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Backpacker Magazine – June 2007

Above & Beyond

The world's tallest tree towers above a secret location deep within the lush, tangled backcountry of Redwood National Park. Determined to find this giant, our correspondent discovers something more incredible than he ever imagined.

by: Tom Clynes, Photos by Mark Katzman

From the base to canopy is longer than a football field
From the base to canopy is longer than a football field
The lowest Redwood branch is higher than the tops of most trees
The lowest Redwood branch is higher than the tops of most trees
Bushwhacking in Redwood land involves big obstacles
Bushwhacking in Redwood land involves big obstacles
Author Tom Clynes
Author Tom Clynes

This article is featured in The Best American Sports Writing 2008.

While Atkins crossed the creek to bushwhack up the slope, Taylor went to the tree and began calculating the elevation of the base. Atkins eventually found a window through the foliage and lay down to get the laser as steady as possible. From that position, he shot the tree's top. Then he began working his way back to Taylor, adding and subtracting the elevations of intermediate targets along the way. After all that, they wound up with a preliminary height–377.8 feet–that would make the tree the tallest living thing on earth.

Katzman, Southard, and I spent an hour struggling through a maze of brambles and downed trees to reach our target grove. Then we labored farther to rise above the redwoods, hoping that the clearcut would provide a good vantage point. But it turns out that a 30-year-old clearcut in a rainforest isn't a smart place to go for visibility, or mobility. Amid the dense saplings and underbrush, we quickly lost our bearings and momentum. We decided to head back down into the old growth.

Our own cheap rangefinder was proving fickle, due partly to limitations of the technology, and perhaps mostly to user inexperience. Trees that were obviously well over 250 feet were showing up as 82 feet. The GPS, too, was useless. Under the dense canopy, I could pick up only one satellite. I stowed the devices in my pack, where they would stay for the rest of the trip.

Keeping the clearcut line a couple of hundred feet above us, we traversed the mountainside, three humans dwarfed by the mind-boggling scale of the trees. We thought we had been in big-tree country before, but as we walked farther into the grove, we realized that we had now entered a new realm. All around us, 20-foot-wide trunks rose in great grooved columns that stretched upward for 200 feet before the lowest limbs appeared. Katzman tried to photograph one particularly massive trunk, but he didn't have a lens wide enough.

Despite the hard going, the environment was surprisingly hospitable. Once, falling through a false floor of sticks and leaves, I landed softly on my back, cushioned by a bed of spongy moss and pine needles. There were no biting or buzzing insects. And, had we found ourselves in need of a dry and cozy bivouac, there were plenty of accommodating caves that had been burned into the bottoms of living trees.

Under the shade of the immense trees, the ground vegetation thinned out and the walking got easier. Occasional shafts of sunlight penetrated the canopy, angling into the gallery like spotlights, illuminating lush beds of moss and 20-foot-high stumps whose charred tops formed jagged maws. The solitude and the sense of timelessness were so complete that none of us would have been surprised to get a tap on the shoulder from a brontosaur. It was, without reservation, the most startlingly beautiful forest I have ever encountered.

AMONG THE FIRST PEOPLE Atkins and Taylor told of their discovery was their friend Stephen C. Sillett, a professor of botany at Humboldt State. Sillett was the first scientist to climb into the redwood canopy, and he is considered by many to be the world's foremost authority on the redwood forest.

When Taylor told Sillett that he and Atkins had found a tree that they estimated to be higher than 378 feet, Sillett was floored. Having been out in the forest many times with Atkins and Taylor, the botanist had total confidence in their measurements. But, says Sillett, "nobody expected a tree that tall to be growing that far up a mountainside, in conditions that were less than optimal." It was, Sillett said, "the most significant discovery in tree height in 75 years."



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READERS COMMENTS

Frank
Nov 01, 2012

The focus of many seems to have shifted to Lost Man Creek and the drainages in that area. Lots of clear-cuts and stands of old growth. Seems that M.D. Vaden has spent a fair amount of time up Little Lost Man Creek and (according to his site) he even once posted a pic of Hyperion on the Lady Bird Johnson grove side of Lost Man Creek. Interesting.

Jason
Jan 13, 2011

This Hyperion is every bit as elusive as the Grove of Titans with Lost Monarch. There's so many so-so clues online that it seems like maybe time to toss in the towel. I've heard Lost Man Creek, Redwood Creek and 44 Creek just to name a few. Oh ya, and Bridge Creek. But no real good reason why one spot is better to look than the other.

M. D. Vaden of Oregon
Feb 11, 2009

Found Hyperion - Winter 2009 >> An updated post, to mention finding Hyperion, the tree sought in this article.

Best I know, the .jpg images I posted in January are the first available online. No huge images, but enough so folks can get a glimpse.

Just Google >> M. D. Vaden + Hyperion.

The page will be there in the search results.

www.mdvaden.com
Nov 04, 2008

It's a nice article to read. Second time I've reviewed it. Some of this adventure stuff does not get old.

If you check my user name, drop in and look for the largest redwoods page. Just added a list of over 100 tallest redwoods. Updated less than a week ago.

It stems from my redwood page - look near the end of the home page and follow the crumbs.

David
Oct 28, 2008

If you liked this article read "The Wild Trees" by Richard Preston. It is a non fiction about Steve Stillet Michael Taylor and Chris Atkins and the redwoods, Its a great read

conman
Oct 24, 2008

this article is almost as old as that tree!

Teej
Oct 23, 2008

Congratulations. This was an interesting and easy read. After I was finished, I wanted to head out and find that tree for myself!
Good to see it was honored.
Keep up the good work.

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