Hurricane Creek   Jess Riddle
  Dec 22, 2006 16:25 PST 


The narrow Hurricane Creek watershed lies in the Cataloochee Valley on
the North Carolina side of the Smokies. The stream and its major
tributary coves maintain low gradients, but course down between steep
slopes. Hence, farmers bypassed the stream in favor of flatter areas
elsewhere in the valley. Commercial logging operations also skipped
the stream, as they did the entire valley below the spruce forests.
Consequently, ancient hemlocks still line the stream, and large
hardwoods grow in the upper coves and on drier slopes.

Those hardwoods include a 140.9 northern red oak and a 143.9' yellow
buckeye that Michael Davie measured a few years ago. He also found a
15'8" hemlock growing in the area, but our attempts to relocate that
tree as part of the Tsuga Search were unsuccessful. However, National
Park Service employees recently reported a large hemlock from a cove
we had not searched, so armed with fresh coordinates we set off to
measure the hemlock.

The lower reaches of the large cove resemble the main stem of
Hurricane Creek and many other parts of Cataloochee; ancient hemlocks
and interspersed yellow birches tower over a continuous layer of
rhododendron that covers the steep slopes, and tangles of dog-hobble
sprawl out of the wet streamside soils. However, the topography
moderates where a cove enters from the east, and four foot diameter
tuliptrees become prominent members of the canopy. They compete with
hemlocks over 150' tall, which sadly show heavy damage from the
adelgid, and beech sprouts compete with rhododendron in the
understory. Monocular measurements indicate the largest of the
hemlocks at the foot of the side cove exceeds 1000 ft^3 in trunk
volume. At the same point, the side cove where the Park Service found
a large hemlock ascends to the south. That cove has an open
understory, and hemlocks over 150' tall form a line going up the
middle of the cove. Where the cove steepens, we saw an immense
hemlock snag, clearly well over 1000 ft^3. We feared that snag was
the tree the Park Service had reported, but it had clearly been dead
for several years. Above that point, the slope moderates again, but
provides much less shelter to the forest.

However, another large hemlock grows in the center of the upper cove.
That tree turned out to be the one the Park Service had located, but
not the one previously identified by Michael Davie. This tree has a
massive, untapered trunk, but lacks the gnarl that typically
characterizes large hemlocks. Instead, the tree has the form of a
younger hemlock with a large, symmetrical, pyramidal crown.
Similarly, the tree's bark, though deeply furrowed, is more even than
on most large hemlocks, and adds to the impression of rapid growth.
Overall, the tree has an air of perfection about it and is a specimen
tree in the best sense of the term. According to monocular
measurements, the tree's undamaged crown has allowed it to already
amass over 1300 ft^3, making it easily one of the ten largest known of
the species. The tree also towers to at least 164.3' over a canopy
composed almost exclusively of other hemlocks and silverbell.

Already amazed by the day's finds, we headed out via another large
tributary cove to see more of the productive area. Rich site
hardwoods, primarily silverbell, yellow buckeye, and white ash,
dominate the open, flat area at the upper end of the cove, and
northern red oak, silverbell, and tuliptree grow on the surrounding
slopes. Similar to the first cove of the day, an ancient hemlock
forest covers the slopes in the narrower lower parts of the cove.

Species                  Cbh       Height
Ash, White           10'6"      142.4'
Ash, White           11'5"      143.9'
Birch, Yellow       6'3"       101.5'
Buckeye, Yellow 10'7"     136.4'
Cucumbertree       12'6"     137.4'
Hickory, Bitternut 10'11" 139.3'
Hemlock               12'2"     150.9'
Hemlock               11'11.5" 151.1'
Hemlock               13'0"     151.3'
Hemlock               10'0.5" 152.3'
Hemlock               11'4.5" 152.4'
Hemlock               15'0.5" 153.1'
Hemlock               15'4"     153.1'
Hemlock               11'9"     153.3'
Hemlock               11'4"     154.0'
Hemlock               11'7"     155.2'
Hemlock               9'7.5"    155.9'
Hemlock               12'4"     156.1'
Hemlock               10'9"     157.5'
Hemlock               13'0.5" 159.9'
Hemlock               14'11"   159.9'
Hemlock               15'5"     164.3'
Maple, Red           12'6"     138.2'
Oak, N. Red          16'2"     124.9'
Oak, N. Red          17'4"     ~131'
Silverbell               4'9"      118.5'
Tuliptree               12'3"     158.3'
Tuliptree               11'5.5" 161.7'
Tuliptree               11'4.5" 165.3'
Tuliptree               13'11.5" 165.8'
Tuliptree               14'7"    175.8'
Tupelo, Black       9'0"      107.5'

The collection of tall hemlocks may be the most for such a small area,
and at least a few additional ones went unmeasured. The 15'0.5" x
153.1' individual has a swollen base and has already succumbed to the
adelgid and other stresses. The 15'4" x 153.1' tree is the snag
mentioned above, and the height is to a small break at the top of the
trunk. The 15'5" x 164.3' hemlock is the tree located by the Park
Service and described above. The 175.8' tuliptree is tallest found so
far in an unlogged forest. The tree grows well upslope from the
center of the cove we descended, and may be slightly taller than this
initial measurement.

The Hurricane Creek watershed also includes at least one large white
pine and a 163.0' white ash. The Rucker Index for the 1.5 mile long
watershed will easily exceed 140'.

Jess Riddle & Will Blozan
Re: Hurricane Creek
  Dec 23, 2006 15:00 PST 


Hurricane Creek sounds awesome. Man, I've got to get back down your guys' neck
of the woods again. Virtually every species you note is taller than any
representative we've been able to measure for PA. Yes, I know this is a no
brainer, but the gold mines you folks keep coming across down there are almost
unbelievable. You sure you guys are on the same planet? Will isn't hiding a
"transporter" in his pack from the rest of us, is he?


Re: Hurricane Creek
  Dec 25, 2006 10:45 PST 

I think you described almost perfectly (in terms of stem quality, form and
vigor) the type of second growth trees I have encountered in West Virginia.
Because all of my work is with private property, the areas of large trees I
encounter are usually limited size and rarely larger than 50 acres. The
expanses of large forest you often describe in your trip reports of leaves me with
images that linger for days.   

Your description of the openness of the woods sounds both beautiful and
scary as it reminds me of places here where the dogwood has all died from dogwood
Anthracnose and nothing has come in yet to replace the dogwood in the
understory....and, the dogwood rots so quickly in the understory it is becoming
absent with no trace and people are starting to forget it even existed!     

By your description of the area and the trees, I would imagine it is the
kind of place where you tend to whisper...except when you holler after seeing
that hemlock!

The only thing missing from your trip report was the whooshing of a raven's
wings as it flew across the valley squawking in the distance as you measured
that tree.

Re: Hurricane Creek   Jess Riddle
  Dec 29, 2006 19:32 PST 


Sorry, the ravens were hanging around other big hemlocks that day. On
Will's last climb of a big hemlock (15'8" cbh, 146.7' tall, 1307
ft^3), a raven flew overhead and called out.