It was almost 3 years ago today that we stumbled out of the cabin room onto a chilly front porch to see the sleepy eyes of familiar faces, all huddled together, trying to warm their chilled hands from the damp cool air that surrounded us in the mountains. We woke up our sleeping bodies with a couple jumping jacks and clapping our hands together to get the blood pumping. Of course the instant coffee pot was the real help. We were a bunch of climbers who were used to living at sea level, and we were about to climb some of the largest trees in the world!
The trees loomed over head all around our cabins. To say “trees” is an understatement. A typical tree could be anywhere from a 1” diameter sapling or a 30” diameter Maple. But these giants, they were enormous. They were the Giant Sequoias! Looking out over the mountain top reminded me of Endor from Star Wars. (The Endor scenes of Star Wars were actually shot in Sequoia National Forest.) Walking under these giants brought about a sense of awe that is hard to find in many places on this planet. We were surrounded by some of the world’s largest trees as well as one of the most impressive things any climber could imagine!
Our van bumped down the mountain road as its tires bulged with the added weight of 7 climbers and hundreds of pounds of climbing gear. Slowly the forest would ebb and flow from being so thick that you couldn’t see past the side of the road until it abruptly opened into vast expanses of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. These vistas went on and on with the treetops stretching up until the very tips disappeared into the fog and clouds. Slowly we rolled through this primeval forest of giant trees until we saw what we were looking for, a small sign that said “Waterfall Tree.”
The feeling of overwhelming anxiousness could be cut with a knife as we started unloading the van. This trip was 6 months in the making and we were finally at the precipice of our adventure. The only thing that stood between us and the top was one thousand feet of throw line, six hundred feet of climbing line and trying to figure out how we were going to get that rope all the way to the top! With strained breaths and bulging forearm muscles, we loaded the over extended big shot with a throw bag and let it sail. After searching the canopy with binoculars for the small orange bag that was dangling in outer space, we finally spotted it and began to isolate a limb to ascend on. This process is a major practice of patience! One person would watch with binoculars as the other tried to listen intently on when to lift the bag or when to let it drop. This was all done with an intense amount of delay because our line was close to 200’ off the ground! Finally, isolation happened and we pulled our rope into the tree.
As we started ascending, our toes gently bumped against the thick bark and we all listened intently as the hollow thuds carried down to the forest floor. Since the bark was so thick, it sounded as if the trees were hollow. We slowly made our way up, step by step into an enormous canopy filled with epiphytes and lichen. We slowly made our way from the land of men into the land of trees that have been around for more than most of human history. We walked on limbs that were larger than any tree east of the Mississippi River. We were in a tree climber’s paradise!
Our team made its way into the canopy and we collected the cuttings needed from far out on the branch tips. Feeling like an iron worker, walking the “I Beam” hundreds of feet off the ground, we tiptoed out onto the delicate branch tips and pulled samples from where only the sunlight could touch. Peering out through the fog and haze we could faintly make out the silhouette of the Stagg tree and its massive girth and jagged top. Then just inside the hollow near the top of the tree, we could see our other climbing team, sitting and taking in the view just like us. This is what tree climbing is all about. Sitting in the canopy with good friends, in giant trees, in different landscapes, and being able to enjoy their company and the grandeur that trees bring to this world.
What types of trees do you dream about climbing? Where do you want to go and explore the canopies of foreign trees? Maybe California? Tasmania maybe? How about Costa Rica? Don’t be afraid to dream big and make your wildest tree climbing dreams come true!