Living close to the wild backcountry in Sequoia National Park, I sometimes forget why some feel obsessed by the Giant Sequoia trees. An avid outdoorswoman, I always find myself retreating higher into the mountains and backcountry for hiking trips, rather than staying put in the Giant Sequoia groves. Perhaps its complacency after these past four years of walking through Giant Forest so many times that leaves me in this state.
But recently, my interest in these trees has been reignited by a passionate Swedish couple whom I walked with to find the Ishi Giant, an enormous Giant Sequoia found in the remote Kennedy grove within Sequoia National Forest. Upon meeting the couple, I had been curious about what brought these two to want to see the Ishi Tree, all the way from Sweden. Why not just stick to Giant Forest or Grant Grove? That is what most people do.
The Ishi is certainly off the beaten path, one has to take a network of Forest Service roads (I followed 14S02 at Quail Flat for about 9.2 miles towards Little Boulder Creek then a bumpy, 4WD only road 13S53 for two miles to the end). Once you reach the cul-de-sac it is a fairly easy, one mile cross country walk to the tree itself in the southeastern part of the grove. The social trails help guide you around the prickly manzanita and buckthorn. I was also surprised to see extensive flagging in the area that may help bring you back to your vehicle.
I visited this tree twice in one week. The first time was definitely an adventure since I had rarely ventured into the Forest Service Land. My charismatic roommate, her father and a good friend accompanied me on my walk. The Forest Service personnel at the Grant Grove visitor center were invaluable to helping me navigate the roads to the tree. Once reaching the cul-de-sac, the three of us stepped out into the hot, dry sun surrounded by stunted pines, cedar and manzanita. We followed the trails leading into the forest and eventually found a large tree marking the southeastern part of the grove. From here, it was easy to look up into the canopy and see both spires and rounded tops of the Sequoia trees descending into drainage. We followed the trees and discovered an impressive cluster, a few fallen giants and several large trees that we believed could be the Ishi. I carried To Find the Biggest Tree by Wendell D. Flint and used the picture in the book as a guide. From the book I learned that the Ishi Tree was named after a member of the Yahi Tribe in the Lassen area.
This treasure hunt lasted for about a half hour as we scrutinized the trees until we finally came across an enormous individual with two impressive buttresses. This has to be it! I stood in front of the giant and looked at the picture in the book, noticing a few features that validated that this was in fact the Ishi Giant. One of my friends hollered, “Isshhiiiiiiiiii” as we approached its impressive trunk. At 25.5 feet
diameter at breast height, 38,156 cubic feet in volume and a height of 255 feet, I immediately felt foolish for mistaking other Sequoia trees with this massive one. We could see scratch marks from possibly a bear throughout the burned area and a few early carvings perhaps from 1940 and 1955. This tree is not only large but its two impressive buttresses make it well-known to Sequoia tree lovers.
I do love the Giant Sequoia trees but, like I mentioned before, it is the wild backcountry that I find myself exploring more often. Finding the Ishi Tree was like stepping back into time, during my first year living in these Parks. My love of these trees has been reignited on this search and I now find myself pouring over maps and books to see what other large trees I have yet to visit. The Swedish Sequoia lovers I guided just a week later to the Ishi Giant also motivated me.
The couple found themselves in Sequoia National Park a few years ago for the first time after hearing about the Sequoia trees. Fit and active, I was surprised this couple has barely explored the higher elevations, my own passion, due to their obsession over the Big Trees. Why weren’t they excited about the alpine lakes, tall peaks and impressive Sierra views? Instead, they have visited more groves than most Sequoia employees during their time here. On three separate trips to the Parks here, lesser known groves such as Dillonwood, Evans, Skagway, Mountain Home Grove, Alder Creek, Redwood Meadow and Suwanee have all been visited by this couple.
When we were standing underneath the Ishi Giant you could see the love in their eyes as they took picture after picture of the tree. When I asked if there were other forests of the world they had been to, they simply shook their heads and said this one is the best. The Giant Sequoia forest is the most impressive since they do in fact have the largest trees in the world.
Hearing this reminded me of why Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks were established. Through local efforts Sequoia National Park was created to protect the Giant Sequoia trees from logging. Although many wilderness lovers spend our time in the higher elevations, the groves of Sequoia are what make this Park special to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come here each year.
Recently I acquired a book by Richard Preston, The Wild Trees. An easy yet compelling read, Preston describes the efforts of Steve Sillett and other botanists who not only scale the Redwoods but find within their canopies a rich environment with diverse flora and fauna. Sillett recently scaled the Giant Sequoia trees as well and the December 2012 issue of National Geographic highlights their story. On the cover you see Sillett dangling from the President Tree, surrounded by a winter wonderland. Sillett is clearly a lover of Big Trees and has visited the most remote groves of both Sequoia and Coastal Redwood during his life.
This idea of searching for the biggest trees, like tackling a life list for birds or wildflowers, is something I now feel motivated to do because of my recent time at the Ishi Giant. There are more impressive trees off the beaten path, such as the Arm Tree with the largest limb in the world at 12 feet in diameter within the Atwell Mill Area. The Hercules Tree was cut into to make a shelter and trinket shop in the large Mountain Home Grove. So much to explore still within the Sequoia forest! So if you are a wilderness lover like me, I hope you take the opportunity to go on a treasure hunt to find some Big Trees yourself, and perhaps you too will be inspired once again by these giants.
For more information on guided Giant Sequoia walks visit http://www.sequoiahistory.org