Coal Bank Pass Tree Treasures, CO  (23) Bob Leverett
June 27, 2009


Yesterday  Monica and I drove up to the Coal Bank Pass (altitude 10,660 feet on the maps and 10,640 on the sign ). I wanted to measure some of the stately, pencil-straight Englemann spruce in the vicinity of the pass that I'd seen on our previous. I especially wanted to remeasure the tall Englemann that I had found. So far as I know, that noble spruce sets the height record for trees in the Rockies above 2 miles high, at least until someone comes forward with a taller one. However, in my previous measurement, I had not determined where the base of the spruce was due to obstructions, and I suspected my measurement was conservative. It was. Yesterday, I climbed down to the spruce, no easy task, and put a reflector near its base and then determined where a horizontal line through the reflector intersected the trunk. That allowed me to determine a basal correction. I used both the Nikon Forestry 550 and the Laser Tech TruPulse 200 hypsometers to cross-check the values I got, both to the crown above and to the reflector below. 
Okay, folks, here come the numbers. Ready? The statistics for the Englemann are: height = 130.5 feet (+/- 0.5 feet), girth = 8.3 feet (DBH=31.7 inches). Wheeee! That is a 130-foot tree growing at 2 miles above sea level. The San Juans rule. They absolutely rule.
Monica and I then went across the highway and onto the trail to Engineer Mountain. Large and tall Englemann spruce were everywhere. I was like the proverbial kid in a candy shop, first running to one tree and exclaiming and then running to another. I was on overload the whole time and exhausted my fool self climbing up to one tree and down to another.  Rocky the dog kept herd on me and made the climbing look easy. It helps to have 4-paw drive. The following table summarizes the significant measurements I took. They are listed in the order taken.

        Species         Height   

        Englemann      130.5   8.3
        Englemann      100.5   9.5
        Englemann      125.5   10.1
        Englemann      126.0   10.0
        Englemann      116.5   9.4
        Englemann      99.0    13.4
        Englemann      101.0   10.3
        Englemann      119.5   9.7
        Englemann      121.5   5.8
        Englemann      117.0   9.9  
BTW, a Navajo lady was at the pass selling necklaces she made. I bought my beautiful wife a Navajo necklace - THEN asked her to climb the ridge going to Engineer Mountain and help me look for great Englemann spruces. Sneaky, huh? Where there is a will, there is a way.    
I have attached 4 images. The first is of the fabulous scenery near the pass. The high peaks are those of the 13,000-foot West Needles. The second image is of the 13.4-foot girth Englemann spruce - a very, very old tree. I had to wade through currant bushes to measure the girth of the big Englemann. Ouch! It was not an easy task. The third image shows Monica next to the 125.5-foot tall, 10.1-foot girth Englemann, and the fourth image is another shot of scenery around the pass. My photos do not do justice to this marvelous country. I wish I were a better photographer.

In searching for big and/or tall spruces, Monica and I climbed to approximately 11,000 feet. We would have gone farther, but afternoon thunderstorms became a consideration. I have been caught in the past on high peaks during thunderstorms. It is a terrifying experience, to say the least, and can turn deadly.
I am amazed at how tall the Englemanns are at such altitudes here in the San Juans. In central Wyoming, you would be well above timber line at 11,000 feet. I have little doubt that the San Juans are the big tree-tall tree region of all Colorado, and I haven't scratched the surface, and couldn't in an entire lifetime. But I've rattled on about trees enough. I'll now turn the keyboard over to Monica.
From Monica : It was a new experience to be in the alpine regions.  We saw globeflower, marsh marigold, kingsroot, parsley, and lots of hellebore which some animals had eaten.  We passed small patches of dirty snow, and a snowmelt pond at the edge of the trail.  At the beginning of the trail, white-crowned sparrows sang from the bushes.  Rocky, as usual, galloped over logs and through plants with the greatest aplomb.  His coordination is a joy to watch.

Back to old Bob : Well, Sweetie Pie was duly impressed with the high country stroll, but I need insurance. Guess there's going to be more jewelry in Monica's future because I haven't made a dent in the tall spruce population around Coal Bank. Psst. Please keep my nefarious strategy for coaxing Monica back to Coal Bank Pass a secret.


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