope that led straight up, a hundred feet into the lower canopy. I will assume that Steve Sillet and his team recently have been studying the canopy of this giant. I haven't heard of anyone else heading into the redwood canopies to do research. Unfortunately, it seems like I may be turning into one of those "tall tree fanatics" that Sillet is unhappy about in the article. I can sympathize with his opinion.
After measuring a few more giants, I decided to call it quits for the weekend. The trip was a huge success. I had a blast learning a little more about these truly charasmatic trees and this magnificent forest.
 From what I've read, all of the giant redwoods are mostly accounted for at this point. I think I will still bring the tape measure for fun and see if I can find anything that will top a circumference of 51 feet. I also will need to return to this special spot and see if I can locate the Stratosphere Giant. Good news for any weather buffs out there. Rain is finally heading this way this week.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! To run into Taylor while on your own hunt. I noticed a couple of climbers in the Atlas grove about a month ago, ascending into one of the giants east of 744 2776, but didn't approach them.