A good week for the Tsuga Search!    Will Blozan
   Jul 14, 2007 09:42 PDT 
Hey folks!

Just a quick note on the past week's events regarding the Tsuga Search
Project. Jess and I are in frantic wrap-up mode to get the project finished
before he is off to grad school in early August. As of now, we have three
trees left to climb, one of which will be a new volume record for the
species. It also would have been a National Champion if HWA didn't claim its
life. All trees remaining in the project are dead or well beyond hope of

July 5th found me and my mom going to climb the "Zahner Pine" and measure it
for volume (she was along to assist and write a story about the tree). This
HUGE eastern white pine growing in the Cullusaja Gorge near Highlands, NC
has been on our big tree radar for over a decade, and Jess and I felt it
justified to obtain the volume data to compare with eastern hemlock and
other species we have modeled. Laser measurements put the tree at 161.8 feet
tall and 13'10" in girth.
 Fallen_hulk_3.jpg (90700 bytes)
Zahner Pine lower trunk still standing
IMG_1140.jpg (105535 bytes)
My mom in front of Zahner Pine with fallen section on ground
IMG_1145.jpg (105721 bytes)
Breakage point at ~40’



All photos by Will Blozan, unless otherwise noted.

The day was gorgeous- but the tree was down. We found the tree snapped at 40
feet and the rest of the trunk straddled across a hideous grove of
rhododendron. However, the dense rhododendron and a few logs held the fallen
trunk up off the ground so obtaining the diameters was still possible!
Furthermore, a piece of the tree still attached to the stub could be matched
to the portion on the ground so the length of the tree could be determined
and the diameters referenced to the ground for an accurate modeling. In all,
123.9 feet of trunk were still intact and measured. The twin top and two
huge reiterations were mere shrapnel. Pending further refinement with a
reticle of the lower trunk the volume comes out to 1127 cubes of trunk wood.
The trunk slowly tapered to 12'9" at 10.5 feet up and then got slightly
larger (the reticle will be needed for this section) and was still an
impressive 12'10" at 50 feet! This tree clearly claims the title of the
largest known eastern white pine accurately measured. The next largest ENTS
knows of is the "Cornplanter Pine" in NW Pennsylvania. This tree, also dead,
has been reticled to just over 1000 ft3 of wood. The Zahner Pine, when
standing and intact, was likely over 1170 cubes with the two reiterations
and other top section included.

The next day, July 6th found Jess and me on the Tennessee side of the Smokies to do the climb/plot of the "LeConte Creek Hemlock". This giant tree had a girth of 18'9.5" and stood 140.4 feet tall. Impressive as these dimensions were, the tree only scaled 1190 cubes, falling shy of the top 15 list by ~100 cubes. Unfortunately, the reticle over-estimated the volume likely due to catching wide portions of the trunk including bark extrusions.

The advantage of the climb and tape wrap is it tends to average the profile of that section of trunk whereas the reticle "sees" just the diameter and any protuberances or ellipticality. This canopy emergence of this tree gave me an unwelcome but unique view of the Park Vista Hotel and other blemishes of Gatlinburg, TN. The next day we searched lower Surry Fork for big hemlocks but came up empty handed; nice trees but very short.



"LeConte Creek Hemlock"


IMG_1174.jpg (105780 bytes)
Jesse Webster and the LeConte Creek Hemlock
IMG_1181.jpg (67428 bytes)
Vista into Gatlinburg looking down LeConte Creek
IMG_1205.jpg (102990 bytes)
Will tape wrapping lower trunk (taken by Jess Riddle)
IMG_1183.jpg (22205 bytes)
Park Vista Hotel and Space Needle

We took Sunday to get ready for the next week's climbs in Cataloochee.

Monday, July 9th found us back in NC in Cataloochee. Starting at ~2850 feet,
we hiked about 2 miles off trail and climbed to close to 4000 feet on the
east face of Shanty Mountain to climb the "Shanty Branch Hemlock. Not a big
tree, this one was in our project due to the lasered height of between 166.1
and 166.7 feet. This was also the highest elevation tree we have in the
project. The top of this tree is close to 4200 feet above sea level! I
finished the climb and modeling before the rain set in for a bit. The tape
drop was 166.1' and the volume 912 ft3. It is very likely that the hemlocks
Jess cored in this plot will exceed 400 years. Unfortunately, like the
climbed tree, the grove is dead except for two decidedly green trees. These
may warrant a revisit in a few years to check for resistance to HWA. This
was the third tree I have climbed that gave me a view of the fields of
Cataloochee Valley.

IMG_1268.jpg (69431 bytes) IMG_1265.jpg (75907 bytes)
IMG_1249.jpg (60207 bytes)
views from the Shanty Branch Hemlock looking east.

Tuesday, July 10th we started on a three day trip up Caldwell Fork in
Cataloochee to climb two trees, the "Double Gap Hemlock" and the "Headless
Giant". We hiked the five mile trek up the Caldwell Fork Trail, set up camp,
hiked up to the tree and completed the plot and climb of the Double Gap tree
before dark. This tree was intended to be in the top 15 for height but the
lasered height was 1.9 feet over the tape drop (~1% error is not good
enough!). Still, at 164.8 feet this was no shorty! However, in contrast to
other trees, the reticle underestimated this tree's volume. A very welcome
surprise came when the climb data was analyzed. I knew this multi-topped
tree would be big since at 100 feet it was 10'5" in girth- a new girth
record for that height! However, Jess nor I expected the tree to scale 1348
cubes! So it solidly landed itself a spot on the top 15 volume list as the
seventh largest eastern hemlock. Sweet!!!

IMG_1299.jpg (65229 bytes)
View down Double Gap Branch
IMG_1308.jpg (89703 bytes)
Three forks of the Double Gap Hemlock
IMG_1314.jpg (91005 bytes)
Looking up into the three forks
IMG_1322.jpg (92194 bytes)
Mossy elbow in Double Gap Hemlock
IMG_1324.jpg (99486 bytes)
Up into the fusion
IMG_1326.jpg (79113 bytes)
Climbing companion

Wednesday July 11th (my 9th anniversary) we awoke to a steady rain. When it
slacked off a bit our plans to complete the plot and climb of the "Headless
Giant" were underway. We slogged up Caldwell Fork to the mouth of Big Bald
Branch. The water was running a dark tannin color probably from the hundreds
of acres of dead hemlocks upstream. Woodpeckers have been pecking the outer
bark off in search of borers which may be resulting in a hemlock bark tea. I
don't know what impact this has on the water critters.

IMG_1340.jpg (74939 bytes)
Service Ridge is DEAD…
IMG_1351.jpg (88649 bytes)
Black birch rooted in cavity at 102’ up
IMG_1353.jpg (97415 bytes)
My anniversary photo for my sweetie!
IMG_1355.jpg (103742 bytes) 
Highest reiteration and birch cavity

Arrival at the tree brought on heavy showers and a thorough soaking of all
vegetation and humans in the plot. We awaited the clearing sky which
eventually appeared. Although short at 120.3 feet (laser and taped height
were the same), this tree was the most strenuous hemlock climb I have yet
completed. The wet tree and ropes added an unpleasant challenge. It had
seven closely spaced reiterations and a tangle of other limbs that made
canopy movement difficult. In hindsight I should have brought the "motion
lanyard" used by Steve Sillett to traverse the complex crown of this tree.
Regardless of the difficulty, I measured all seven reiterations and the
remainder of the trunk (broken at 104') for a total volume of 1307 ft3. As
big as it is, this tree is among the smallest in the volume of the top 15
(and the shortest).

IMG_1380.jpg (53236 bytes)
Drying out after the plot; Dan Bryson (NPS) and Jess Riddle roasting his socks.

Arrival back at the campsite revealed a bear had taken one of my socks (the
other still hanging lonely by itself), a t-shirt and bandana. It later
returned for a pair of shorts to complete the outfit. The next day we
explored a sort of hanging cove north of the campsite. It was super wet,
full of seeps and nice, ancient hemlocks but none of superlative stature.

And on the seventh day, we rested.

Will Blozan

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

Re: A good week for the Tsuga Search!   dbhg-@comcast.net
  Jul 14, 2007 15:55 PDT 

   Your and Jess's contributions to Tsuga are simply off the charts. You are making an effort that is greater by orders of magnitude than anything else we've done in ENTS. Future generations will not personally know the great hemlocks of the Smokies, but they will know with extraordinary accuracy what once grew there thanks to the climbs you are making.