The tall trees lists have described the location of a number of tall trees in Redwood National Park as “Redwood Creek tributary”, including Helios. There are a good number of Helios clues, and they all have some degree of helpfulness. But to me, none made a specific location probable for Helios. And on top of that there are no full views of Helios’ trunk on the internet. Just bits and pieces, such as a small area of trunk burn marks and a small section of one side of the trunk. And no canopy photos that show much.
But over the course of three years, with four visits to Redwood National Park searching for the tallest trees and quite a bit of time reading through research papers, viewing photos, and moving around Google Earth and Blue Marble I felt I had a good chance of finding Helios.
2 Hiking to Helios
I did not want to do the Helios hike alone. So I planned the hike with two guys from the U.K, Carl and Phil, who I trust and are excellent redwoods researchers and hikers.
On a Sunday in August 2017 we took on this hike. And it was quite an undertaking, ten hours of hiking in all. And we were successful.
The approach to Helios is just what you would think for a tributary of Redwood Creek. There is a creek and there are steep hillsides. And both are filled with giant logs, some recent falls and many worrisome rotting logs from treefall one or two hundred years ago. So over logs, around logs, under logs, along logs. Logs, logs, logs. Then throw in big ferns and nettles. And rocks, big ones. I fell three times, once off a rotten log, winding up on my back under some brush. I had to wiggle my way uphill while on my back to get out of the thicket. Carl and Phil took some spills as well. One of us had a serious wardrobe malfunction to contend with on the hike back out.
Do not do this hike on your own! Do not do this hike if you cannot tolerate extreme physical exertion!
Here are a couple views of typical redwoods and other trees and plants in the Helios area. Lots of ferns and rhododendrons. Also quite a bit of western hemlock, sitka spruce, and bay laurel. But the majority of the biomass is definitely redwoods.
3 Finding Helios
The three of us had climbed up a hill and were spread out. We noted a strong candidate, Phil got to the tree first and yelled “I think you will be very pleased with this tree” in the typical understated British way. Then Carl had a good pic of the burn marks on his tablet and what we saw lined up exactly in every detail. This was Helios, definitely. And we got it confirmed the next day.
Here are two views of Helios similar to what has been on the internet. The first is a section of the burn marks. The triangle on the left is the official shark tooth. Then the second is me in front of the trunk.
I cannot show any full trunk or crown views of Helios.
4 Helios Height
We did put rangefinders on the top of Helios and got a ballpark height. But we didn’t have prisms and tripods to get a definite height, and also didn’t find a ground level tag on the tree.
But Helios is immensely tall, perhaps as tall as Hyperion. And Helios has a lot of character, lots of interesting and unique features. That is what you would expect from a 2,000 year old tree.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park can certainly be described as Crescent City’s forest. When viewed in Google Earth the start of the park is very abrupt, with farm land, commercial land, and housing immediately to the west of the park’s border. As an example the Boy Scout Tree redwood is less than three miles from the Crescent City Walmart.
But don’t be fooled, there is a lot of remoteness for much of JSRSP. There is an especially big patch of redwoods south of Highway 199 and north of the Boy Scout Tree trail that is pretty much free of trails and roads. On a Saturday in August Mario and I did some exploration in this forest. Not to any known giant trees, but just to look around. This area has a wrinkled landscape and receives a lot of rain. Therefore there are many creeks, generally flowing either north toward Smith River or south toward Jordan Creek and the Pacific ocean. In one valley the water may flow north, then crossing to the next valley, at the same latitude, the water may flow south.
We took our time, looking over a small portion of the area, and found some really interesting “stuff”.
2 Big and Small Redwoods
We found this big whopper redwood with one of the nicest crowns you’ll ever want to see.
Then this is a classic nursery log, with a line of ten or so young redwoods growing out of the log. That’s Mario along the log.
Here’s a nice cluster of big redwoods, maybe they can be called the Crescent City Towers. Occupants are flying squirrels and marbled murrelets. Mario’s in lower right for scale.
3 The Elk Herd
Just above one creek sits this redwood grouping. We gave it the name Elk Herd as there are elk sign in this area, lots of hoof prints and nibbled off vegetation from earlier in the summer. It would be quite a picture to get a herd of elk surrounding this herd of redwood trees.
Mario has a good picture of this grouping on his website where you can discern the impressive size more clearly. But let me just say, at 4.5 feet above the ground, there is 35 feet of pure redwood diameter, no spacing. The big one in the middle is over 20 feet diameter.
4 Chill Down
That evening Mario organized a FB meetup at a brew pub in Crescent City. He got a good turnout, both people interested in redwood photography and redwood hiking. About 25 in all, everyone had a good time.
Harper Flat contains about 30 redwoods over 350 feet in height in an area no larger than 400 yards X 300 yards. That’s quite a tight grouping of tall trees. It sits on the south side of Bull Creek a little bit east of Giant Tree. The Bull Creek south side trail goes right through a section of Harper Flat.
Over the last few years I’ve been through Harper Flat a few times, and have seen every tall tree in that area. But I didn’t know which was which. The trees themselves are on some published lists with heights and diameters. But height is difficult to determine in the forest and there are many similar diameters and fusions in the area.
Recently I collaborated with an expert tree seeker, combining some clues we had with some new technology, and we were able to come up with a pretty good layout associating specific crowns with specific trees in Harper Flat (any in many other areas).
2 Harper Flat Transect
In May it was time to put the technical findings in action and do a transect of Harper Flat. We had GPS, range finders, D-Tapes, and some custom created maps to assist in the effort.
Working generally southwest to northeast we identified with high probability all the tallest trees in Harper Flat, including the notable trees Valentine, Apex, Alice Rhodes, Mother and Daughter, Pyramid Giant, and Randy Stoltmann (the order listed here is random).
There are many large fallen logs in Harper Flat which makes getting from point A to point B circuitous. Then also some of the notable trees are tucked in areas with the logs and brush, so care must be taken. There was also quite a bit of bear poop in Harper Flat, a bear or maybe a bear and cub must be accessing Bull Creek through this area.
To be honest the most scenic and impressive trees I saw in Harper Flat were none of the trees noted above, but instead a couple named Big Log (Brutus) and Bushy Toe. Both are over 350 feet and have large diameters.
Big log 361 feet tall, 15.5 foot diameter.
Bushy Toe 351 feet, 17 foot diameter. This tree is just north of the Bull Creek south side trail.
Then also it should be mentioned there are two spectacular signed trees nearby. On the south side of Bull Creek is Giant Tree, 354 feet, 17 foot diameter, while nearby on the north side of Bull Creek stands the stately Rockefeller Redwood, 366 feet, 15 foot diameter.
3 An Encounter Along the Trail
We saw quite a few people in the area on this day, even off trail. Almost all had a friendly hello and we chatted for a bit about hiking and redwoods. However when we were rounding a bend in the trail we met two guys going in the other direction who ducked down and started tying their shoes. It was clearly avoidance behavior, not wanting to be seen. They had nice cameras and tripods. Anyhow we said a brief cursory hello and moved on.
I suppose this all sounds strange to some, but there is intrigue in the redwoods, some people have gone rogue and put out GPS, hiking directions and very nice photos for a bunch of specific trees, even some way off trail. Now this is contrary to the current status quo, very contrary. And the people doing this have chosen to remain anonymous.
I think these people would be more effective in their endeavors if they took credit for what they have built and made their case for the site content.
I agree for some trees right by trails it is pretty silly to keep them a “secret”. But then for others, way off trail, it is pretty risky to send people over hill and dale to get to the trees. Then there is a lot of ground in between.
The Boy Scout Tree Trail is a great hike through the heart of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, starting from a big grove along Howland Hill road then winding all the way northwest to Fern Falls which is very near the western border of the park. The trail goes up and down a 400 foot hill and a smaller hill and makes its way along slopes, uplands, and creek bottoms. It goes by many large redwoods right by the trail, and most of the trail provides expansive views of the redwood forest. Then at the end Fern Falls is very beautiful. This is an out and back trail, with the start and finish at Howland Hill road.
To prepare for this hike I referred to three sources, all of them excellent:
GF Beranek has published a new book covering Jedediah Smith and Del Norte Redwoods State Parks. This is an excellent resource, with beautiful photos not just of redwoods but also photos and descriptions of their forest habitat including companion tree species, plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insectivores. Every section and trail in the park is covered in detail, including twenty pages dedicated to the Boy Scout Tree Trail. This is a companion book to earlier publications on Humboldt Redwoods, Prairie Creek Redwoods, and Tree of Dreams and Fortune, all very good. You can find these books in some of the visitor centers and almost all the gift shops around the redwood parks. It should definitely be a fixture in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park visitor center.
Dave Baselt has a web site redwoodhikes.com which covers all the trails in all the redwood parks, with topographic maps, elevation profiles, hike descriptions, and photos. In addition his waterproof large foldout park maps can be ordered online or purchased in the park visitor centers. I always bring and use his related map when I visit a park and hike a particular trail.
Mario Vaden has built quite a redwoods web site, which can be launched off his commercial landscaping website mdvaden.com. Lots of photos, essays, and trail descriptions, including the Boy Scout Tree Trail. Some of his photos are for sale, including his famous epic sunset view of the Geisha Redwood.
The trail head for Boy Scout Tree Trail is on Howland Hill road about two miles north of the southern park entrance. Howland Hill road is a great drive among big redwoods. It is more or less a 10 mph road, given the bumps, blind corners, some tight squeezes between trees, and lots of pebbles which can work their way into your wheel cover or brakes. Plus driving slower keeps the dust down.
I arrived on a sunny weekend day about 9 AM. There were a few cars parked at the trail head. When I finished this hike about four hours later there were about 25 cars at the trail head and in side slip spaces nearby on Howland Hill road. Maybe I met 75 people on the trail going out and back, which means running across a person or group every five to ten minutes or so, so lots of solitude as well.
2 The Climb to Upland Redwoods
The first part of the trail is flat, then starting at the scenic bridge shown below it starts to climb at a moderate pace for about a mile or so, passing some big redwoods by the trail with expansive views to the north. There is a under duct under one old log that kind of looks like a giant crocodile.
Upon reaching the summit I anticipated catching a bit of the cool ocean breeze as described by Jerry Beranek in his book. And by golly, there it was, smack dab on top of the hill. In addition to the northwest ocean breeze there is a hint of salt water in the wind.
The trail then circles around the hilltops, with nice redwoods growing among fern dominated ground cover.
3 Down to Jordan Creek
But what goes up must come down and eventually the trail starts to descend toward the Jordan Creek valley. Here on the west side of the hill the terrain is more wrinkled and rugged, as is the trail. There are lots of roots to negotiate, which can be your friend when braking going downhill or looking for steps going uphill but can be your enemy when catching a toe. In fact it is so steep in places steps have been built into the trail for assistance. These help a lot.
Jordan Creek itself is pretty small where the trail crosses near its headwaters. But still it is a very dense setting, with lots of huckleberry and western hemlock mixed in with the redwoods. There is a RCCI study plot in the back country on the west side of JSRSP, not particularly near this trail but having the same type of redwood habitat, which has the greatest measured biomass density of any area on the planet Earth.
4 Valley of the Giants
After crossing Jordan Creek there is a short climb to hill side terraces which follow the generally westward path of Jordan Creek. The trail follows these steppes around some bends and pockets. And along, below, and above these steppes and pockets, are sets of really large redwoods. Ones Jerry Beranek calls Class AA and Dave Baselt describes as Giants. Many are single stem, but there are others that started as adjacent single stem and then fused as their diameters expanded.
The two big redwoods shown below start the Valley of the Giants. They are right across the trail from each other. One has a spectacular up trunk burl holding a fern garden.
Some of the big redwoods can be seen in their full profile, while others are cloaked by the undergrowth or other trunks. Here are some views along the trail.
5 Boy Scout Tree Area and Fern Falls
After leaving the Valley of the Giants there are still plenty of nice redwoods. This past winter a large redwood fell across the trail in the section that descends to the Boy Scout Tree area. There is still a pretty big crater in the trail where the trunk fell across it. Then shortly after there is quite a large trail side redwood with a big reiteration, burl, and fern garden low on the trunk
As the trail enters the Boy Scout Tree area there are still plenty of nice redwoods, and Sitka spruce start to make an appearance.
Soon the spur trail on the right that leads up to the Boy Scout Tree is encountered. The Boy Scout Tree is an impressive fused redwood.
From the Boy Scout Tree area the trail continues to descend and winds around a bend, where Fern Falls makes a sudden appearance. The falls are quite spectacular, especially when the flow rate is high such as the day I encountered them.
While at this end of the park there is a hint of Crescent City, with an occasional hum of truck tires or the harbor horn. Just a whisper, nothing unpleasant and it adds to the hike.
The hike back was just as enjoyable though maybe a little more tiring going up the tall hill from the west side. But not too strenuous and the downhill jaunt to the parking lot at Howland Hill road was fun.
Redwood thunder is an uncommon but not rare event. It occurs when a large redwood tree falls to the forest floor, sometimes striking and taking other redwoods, firs, spruce, oaks, and maples with it. A cubic foot of redwood weighs 50 pounds, so if a moderately large 20,000 cubic foot redwood topples that is a million pounds, or 500 tons of wood crashing to the earth.
For redwood thunder to occur usually soaked soil and wind are required, though if the tree fractures on itself soaked soil is not an ingredient. Sometimes before redwood thunder occurs the tree will lean against an adjacent tree, with the trunks and branches rubbing with the wind and making screeching sounds like giant stringed instruments.
All redwood trees eventually topple, or at least break off down to a low point on the trunk. If a given old growth redwood has a one in a thousand chance of falling in any given year than that means, based on acres of old growth redwoods, the average annual tree fall count in the large redwood parks is about 300 trees, per park.
If there are multiple trees involved in a tree fall or if the tree falls across a creek, the tree fall is noticeable in Google Earth. If you hike the same trails over several years you will for sure see trees that have recently fallen. Their upper trunks are huge and their logs run sometimes more than a football field along the forest floor.
2 Examples of Tree Falls
Here are several examples of tree falls I ran across in 2016. Included are a picture I took of the tree fall accompanied by before and after Google Earth views of the tree fall areas (using Google Earth historical imagery).
In Humboldt redwoods a neighbor of the big Dyerville Giant log fell in the late spring 2016. Its trunk shattered and splintered into sections where it struck the Dyerville Giant log.
Another recent tree fall in Humboldt was in the area where a seasonal foot bridge is put in to link the Rockefeller Redwood area to the Giant Tree area on either side of Bull Creek in the upper Bull Creek Flats. The new big log is used a lot to cross the creek, though it would be a pretty tough eight foot or so fall from the log to the rocky creek bottom if your foot or the bark slipped.
A third fall in Humboldt occurred in Harper Flat. The tall north side of a twin trunk redwood fell in the last couple years.
The final example is in an area of tall hillside redwoods on the east side of Redwood Creek a little north of McArthur creek near the seasonal foot bridge. Here the tree fall took out a number of redwoods and the whole group of fallen trees is slowly sliding down toward Redwood Creek.
3 What Can Be Learned From Fallen Redwoods
A recently fallen redwood is a great opportunity for whole tree research once the soil in the fall area has stabilized. The root system and affixed soils can be studied without any digging, this is the big primary benefit. But also core samples can be extracted without having to climb and core living trees. The canopy structure can be measured and reviewed without climbing and an unlimited amount of destructive sampling can be done.
Hyperion and Helios are remarkably similar redwoods in some ways. They both grow on steep slopes above Redwood Creek tributaries. Their diameters and heights are very similar. But there is one big difference – Helios is 2040 years old versus Hyperion is a sprightly 1260 years old. Then also Helios has reiterations in its crown versus Hyperion does not. A reiteration is regrowth after breakage.
I started to think, I wonder what the height of Helios was before its top broke off and grew back. Was it once taller than its current height of 377 feet or so?
Well, I think it was taller, a little over 400 feet tall, and that was not so long ago.
2 Helios Height Estimate Before Reiteration
The idea is to review diameter at 80 meters in height for Helios and Hyperion, then for calculation purposes adjust Helios’ diameter at 80 meters downward a bit due to its greater age.
Then, take the amount of growth in Hyperion above 80 meters as a function of its trunk diameter at 80 meters. This is then applied to the Helios diameter at 80 meters to arrive at a Helios height before reiteration. Remember Hyperion has no reiteration in its crown.
Then to get the approximate date of the Helios reiteration take the Helios average change in height per year and apply this to the amount of height that is above the reiteration.
So we start with this table:
Diameter cm at 80 meter height (est)
Ring Width cm at 80 meter height (est)
Diameter cm at 80 meter height age adjustment
cm growth above 80 / cm diam at 80
And from there do this set of calculations:
Hyperion cm growth above 80 m / cm diameter at 80 m
Helios original growth above 80 m based on Hyperion
Helios height pre reiteration in meters (est)
Helios height pre reiteration in feet (est)
Helios reiteration point height meters
Helios actual reiterated growth meters
Helios growth rate per year centimeters (past 10 yrs)
Helios estimated age of reiteration in years
So it can be inferred there was at least one 400 foot redwood in the past, it was Helios. The top was probably blown out during a major windstorm between 1900 and 1925.
Helios may be a 400 foot redwood once more, but that will take another 70 years or so.
If there is a 400 foot redwood again it will probably be Helios, Hyperion, or some other redwood growing on a bench on a steep hillside with relative protection from high winds. Trees growing on flats along Bull Creek or Redwood Creek are probably too exposed to high winds to avoid breakage once they get a lot taller than the rest of the surrounding redwoods.
Then the other factor is the timing of the next Cascadia earthquake. That will snap off a lot of the tops.
The remnant forest on Flint Ridge above the mouth of the Klamath River is quite spectacular. The trail starts out near an old logging pond. There is an interesting hike around the pond, some of it on an old narrow gauge railroad bed. Remnant bumper piers built to control the log runs are visible. There are colorful wood ducks paddling on the water.
The climb up the east slope of Flint Ridge is nice, the switchbacks are well designed and maintained and the trail bridges are in good shape. The old growth redwoods start on the switchbacks not too far above the pond, with a number of redwoods in the 16 foot diameter / 325 feet height class. The appearance of the old growth is very sudden and scenic. That’s Mario and Ed, who joined me on this hike, in the pic. Mario has a much, much better picture of the three of us at this location on his web site.
The good size redwoods run from this point all the way up the ridge.
On the upper half of the ridge Douglas fir are mixed in with the redwoods. These fir trees are very tall, there is one right by a bridge on the trail that is about 300 feet in height.
Near the top of the ridge the nearby ocean starts to have an influence. A few Sitka spruce start to appear. There is a very interesting distinctive red cedar right by the trail.
This trail reminds me of the new James Irvine trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods, but Flint Ridge is less crowded and has more interesting and large trees right by the trail.
2 Prairie Creek Redwoods
Prairie Creek Redwoods provides a high level of easy access to large redwoods. Drury Parkway and Cal Barrel Road (open in summer) have giant redwoods right by the road, then there is a web of trails that wind through many of the groves with the biggest redwood trees. It is a busy park (even on a late October weekend) and you will meet people from all over the United States and the world on the trails.
I did some hiking on both the old and new James Irvine trails. It was interesting to see some of the big trees in the valley (old trail, no longer maintained) and then see the crowns of the same trees from the hillside (new trail).
I also spent some time on the trails near and along Prairie Creek. There are many notable redwoods that grow along Prairie Creek. Some of the big ones right by the road have a lot of wear and tear from foot traffic. However some trees are protected by their location, being neither adjacent to a road or a trail.
3 Humboldt Redwoods
Later on the weekend I drove down to Humboldt Redwoods to do some exploration and hiking. I was very keen to pick out the Millennium Redwood, which is a 370 foot redwood located in a small but beautiful grove in Humboldt Redwoods. I had found the grove last summer, then received an obscure clue to help me locate the specific redwood. As it turns out I had been to the very tree in June.
I also spent some time in the Harper Flat area. Harper Flat is an even aged forest on the south side of Bull Creek a little east of the Giant Tree area. There are many very tall redwoods, with more than a few of them having fused trunks or immediately adjacent trees. Maybe abound 1,300 years ago this area was leveled by a flood or Cascadia earthquake and clonal sprouts from common stumps grew and fused over time.
The forest in Harper Flat is very dense, if you use GPS it will have problems in there. However nearby Bull Creek with distinctive logs in the creek is always available as a reference.
It appears one very tall redwood in Harper Flat has fallen. It was the north side of this pair, note the root ball.
Now for a little bit more ….
4 Tallest tree Lists
The tallest tree lists have not been updated for a while with any new measurement results kept private. So what is the current top twenty is anybody’s guess. Many redwoods, including Hyperion, have apparently increased their growth rates in the last ten years. This could be due to an increase in annual sunlight coupled with a higher level of atmospheric carbon. More sunlight and more carbon in the atmosphere provide more energy for photosynthesis. Then also the state wide drought has been less severe in northern California, so there has been sufficient seasonal rainfall on top of the frequent fog drip.
For Hyperion, I am pretty sure it is still the tallest tree. There was a recent Facebook Live ranger talk where it was mentioned the tallest tree in Redwood National Park was 380 feet four inches tall (115.92 meters). That has to be Hyperion, it was confirmed at 380.12 or so a couple years ago and was noted as growing. Helios is about three feet behind based on published heights a couple years ago and still has a lot of catching up to do.
Based on growth rates and a few scraps of information, this would be my guess at a current top fifteen list:
2016 Height Estimate (Feet)
Mother & Daughter
And more of a little bit more …..
5 The Big Reveal Website
The big reveal web site has been populated with GPS and hiking directions to some of the tallest and largest redwoods for about 18 months now. For trees right by roads such as Drury Tree or Howland Hills Giant this site has not had much impact, as there was already a huge amount of wear around the trees.
Although my visits to redwoods are infrequent, I have noted newly created human foot traffic trails around both the Mendocino redwood and unfortunately coming out of the creek up to Hyperion. Wear and tear will happen even if people take care. It just has to happen when say over a few months a couple hundred people make their way through the ferns up to Hyperion. This is the down side to the big reveal web site. If people were searching for Hyperion here and there, then any effect of off trail hiking was spread out. Now it is concentrated to the routes leading up to and around these trees.
Now the up side is that site has helped a number of people, including me, find some notable and amazing redwoods. Not that futile searches are bad, any old growth redwood grove is magnificent. Then also for casual tourists there is lots of information on drive thru trees as well as notable redwoods adjacent to trails.
It would be very good if the big reveal web site could refrain from publishing details for locations and hiking routes to Helios and Grogan’s Fault. You have already proved you are good at uncovering and using clues and also can do some tough hiking. Your immersive photography is also very nice. How about leaving a little mystery to the tree search for those who like to intuitively search for trees versus following GPS, and at the same time keeping the approach and area around a couple exemplary redwoods pristine. If you locate either Helios or Grogan’s Fault put up your immersive photography, with some care to not show too much, and refrain from location description, hiking directions, or GPS. Just an idea for you. I don’t know you but I think you could be receptive to this suggestion.
Tree height is an easy concept. Measure the top and measure ground level and you have tree height. Tree volume is more difficult to grasp. The solid parts of a tree take up a certain amount of space, and that is the tree’s volume. Since a tree is a tapering cylinder, cone cross section formulas can be used to estimate volumes of a tree by section. Then sometimes the volume of the branches is estimated as well. So tree volume is a pretty complicated business to nail down with precision. For large redwoods the formula for a perfect cone usually gets you in the ballpark for estimating tree volume.
At some point in the near future technology may allow for rapid assessment of tree volumes in the same way the onset of laser rangefinders allowed for rapid assessment of tree height starting around the year 2000. Think of a quadcopter with a digital camera that can measure tree height and width at various increments as it flies around and up and down a tree’s trunk. Then think of this quadcopter moving up and down a hillside, doing these measurements for all trees over a certain size on the ridge. This technology measures the trunk only. Measuring limb volume is much more complex, and generally limb volume is not included when noting the volume of the largest trees.
2 The Largest Redwoods – A Very Incomplete List
There are lists which show the largest known redwoods in terms of volume and the tallest known redwoods in terms of height. The height list is certainly complete or near complete as airplane based LiDAR measurements have allowed for whole forests to be measured for height. However the largest volume list is incomplete, perhaps markedly incomplete.
Although trails have been built through and near many exemplary redwood groves, there are many areas with exemplary redwoods which have no trails. Places such as the west side of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the Lost Man Creek area in Redwood National Park, and the slopes above Redwood creek. Even in areas with trails there could be very large redwoods tucked out of sight just a little bit away from the trails.
Now think about where the largest volume redwoods have been located. Mostly in groves that have trails. Why are so many of the largest redwoods located in Prairie Creek Redwoods? For one, Prairie Creek has a lot of great redwood habitat with lots of alluvial flats and sheltered hillsides. But also Prairie Creek has many trails through this habitat to make the identification of large trees easier. What is different between Prairie Creek and the nearby groves of Redwood National Park? Not much, at least for the groves that are relatively low in elevation. But Prairie Creek has a much more complete trail system through its groves.
Let’s amplify this point with some statistics.
3 Most Redwoods Over 25,000 Cubic Feet are Yet To Be Discovered
If we assess the volume distribution of the top 25 giant sequoias and top 25 coast redwoods we see the relative volume between the largest and 25th largest trees in each group is similar. In other words, each group covers the same relative range in volume.
So sequoias and coast redwoods have the same relative range from the largest through the 25th largest tree. But there are many, many more mature redwoods than mature sequoias.
Old Growth Acres
Old Growth Trees
Here the coast redwood old growth acres include only the northern redwood parks.
So there are 6X as many old growth redwoods in their prime range than the total number of old growth sequoias. Yet the band for the top 25 trees in each species is the same? There is only one explanation for this, and that is many, many of the largest redwoods have been missed, so far.
As a second comparison, let’s review the relative volume distribution for the twenty five largest redwoods versus the relative height distribution for the twenty five tallest redwoods. How do those bands look? Well they look really, really different.
The 25th tallest redwood is about 95% as tall as the tallest redwood. The 25th largest redwood is about 60% as large as the largest redwood. Why the difference? All or almost all of the tallest redwoods have been identified, through the use of laser rangefinder and LiDAR technology. And many of the largest redwoods have not been found, as there is no comparable technology to quickly assess tree volume.
The current largest coast redwood tree lists have 25 trees over 24,000 cubic feet. That is only a sample, there are probably over 100 such trees. And almost certainly several trees are out there that are larger than 38,000 cubic feet.
So lots of discoveries to be made. And lots of upcoming technology in the form of quad copters with smart digital imaging to assist researchers in making the discoveries.
The Hyperion redwood tree. Tallest tree in the world. It was always “there”, and probably passed over by more than a few redwood researchers and explorers. But in August 2006 Michael Taylor and Chris Atkins put the rangefinders on the tree and found a height of 378 feet, making it the new tallest tree. And in 2016 it remains the world’s tallest tree, at 380 feet 4 inches.
So that’s great, but where is this tree? Well, in 2006, and for many years after that, no one would say. But the tree was featured in a best seller. And even today you can go to You Tube to play views from Hyperion’s canopy, and order a CD from National Geographic if you want even clearer canopy views. Those canopy views gave away the general area for Hyperion to a number of people, more so over time as Google Earth capabilities and clarity improved.
So armed with my “definitive” analysis, I was set to find Hyperion. This was a third attempt. The first time was very fun and interesting but wrong area. The second time was also fun and interesting but still wrong area. Gosh the remote areas of Redwood National Park are incredibly green and beautiful with many, many giant trees. But the areas were wrong for Hyperion. But this third time would be the charm, I hoped.
2 Off to Hyperion
Around 11 AM I arrived at the mouth of the suspected creek. This required a crossing of Redwood Creek which was knee deep with a pretty quick flow but really not that difficult on this day. This crossing is impossible in wetter months as Redwood Creek can be twenty feet deep.
The feeder creek, the one hopefully housing Hyperion, was very pleasant, with a lot of small frogs. The creek bed has some uniform shaped stones which are a little slippery to walk over, I suspect these may be left over from the beds of logging roads that were once in the area. Since I was alone I took care with every step, I did not want to slip and fall and hit my head on a rock, that would be really bad. Every now and then there were some nettles to move aside and deeper pools to avoid. I saw no human footprints.
There was a little under duck beneath a small log pile. It looked solid enough and kind of served as an official entrance to the area of the creek where the mature redwoods start. It was almost as if a sign could be put up there that says “This Way to Hyperion Grove”.
So all was well, I was making slow progress up the creek. But then, some motion to my left, followed by the loudest, most guttural bellow I had ever heard. And the source was close. A bear, and he or she was very pissed off at me! Well, I bellowed right back, HEY!!!!, and stomped around the creek. I never heard from the bear again, it must have then moved out of the area. Sounds unbelievable, but this is the honest to goodness truth.
Now armed with an extra dose of adrenaline I continued up the creek. There were some nice tall redwoods to the right up on the hillside. They didn’t exactly look like some of the Hyperion pictures, but who knows.
But I knew I needed to keep going. I had one more good clue, a picture of some guys climbing over a log pile. I was looking for that log pile. And then, forty careful minutes into the hike up the creek, there it was, the log pile. I was right! This was Hyperion’s creek!
3 Hyperion Grove
So up and over that log pile I went. Just like the guys in the photo. No problems. After that I was really amongst the old growth, with big mature trees on both sides of the creek. The sweet smell of bay laurel / pepper wood permeated the air and the big timber muffled all sounds. I knew Hyperion would be on the right side of the creek as moving upstream and right in this area. So where was it, which tree is it? There were a couple dozen to pick from.
Now I need to tell you Hyperion looks nothing like many of the pre 2015 photos on the internet. It is much closer to the creek, just above the end of the sword ferns. And it is very eroded on the downhill side, really pitifully eroded. That tree could fall anytime, at least that’s the way it looks to me. If it were growing that way along 101 I think Cal Trans would cut it down. And those pictures of the grove called “Hyperion from Below” – no, they are not from below, they are from across the creek’s valley.
So I walked right by Hyperion. Saw it, said nah, and walked right by it. Unbelievable, but true. I am sure others have done it. A short way further along I saw a couple trees on the right that were good suspects. And I saw another tree further ahead that looked like a candidate. But I was getting tired, the day was moving along, and I decided to go up through the ferns right there to the two trees.
After hiking to the two trees I realized they were not Hyperion and its neighbor. So I sat there for a while, feeling defeated. I did not realize I was sitting sixty feet west of Hyperion and its neighbor. The neighbor was blocking Hyperion and the distinguishing adjacent log. So after about twenty minutes of reflection I walked back down to the creek, looking right at Hyperion on the way down. I can still see it in my mind. I didn’t recognize it for what it was. How about that.
Here is my GPS trace of the hike in the Hyperion area, it is a little erratic versus my actual course but generally correct. H1 is Hyperion’s location. What a stunning effort and what a colossal albeit temporary setback.
Later last summer more information on Hyperion was leaked and I was able to go back later in the year and locate the tree no problem. While sitting behind Hyperion I looked over to the two redwoods I was sitting beside three months earlier and just shook my head.
Tall redwood trees tend to grow in groups. There are specific areas with the best soil, sufficient moisture, protection from wind, and the right mix of sun and fog to promote tall tree growth. I recently spent a few days in the redwood parks hiking to tall trees along or near trails but still a little bit away from areas where most visitors hike. These areas with tall trees are nature’s cathedrals, with the trunks serving as pillars and the crowns serving as rounded ceilings hundreds of feet off the forest floor.
2 Humboldt Redwoods
Day one hiking was in the Bull Creek Flats area in Humboldt. I wanted to get some pictures from the “101 Big Cut” near Founders Grove. On the way to that location there is a spectacular new tree fall at the Dyerville Giant location. The Dyerville Giant was a tall redwood that fell in 1991 and its big log remains in Founders Grove. Sometime in the early Spring an adjacent redwood fell across that big log and split in several sections.
Then on to the Big Cut Trail. It is a moderately difficult twisting hike up to the top but the reward is a really nice view of the Bull Creek redwoods as well as some interesting civil engineering where the Avenue of the Giants crosses over US 101.
I spent some time in the Harper Flats area near Giant tree. This area is thick with very tall even aged redwoods. It is indeed a tall trees cathedral.
Another nice area visited was along Bull Creek a couple miles upstream from the Eel River South Fork. I located a beautiful very tall round domed redwood right along Bull Creek. Across the creek from this tree there are two tree trunks rubbing against each other in the wind, this makes a loud screeching sound which kind of sounds like whales singing.
Then in the flats above Bull Creek in this area is a scenic somewhat open forest area with big and tall redwoods.
3 Redwood National Park Tall Trees Grove to Forty Four Creek
On another day I hiked the Tall Trees Grove trail, crossed Redwood Creek on a seasonal footbridge which had just been put in that day, then hiked Redwood Creek trail north to Forty Four creek. I had hoped to get a good view of the remnant redwood grove along Forty Four creek but did not have clear views of the crowns from the trail. However the bridge and Forty Four creek are both scenic. Be very careful on the bridge as some sections of the side rails are missing.
On the way back up and out I stopped at the Redwood Creek overlook and watched the evening fog roll up Redwood Creek valley from the Pacific Oean. It comes in at a pretty quick pace, maybe ten miles per hour on this day.
4 Redwood National Park Redwood Creek Trailhead to Elam Creek
The northern portions of Redwood Creek trail provide nice views of the redwoods along Redwood Creek in several areas, particularly where the trail crosses Redwood Creek just a little north of McArthur Creek. Just north of the Elam Creek Bridge there is a side trail that goes up to the Elam Horse Camp and then intersects with one of the horse trails. This horse trail follows Elam Creek upstream for about half a mile, then there is a single file bridge where the riders and horses cross Elam Creek. This bridge affords a spectacular view of very tall redwood trees that surround Elam Creek at this point. It is a real back country redwood tree cathedral.
5 Redwood National Park Trillium Falls Trail
The Trillium Falls trail forms a nice loop through old growth redwoods. The first part of the trail up to Trillium Falls is pretty busy but after that point the trail is less busy. This is probably due to the steep climb to the upland redwoods and the overall length of the loop (about 3 miles).
Trillium Falls itself is very scenic. There are also very nice redwoods around these falls. Then past the falls there are some areas with really big and ancient redwoods.
6 Redwood National Park Flint Ridge Trail
There are big redwoods on the climb up Flint Ridge from the Klamath River. On this day I wasn’t able to get to this area due to trail conditions. But reading about the 1964 flood and viewing what remains of the original Klamath River coastal highway bridge was very interesting. This old bridge has bear statues too, just like the new one.
7 Jedediah Smith Redwoods Trails
One up side from missing Flint Ridge was it provided some time to get up to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Road repairs had just been completed and the park was accessible from the south all the way up to Stout Grove. I did some hiking in the big trees area and enjoyed trail side views of some big redwoods.
8 Montgomery Woods
On another day I met my friends Jerry and Teri Beranek for a hike through Montgomery Woods. The many tall redwoods in the flats above the earthen dam and below the surrounding steep hillsides form a continuous redwood cathedral. I get a lot of insights and plant identifications when hiking with Jerry and Teri. Jerry has a couple new books, one on Humboldt and one on Prairie Creek. They are very good, providing interesting background and perspective and many great photos and maps. Look for them in the gift shops along the Avenue of the Giants and the Humboldt Visitors Center.