Repopulating the Giants: A Great Adventure

On Thursday, May 26, Joe Aiken, Arborjet’s Great Lakes Regional Technical Manager, along with team members from Bartlett Arborist Supply and the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive left Michigan to collect this year’s new growth to propagate sequoia and redwood trees. A number of phenomenal climbers from around the country were involved in this great adventure. Joe Aiken shared his story.

Warm-up at Zion National Park

“Our first stop was by Zion National Park, where we camped out in the wilderness. Just sleeping bags and tents on the ground in the middle of nowhere. It was our first night and it was getting late so we didn’t know the landscape until the sun came up. When the sun rose we found ourselves in a ravine with large 300 foot cliffs. To warm-up for the redwood climb we did some repelling down the rock cliffs.

Sequoias in Springdale, California

We arrived in Springdale, California, to stay in an old rustic lodge approximately 7000 feet above sea-level. The trees that we were assigned to climb and select samples from were another 1000 feet up, so we were approximately up 8000 feet in elevation before we arrived at the first tree to climb. The elevation made it tough to breathe, but we were all careful to hydrate and to take our time getting there. The trees aren’t standing right on the side of the road where they are easy to get to. The Waterfall tree is probably a quarter mile hike with all of our gear and supplies for the day. It was almost like going on safari!

We had to use special tools and techniques to set lines in these giant trees. We would throw a line up 150 feet and ascend to that point and then reset lines 3 or 4 times just to get to the top.

Waterfall & Stag

The Waterfall tree is pretty amazing. It is the 4th or 5th largest tree by wood volume in the world and is located near the tree named Stag. There is still some debate over which one is bigger. At the top of Waterfall, they discovered that the tree was hollow, which is kind of scary and adventurous. One of the lead climbers for Bartlett ascended down into the cavity at the top of one of these trees. We threw a rope up over into the cavity and down he went. He was probably the first person ever to go inside that tree. He reported he went 30-35 feet down in there and still never touched the bottom.

After a tiring day of climbing we had another task, to hike all of our stuff uphill out of the mountains. The samples that we harvested were then overnighted back to Michigan to Archangel Ancient Tree Archives to be propagated and cloned.

Redwoods in Leggett, California

Next we drove to Leggett California to climb the redwoods. The Redwood River resort owners allowed us to climb these trees for our research. We were about 900 feet above sea-level so it was much easier. There we set lines from trees next to bigger trees and then traverse over from one tree to another and then you just have lines to the top. In the Midwest and most other places, that is not the case. This type of complex rigging is really exciting.

The Trip Home

Traveling from California to Michigan took us about fifty hours in a van. Bartlett’s van was painted with Team Bartlett on the side and their blog on the back to help generate awareness about why we were heading out to California. It was such a good group of people. We made it back to Michigan awe inspired and in one piece.”

Would you like to keep track of these plants and see them growing in the lab? Keep following this story and we will keep you updated.