22, 2006 16:25 PST
The narrow Hurricane Creek watershed lies in the Cataloochee
the North Carolina side of the Smokies. The stream and its major
tributary coves maintain low gradients, but course down between
slopes. Hence, farmers bypassed the stream in favor of flatter
elsewhere in the valley. Commercial logging operations also
the stream, as they did the entire valley below the spruce
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'
buckeye that Michael Davie measured a few years ago. He also
15'8" hemlock growing in the area, but our attempts to
tree as part of the Tsuga Search were unsuccessful. However,
Park Service employees recently reported a large hemlock from a
we had not searched, so armed with fresh coordinates we set off
measure the hemlock.
The lower reaches of the large cove resemble the main stem of
Hurricane Creek and many other parts of Cataloochee; ancient
and interspersed yellow birches tower over a continuous layer of
rhododendron that covers the steep slopes, and tangles of
sprawl out of the wet streamside soils. However, the topography
moderates where a cove enters from the east, and four foot
tuliptrees become prominent members of the canopy. They compete
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
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
the tree the Park Service had reported, but it had clearly been
for several years. Above that point, the slope moderates again,
provides much less shelter to the forest.
However, another large hemlock grows in the center of the upper
That tree turned out to be the one the Park Service had located,
not the one previously identified by Michael Davie. This tree
massive, untapered trunk, but lacks the gnarl that typically
characterizes large hemlocks. Instead, the tree has the form of
younger hemlock with a large, symmetrical, pyramidal crown.
Similarly, the tree's bark, though deeply furrowed, is more even
on most large hemlocks, and adds to the impression of rapid
Overall, the tree has an air of perfection about it and is a
tree in the best sense of the term. According to monocular
measurements, the tree's undamaged crown has allowed it to
amass over 1300 ft^3, making it easily one of the ten largest
the species. The tree also towers to at least 164.3' over a
composed almost exclusively of other hemlocks and silverbell.
Already amazed by the day's finds, we headed out via another
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
slopes. Similar to the first cove of the day, an ancient hemlock
forest covers the slopes in the narrower lower parts of the
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 13'0" 151.3'
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 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 14'7" 175.8'
Tupelo, Black 9'0" 107.5'
The collection of tall hemlocks may be the most for such a small
and at least a few additional ones went unmeasured. The
153.1' individual has a swollen base and has already succumbed
adelgid and other stresses. The 15'4" x 153.1' tree is the
mentioned above, and the height is to a small break at the top
trunk. The 15'5" x 164.3' hemlock is the tree located by
Service and described above. The 175.8' tuliptree is tallest
far in an unlogged forest. The tree grows well upslope from the
center of the cove we descended, and may be slightly taller than
The Hurricane Creek watershed also includes at least one large
pine and a 163.0' white ash. The Rucker Index for the 1.5 mile
watershed will easily exceed 140'.
Jess Riddle & Will Blozan
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
29, 2006 19:32 PST
Sorry, the ravens were hanging around other big hemlocks that
Will's last climb of a big hemlock (15'8" cbh, 146.7' tall,
ft^3), a raven flew overhead and called out.