Sequoia Adventures 7/2 -7/09/2009 - Day 2 Will Blozan
August 2, 2009


The image of the massive broccoli-topped sequoia upslope from **Snoopy was
with me all night. Naturally, that night I dreamed of the climb the day
before and was excited to get into another big tree. **Red Barron, at 21.7 feet
diameter was not a super giant but was among the largest in Whitaker Forest.
Bob later looked up the cubage and it was over 28,000 ft3 in trunks alone.
Steve felt it would be around 32,000 cubes with limbs and branches included.
It stands 281.2 feet tall.

Close-up of the top of Red Barron from Snoopy

Base of Red Barron

The short drive to Red Barron put us at the tree in the relative cool of the
morning. The mosquitoes were awake and hungry and kept us on our toes while
setting up the climbing lines. The area surrounding this giant tree was
cleared of all brush so the view of the lower trunk was open and imposing.
The huge fire cave and wide trunk flare was enhanced by the slope of the
ground. The rising sun began to spill light down the trunk and the cinnamon
orange bark was radiant against the clear blue cloudless sky. The Sierra
color palette was mixed and ready to paint the day. I was able to get a
decent panoramic stitch of nearly the entire tree.

Stitch of Red Barron. Note Marie and Steve at base

Steve and Marie went up first and set another rope for Bob and me to work
off of. The slight lean of this giant was noticeable when trying to drop a
rope straight down one side only to have it come down on the other. Such
differences are not noticed from the ground and are visually masked by the
massive trunk.

Steve ascending in front of the fire cave

Steve working his way up Red Barron. Here he is about 100 feet up.

The ascent into Red Barron was humbling. Massive, complex and ancient can't
adequately describe this tree. The trunk had impressive lack of taper and
carried the thick, furrowed bark far up the main trunk. I noted excavated
nesting holes in the thick bark likely inhabited now and then by owls and
squirrels. A large cavity with nesting material in it was speculated to be
an abandoned goshawk nest. Only trees of this size and age will have such
biological significance to offer other forest inhabitants. Viva the

Goshawk nest cavity in Red Barron

As I approached the "broccoli zone" I met an imposing assemblage of dead
trunks, living trunks and strips of dead bark from old lightening strikes.
Steve commented that this species likely has the physical potential to be
the tallest species of tree on earth- they just don't get the chance to
achieve their maximum due to lightening. Maybe the second-growth forests
will set the records in the future.

Mapping the "Broccoli Zone" at ~240 feet up

Steve began to map a large dead piece of trunk as I went to the top for a
view. The clear air offered a breathtaking vista over the varied forests of
Whitaker, the granitic outcrops and the transition to chaparral and the vast
Central Valley in the distance. The border with Kings Canyon National Park
was clearly defined by the line of ancient sequoia contrasting with the
second-growth and scattered giants of Whitaker. Red Barron was but a few hundred
feet from the National Park and fortunately spared from the saw. The immense
fire cave and huge trunk may have convinced the loggers to move elsewhere.

Steve mapping the dead chunk in the top of Red Barron. You can just see his arm.
Look back at the photo of the top taken from Snoopy. You can hardly even
see this huge piece of deadwood!

View over Whitaker Forest and out to chaparral and Central Valley

Tippy-top of Red Barron

View into Kings Canyon National Park and old-growth sequoia. Note Tyrolean
traverse to next tree

I saw the tops of the tall trees below which were climbed the day before.
The rounded domes allude to the difficulty in obtaining accurate height
measurements from below. These western tree hunters have more of a challenge
than those of us out east- especially on flat ground. The extreme height and
wide crown spread mandates that you get far from the tree to even begin to
see the top. The steep slopes help but the dense forests do not. Still, an
elevation change of 150-200 feet to find a sighting for each tree will wear
you down quickly.

"Two Towers" below Red Barron; Snoopy on right, Orthanc on left

Look familiar? Sherrill Tree Catalog cover shot of the same trees (the white
specks in the tops are people)

Back to the purpose of the climb. We were measuring and mapping dead
portions of the tree not just for a 3-D model but for a biomass calculation.
Since I will be discussing mapping in the next post I think now is a good
time to elaborate on the process, at least the terminology for now. In the
mapping process distinctions are made as to the woody parts composing a
tree. For example, limbs and branches are not the same. A branch is a part
of the tree that supports the leaves. Branches originate on one of two
structures; a trunk or a limb. Likewise, a limb can originate on two
structures; a trunk or another limb. Branches typically end in foliage;
limbs are segments of a larger system that supports the branches. A limb
often bifurcates (splits) into a structure that distributes the foliage
where needed.

Bob's feet are on a trunk, his back on a limb segment, and branches are
coming off the reiterated trunk below

As for trunks, these can be almost anywhere on the tree. Their function is
to support the limbs and branches, and can be the main "conventional" trunk
or originate on limb segments. These are called reiterations and as
secondary trunks support a smaller sub-crown of more branches and associated
limb segments. When a branch sports a reiteration (new trunk) the section
from the origination trunk or limb and the base of the reiterated trunk
becomes a limb segment. This is not just a nomenclature distinction but a
physiological one as well. The wood and connective tissues change to reflect
the formation of a sap-hungry vigorous new trunk.

Furthermore, like limbs, trunks can bifurcate into more than one ascending
top or leader. These splits are called bifurcations and when numerous can
form virtual forests in the tops of these ancient trees.

Marie on one of the "new" bifurcated living tops of Red Barron; old dead main  trunk to left

One more feature I will be mentioning is epicormic sprouts. Epicormic
(literally "on the bark") sprouts are a mechanism in many trees to re-grow
new foliage to replace lost limbs and branches. Sequoia is very adept at
this feature and after centuries of crown damaging events the resulting
canopy can be very complex. In fact, some of the very old sequoias have
virtually no original branches; their crown is almost entirely composed of
much younger sprouts. These sprouts are often reminiscent of an octopus
draped over the old stub- with tentacles of re-growth slithering around
foraging for light. As will be seen in the post on the climb of the tallest
known sequoia, the relic bases of the original limbs often persist after
their death by fire or storm. The skeleton remains of the original tree yet
it is now composed of young growth. I imagine that the main trunks of the
ancient trees can be 5-10 times older than their crowns. They apparently
scoff at crown loss.

Epicormic sprouts in Red Barron. Note dead original branch stubs

We had a splendid day mapping Red Barron. I felt as if in a living museum with the
relics of history on display. You really could see the recorded history in
this tree- the breaks, strikes, and rebounding efforts to live. But I never
felt it was a museum of tragic struggle and difficulty. The tree never dies.
The wounds become life for other creatures and the dead wood "feeds" the
forest below. These trees are life givers and are not defeated. They embody
time and speak of the past with clarity.

After the climb of Red Barron I had some time left to explore near camp. I asked
Bob and Steve how tall second-growth sequoia could get. Basically, it sounds
like no one had ever bothered to really find out. I had a mission! With
Whitaker being the oldest second-growth I figured the forests around the
camp would be a good place to start looking. I went armed with my Nikon and
Bob's Impulse laser. The Impulse was great for scouting and the Nikon for
penetrating the dense canopy. Of course, I was measuring the other species
as well and they may represent some of the tallest second-growth specimens

216.7 foot sequoia at camp

It became quickly evident that 200 feet was nothing for a 140 year old
sequoia. The first sequoia I completely measured was a gorgeous tree right
in camp that was 216.7 feet (66.0 m) tall and 91" (2.31 m) diameter. I
roughed out several others of similar height as I walked down the road to a
flat area with seepages. A lone ponderosa pine roughed out near 160' on a
slope above a steep ravine. At the base of the ravine grew a dense stand of
sequoia and fir. One caught my eye and after much diligence to find a
sighting spot in view of the top and the base I shot this one to 233.6 feet
(71.2 m) tall and 72.9" (1.85 m) diameter. The top, as with all these young
spunky sequoias, was spire-topped and vigorous. It was not even close to
being done with height growth.

233.6 foot sequoia pushed up by the dense surrounding forest

Upslope from this new record sequoia was a mixed conifer grove dominated by
fir and sugar pine. The sugar pine reminded me of eastern white pine- only
multiply it by 2.5. The cones were huge! I selected one fine tree to measure
and it came out at 188.6 feet (57.5 m) tall on a young trunk 58" (1.47 m)
diameter. As I was scouting a measuring spot for the pine I spotted and
measured a perfect California white fir; 182.7' (55.7 m) on a slender trunk
only 38.3" (97.3 cm) diameter.

188.6 foot sugar pine

182.7 foot California white fir

My thanks to Bob Van Pelt for his review of this installment. Next up- the
three day mapping project of Bruno- the tallest known sequoia.

Will F. Blozan

President, Eastern Native Tree Society
President, Appalachian Arborists, Inc.

(**Note:  The names of the trees were altered in this report to preserve their anonymity)

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