Last weekend I ventured with a merry band of sequoia hunters into the woods in pursuit of the hard-to-find Ishi Giant, the last of the trees on Flint’s Top 40 list that I had yet to see. It was a decent hike in, probably 3.5 miles on an old disused forest road, and temps were high up in the 80s. The farther in we went the more debris and fallen trees we encountered, and the narrower were the old forest roads we had to negotiate; until we got to the trail’s end, the old dirt parking lot from which we would head off trail to quest for our elusive giant foe.
The trail-less part of the chase was short, however. Only a quarter mile to the grove’s edge, then about a half mile to where the tree dwells. Due to the Rough Fire a couple of years ago, the whitethorn bushes have taken over a great deal of the area, their needles guarding the grove from outlaws like ourselves. That made going just the quarter mile to the grove’s edge a perilous hour-long push. But once we got into the grove proper, the prickly ground cover subsided and we were able to make better time. Our merry band did not know it at the time, but we would have another dangerous enemy to face in the rising fierce winds that were picking up as we headed over hill and dale.
As we worked our way down the swale that the Ishi Giant inhabits, the nearby trees dropped small pieces of debris upon us from the winds. As the breezes increased my company became nervous. Nevertheless, we sighted the monster old tree. We found it to be in very bad shape, near death, with big burns on its base and insides and only a small amount of green foliage remaining up high on one side. Pieces from its own top and fallen branches littered the ground around it. Fire and nature have brought it nearly to its end and have split it halfway down its middle. Even so, its whittled-down girth (later measured at over 77 feet) was still impressive.
By the time we got to where the behemoth abides, the gusts were becoming quite fierce. Cones, branches, and large limbs rained down all around us. We often heard a loud crack, followed in a second or two by something that sounded like thunder when a more substantial chunk of wood crashed to the ground. The cannonade became worse as the wind grew, and about every five minutes we heard a deep rumble shaking the woods as a particularly large treetop or high branch came down. When a whole tree nearby snapped and drove into the ground with a dreadful crescendo, my merry band decided to retire from the field of battle. I elected to remain. With my companions in full retreat back up the ravine, I watched as right behind them three 80-foot-tall trees domino-ed into one another, each knocking the next to the ground in a triple series of snaps, crashes, and booms.
In spite of the devastation raining down upon me I circled and shot my massive wooden adversary many times and from many angles with my camera, then attempted to strangle it repeatedly with my tape measure around its base, checking its remaining size, slightly fearful for my own safety should the winds bring down one of the halves of its still-standing shell upon me. Fortunately, that doom did not befall me and I obtained all the measurements I required without harm. I did get to the point where, when I heard the winds blow particularly strongly, I looked up in the direction from whence it came to determine whether the forces of nature were going to come down and flatten me also.
Having persevered and withstood the elements, I decided it was time to retire back up the draw, triumphant in having achieved what I came for. As I retraced my path up through the grove, I came across the other members of our merry band sheltering under the largest tree boles, and we once again united to march out. While exiting the top of the grove, I watched a tree approximately two feet in diameter pull up its roots, descend, and slam to the ground in a plume of dust and debris. It was the fourth tree whose complete fall I had seen within mere feet of our party in just about an hour of the peak of the tempest.
After exiting the grove we paused at the trail’s end for some refreshment and victuals. After our rest period my merry company disbanded and headed back out of the forest and I was left to my own purposes as I wanted to further explore the environs and stay overnight. Having had a trying and perilous day already, this gallant hero decided a nice lie-down was the better part of valor to restore my fortitude.
Sufficiently refreshed by a short respite in a bed of soft pine needles, I dutifully went up the ridge to the north to see the upper part of the grove into which I had not yet ventured. In the western edge of the Kennedy Drainage I chanced across a tree named Forktop, which I recognized from the description I had read in Dwight Willard’s Giant Sequoia Groves of the Sierra Nevada. I also shot it with my camera and attempted to strangulate it with my trusty tape measure to determine its mettle. I didn’t expect it to be the largest tree I had ever calculated the volume for; however, since I was there, why not take its dimensions? Willard had said that near Forktop was the second-largest sequoia in the grove, but I did not encounter anything I thought bigger. I did see a very large stump, so perhaps it has already succumbed to nature’s ruin.
After that short tour of the upper grove I found a campsite near the Little Boulder Creek. The wind had calmed down to a nice breeze, there was water aplenty; and when my evening repast was complete, I had a campfire gaily burning in the twilight. I bear-proofed my food by hanging it from a convenient high limb; however, none showed up to contest me for it. After full dark arrived, I climbed into my cozy tent hammock to the comforting babble of the nearby stream and the glowing embers of the campfire, feeling at peace with the world in spite of the adventures of the day. I was only awakened twice in the night by particularly loud trees crashing down.
The next day my plan was to do some wandering in the Little Boulder Grove and then hike out of the area late in the day. This grove is not a very big one, but it does have a fair population of big, stocky, fireplug-shaped sequoias. A couple of them are large sized, though nowhere near Top 40 range.
It was a very hot weekend. Between Saturday dawn and Sunday about 4 pm, I drank sixteen twenty-ounce water bottles. (Yes, I counted.) I was hiking most of that time, sometimes off trail, but I think that’s a water consumption record for me. Luckily, I was camped right by a stream and brought my filter so I could refill at will.
A lot of smoke drifted up from the valley, where wildfires were raging through a large area of the lowlands. I didn’t know exactly where at that moment, but from the time I arrived on Friday night throughout the long weekend I could increasingly smell it. On Monday afternoon it became so thick I couldn’t see the sun to tell which direction was west.
All in all, it was quite an unforgettable and happily victorious finish to my quest to find the Top 40 sequoias on Flint’s list; and it went out with an appropriate final bang … or two.
First row: Ishi Giant Tree from south, west and north respectively. Second row: Ishi from east, branches still live and up-creek. Third row: groups of trees in Kennedy Grove.