Copyright 2009 - 2014 by Mario Vaden
Hyperion coast redwood, discovered 2006 by Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor, is the tallest known in the world. 2012 measurement 115.66m or 379.46' high, 15.2' diameter breast high, 4.5' above grade. It is mostly a single stem redwood with very slight fire charring on parts of the trunk. In many ways it blends-in fitting a stereotypical look for Sequoia sempervirens. The stem length on the low side is 386 feet.
The specific facts available for Hyperion are not many. Basically those dimensions, the park, the discoverers, the year, comments in a book by author Preston, and a little extra like you can read here. Best I know, nobody outside the tree community has found Hyperion from August 2011 to August 2014 ... basically 3 years. Over 1000 days ... multiple people ... repeated searches ... and zero success. Indeed, a needle among haystacks.
Although planes have flown over redwood parks for LiDAR, there may be a chance of a taller redwood existing. It would have to be a leaner to slope side in the lion's share of the park, but there's still a chance. It recently came to light that sizeable parts of Redwood National Park were not flown over for LiDAR.
Actually, Helios is more of a "top-secret" redwood, because it's more vigorous, better protected, and far less documented. Measurements for Helios were done conservative, excluding part of the lower trunk. So it is just inches from a tie. Redwoods can trade places for tallest, and between 2007 and 2012, Icarus went from 3rd to 4th, trading places with Stratosphere Giant. And Nugget redwood which was not listed in the top 50, shot up to 5th, passing Paradox,
and Orion which is 6th. Apparently Nugget (370.89 ft. / 2012) is putting on nearly a foot a year: at that rate, it could catch up with 1st, 2nd or 3rd in, say, fifteen years ...
I had guessed the June 3, 2013 road closure to the TallTrees Grove hastened potential for how quickly some people could approach the vicinity of Hyperion. Because gating-off 7 miles, without question, could have altered people's paths, habits and mode of travel. But the road opened again. And that can act like a reset button back in time to old habits of years gone by.
Most of this page is extra commentary that may be of interest to those who enjoy exploring for redwoods. The content here is still leaps and bounds beyond Wikipedia, and is the most true-to-fact page on Hyperion of resources that have some substance.
The photo here is the coast redwood Hyperion. Because the image is rare, fair use is not applicable. If you need to use a photo of it, please email. There should also be a small pic you can use for blogs etc., pre-approved if you visit the image use page and read instructions. Click this photo for a larger 600 x 1200 pixel view ...
There is not any single way to approach this tallest redwood in the world, located uphill from one of the many creeks and brooks. The largest waterway in the park is Redwood Creek, with Prairie Creek as its largest tributary. Lost Man Creek forms a confluence 12,000 feet upstream as another RNP tributary. Add to that a myriad of other creeks and brooks with and without names. Among this web of waterways, ridges and slopes, seekers pick and choose routes they deem promising to find this Coast Redwood.
When I first found this redwood, my route involved walking through water for quite a stretch, deeper than my waist. Certain times of year a current could sweep someone away and push their body under boulders or logs. That was a little bit after 'Cougar Flat' where I spotted fresh Mountain Lion tracks. It ends-up that immersing in waist-deep water was not essential: just happened to be part of that particular day's route plan. In fact, if I bet I could get there without so much as stepping in an inch of water if I picked my steps carefully.
February 23, 2012, the BBC radio and website posted about a climb of Hyperion by James Aldred and Ben Jones. Reportedly this climb did not happen with a legal redwood climbing permit. If the reports are accurate this was an illegal climb advertised on the internet with text, photos and audio. A third climber accompanied Aldred and Jones: possibly Brett Mifsud of Australia, or Grant Harris. This is to clarify that Michael Taylor listed as part of a "team" was not involved in an illegal climbing group.
Presently, my favorite story of a search by other folks is a 2007 article called Above and Beyond by Clynes. If still online, see it here ... Above and Beyond Article. The narrative sounds as if they picked the Redwood Creek trail trailhead at the parking close to Orick. That redwood article opens with them weighing options in hours and pints of blood. Note that their first search party had a 75% casualty rate for minor or aggravated injuries after just the first day looking. It ends with appreciation for the entire forest experience in the end. Funny thing, years after searching for info and finding Hyperion myself, I found some interesting quirks comparing Preston's book with Clynes story. More about that may reveal itself below, although I may not point it out how it fits in the narrative.
Image to right: my Humboldt photography assistant with Canon camera, at the base of the trunk. Spring 2014. Was an unseasonable warm day.
Actually, the rare few I know of who located this redwood all have one thing in common ... some bleeding. Broken bones are also shared by explorers, with one of the thrashings looking for Grove of Titans, and the other in Redwood National Park. Both were arm related bone breakage.
See X-ray image farther down page
The lastest finding I heard of, which took 3 entire years, was shared in a summary... Quote ... "rugged and intimidating -- steep hillsides, impenetrable overgrown thick plants and trees, thorny bushes which cut skin and draw blood, false forest floors that collapse into pits" ... End Quote.
The false forest floors are of huge concern, and in 2011, ate one explorer's complete right leg with the left knee swelling from hitting the ground too hard. The most immediate pain though seems to be when shins kick the hidden razor tip wooden spears on fallen logs hidden behind ferns and moss.
Equipment can get hammered too. There's a laser rangefinder in RNP that a log jam permanently inhaled up one of the creeks: not mine. But I've fallen off logs twice onto my backpack with camera inside, one log 7 feet high. That's why I use a padded camera pack now and don't take my best camera and lenses on the more brutal bushwhacks. One of potentially lethal hazards we don't flirt with, are the slick logs near streams, chasms and rocks. Sometimes the slick surface is evident, appearing smooth and wet. But other times its not evident. Then spongy moss or bark that was gripping boot soles with friction suddenly glides-apart from old wood beneath.
Several attempts have been made by others up tributaries like Emerald Creek, Tom McDonald Creek and Forty Four Creek, probably because of speculative guesses at some websites. But several folks have gone up those tributaries and definitely come back empty handed. A handful returned to other promising parts of the park.
Navigating Redwood National Park holds surprises. Summer of 2011, Chris Atkins was almost eaten and spit out by a Coast Redwood. It had a covered hollow on the uphill side of a slope, and Chris fell through but caught himself at the last moment. The cavity went clear through, and he saved himself from ejecting down the hill 100 feet into a boulder filled creek.
Image right: shows 'Vader Rock'. At this angle, the boulder looks ike the back of Darth Vader's helmet.
Hyperion, the tallest redwood (2009) was described in a book as being in remote part of Redwood National Park on a hillside in the south end of the park. Because the park is not neatly sliced into north or south on maps, the description is vague. Especially since Prairie Creek is occassionally included generically in references.
With new super tall redwoods found recently and the shroud of mystery around this location, some folks wonder if Hyperion is still the tallest in the world. Some new finds are not being named. But it should be tallest ..... 99.99% certain.
The only certain clue may be actually finding Hyperion. Which means measuring the trunk diameter and the height with a laser and coming within like 1 or 2 feet of it's 380 foot height. Helios is so close in diameter and height, someone could mistake it for Hyperion. In the near future, Hyperion may not be the tallest anyway. In 2011, Michael Taylor wrote "Helios is on pace to hit 380' on or about 2017. Hyperion is on pace to break the 380' barrier about the same time. Hyperion's growth is currenty about 1 inch per year." Helios is the faster growing of the two and is really the most closely guarded secret of the tree community, among the 2 coast redwoods.
What a novice would do about Hyperion, even with a laser, I do not know. Because Michael Taylor once wrote to some folks of the Eastern Native Tree Society, that one would "literally" need to get like a mile away to hit the central leader clearly.
In a few years, the handful who may have located what was the world's tallest, will no longer have seen the tallest. And if they thought clues for Hyperion were rare ... Helios will confound them, because clues of substance are almost non-existent. The hunt may boil-down to less than the photo to the right on Helios' bark. Those are burn marks on the redwood Helios, about 100 feet up the trunk. One small fire scar is shaped like a Megaladon or Great White Shark tooth. If you ever scavenged those teeth on the east coast before, you understand. And the ones in the sand along the east coast states tend to turn black. The charcoal color fire mark is virtually a spitting image. And that is not the idiosyncrisy referred to on the Helios page.
Various people expressed interest in Hyperion, assuming it is upslope of a named creek. Redwood National Park has at least 40 miles of named creeks. Add to that countless seasonal brooks with no names. That's 80 miles of slopes when both sides are combined. That can leave a lot of hunting territory for some people.
This area was also nicknamed Fog Valley in a book by Richard Preston, describing Steve Sillett and Michael Taylor heading downstream into the rugged region. To reiterate that there is not a single approach, compare that writing by Preston with the chapter Michael Taylor's Dream where the first climbing expedition went upstream ... up the valley. So it says.
In the same book, Preston introduced the use of tags on trees (like 3 peas in a pod). But tags on redwoods are not useful to seekers: not for verification. Between the canopy researchers and other studies, there are reams of tags and flagging tape. Not like litter. But there are plenty.
And the tags for some redwoods are across valleys on trunks of other Redwoods or Douglas Firs, where the window was open to use a laser toward the opposite side of the valley. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of tags multiplied. So finding tags or what looks like bent foliage won't mean diddly as of about 2009. Some of the LiDAR redwoods have double tags placed for measurement. Helios happens to be one of the redwoods for which a measuring window is across the valley on another slope, about a 20 to 30 minute bushwhack from the trunk. More like 2 hours if crossing over is for measuring. Even if someone stumbled upon that window and tag, they wouldn't know what the heck it was for.
Then whe it comes to bent foliage or signs of movement, that means next to nothing these days. Because there have been successive years where groups are wandering indepent of one another, all over the place in Redwood National Park. Along roads, trails, streams, slopes ... you name it. Way back in 2006 to 2008, I think that a broken stick or fronds or Salmonberry stem could have been a sign of getting warm. But the years passed put an end to the reliability of that.
It seems that many apparent clues for Hyperion are not much better than trial and error, because various clues are uncertain or have been twisted through narratives. Which really is no problem, because it makes every day a new adventure for hunters.
On my first discovery, not far from Hyperion were scads of fresh bear footprints, claw marks and scat. One part of Hyperion Valley had a couple of Mountain Lion tracks. But I did not see any of those animals in the area. And that was fine with me, because Mountain Lion (Cougar) can leap vertically like 16 feet. Normally I don't get nervous about them, but when exploring solo, sometimes I find myself looking over my shoulder.
Here is a diagram referring to earlier comments about having to measure a redwood from one side of the valley to another. Heavy vegetation, log-choked streams and obstacles must be added with your imagination.
E-mail trip reports
To date, about a dozen folks have sent messages about their quest, providing a glimpse into what's running through their heads.
So far, others have explored upwards of 1 to 2 miles up creeks including Bond Creek, Forty Four Creek, Bridge Creek, Tom McDonald Creek, Bridge Creek, Lost Man Creek, Emerald Creek, and parts of Redwood Creek, and part or Devil's Creek. Other too, but those are what I recall. Every one of those creeks has provided a journey without a Hyperion find. The trip reports show that the typical seeker sets sights on named creeks rather than smaller forks or tributaries, and rarely north of Bald Hills Rd.. The lookers have sought with and without rangefinders. And tend to have many clues in common, but still end up all over the park. Their paths radiate outward from Redwood Creek, typically excluding it altogether.
Image to right: is a Mountain lion track in the area. I found several fresh tracks like this at 'Cougar Flat' while exploring there.
The confidence that people place in clues, or how they interpret them, can be as far apart as The Federation and Klingons in Star Trek. Let me give one example. There's an image where a research scientist is up in Hyperion looking in some direction. Apparently there is mist or fog in the distance. A couple of folks shared that it had to be looking toward toward the ocean because that's where fog comes from. That premise is not correct.
I replied with a photo taken along the coast showing a foggy mist moving slowly down a hill toward the beach. In the redwoods, mist or fog can wander to and fro. With that so-called clue, if you even call it a clue, there is a 50/50 chance of being right or wrong.
Image to the right: X-ray shows the broken & dislocated elbow of one man who explored off-trail for one of the largest known coast redwoods. Image from H.
Llewellyn - used with permission
It's interesting to see how rumors spread, whether by emails, blogs or websites. If Bridge Creek is mentioned or overheard by one or two people, then all of a sudden it becomes the likely location. If Tom McArthur is mentioned, then it becomes the likely location. Likewise Devils' Creek or Bond Creek. Apparently people believe in a name if they see it in writing, or mentioned more than once.
It's worth noting that my photograph of Hyperion can be considered an anomaly. The exact view you see in the photograph above was never seen by the actual discoverers. An unseasonal gliche in the winter weather offered a short window in time to approach this redwood and see this much of it. A photograph like this is not possible most of the Spring, Summer and Autumn, because foliage will block the view.
The seemed most solid clue I've ever seen, was found after I already located Hyperion. But it only stood out as a clue on account of having found Lost Monarch. The clue reminds me of the movie The Matrix, where passage through some door or opening, completely depends on one particular character. In theory, if someone found Lost Monarch first, they may be able to figure out the vicinity of the world's tallest redwood via one piece of clue. Never heard about it from anybody else looking. Although, most seekers of Hyperion have been going for that tall one first, and put looking for the largest on the back burner.
Summer 2014 we built a new computer and among the process I accidentally swapped files for this page and lost a paragraph or two, but previously I had written that the one "solid" or ultimate clue was related to activity of people. But that the clue could act like a double-edged sword. Forget my exact phrases, but that's the essence of what I shared. Actually, the more I thought it over. the more I realized that the clue's use was mainly if an anomoly in the evidence was given a false assumption.
That reminds me ... New Hope is not a clue. But that tall redwood in Jedediah Smith would have made great training wheels for seekers of the world's #1 tallest. If someone can't find New Hope, they may want to abandon the quest for Hyperion Coast Redwood for a while. Because New Hope has practically been offered on a silver platter when it comes to tid-bits of information available.
Seekers are few
Compared to hikers, seekers are a drop in the bucket. That may boil down to one published clue ... in a Youtube video, a climber of that redwood, Spickler, stated that the trek in required a "4 mile plus" ordeal through "really rugged terrain". And the "lost little valley" is on the "edge" of the park. Keep in mind that gate-access forest roads on the east side (and west) allow parking within 1.0 to 1.5 miles of Redwood Creek: even closer to upper reaches every creek from McArthur Creek to the lower confluence of Bridge Creek. Research climbers have access to gate keys and any old roads. Lost little valley connotes a notch valley of an unamed brook rather than a main named creek: or a connecting brook of a main creek. And "edge" describes somewhere other than down in the central bowl of the park. That mental image covers an expanse more vast than mid-Bridge Creek to Devils' Creek, and I think most people just lay low and enjoy the many miles of hiking trails.
Even Elam Creek is barely 2.5 miles from the big parking lot for Redwood Creek trail, and an easy cake-walk approach via gated roads, horse trails and hiking trails. Likewise for Emerald Creek, etc., etc.. The special access roads might have been impassable for parts of Cayote Creek, Harry Weir Creek, Cayote Creek and Copper Creek. A few roads have been reported somewhat worse or impassable farther east in the park. But Old-Growth is slim pickins past Devil's Creek which has a lot of old redwoods and itself covers an extensive area. Forty Four Creek falls a bit closer to a 4.5 mile walk from trail parking: provided one skipped using a forest road on the SW slopes of the park.
How far up a creek can old growth coast redwood be found?
There is no rule of thumb for how far up a creek one can bushwhack to find old growth. In some valleys it begins almost right away, then fizzles out, like up McArthur Creek. In other places, like Bridge Creek, there is hardly anything until several miles later. Then the valleys have some really big stuff. You would never realize this from a couple of trip reports where people went a mere mile up, but judged the entire area from that short distance. That's been confirmed by Michael Taylor as well as satellite images.
A way around that potential confusion is using Google Earth. It makes it relatively easy to tell the difference between old growth and new or second growth. And just one more way to test whether the trip report from another searcher is worth considering.
The old growth tops look bigger and more chunky. The younger stuff, logged areas, or Alder patches seem lighter color and smoother textured on the satellite image.
Images at right
The top image shows the upper region of a creek in Redwood National Park. Just one valley alone dotted with old growth is almost a mile long. The finer texture areas are the logged regions or Salmonberry in low spots.
By zooming in, the scale can even show how broad the tops are. In one image, the Redwood crown is over 100 feet wide. The upstream region of this particular creek has all kinds of old growth Coast Redwood.
Check it out for yourself. McArthur starts out heavy with big stuff and gets thin before half way up where a huge elevated basin stretches old-growth-free, picked clean to the bone by loggers. Tom McDonald Creek is sort of a skinny finger of old growth for much of it's length. Elam Creek has lots initially and the old growth there spans the hilltop to McArthur. Bridge Creek does not look too grand for the first mile or two, but there are a bunch of valleys upstream loaded with giant old growth. The amount of old growth varies along Redwood Creek, ranging from vast groves to narrow patches: on the satellite image, some even look like the teeth carved in a Halloween pumpkin. Anyway, take a look yourself, zoom in and out and spin it around.
Words can be remarkably vague
Every so often, I find myself rereading the Above and Beyond article by Clynes, which I mentioned earlier. Summer 2011, something caught my eye for the first time, especially as one who knows the location. Clynes wrote the following:
"We thought we had been in big-tree country before, but as we walked farther into the grove, we realized that we had now entered a new realm. All around us, 20-foot-wide trunks rose in great grooved columns"
If that is correct, the description does not sound like the "right place" as stated by Atkins (discoverer) in the article. There would be no abundance of trunks that big at the particular stage of progress described by Clynes and his group. There are some 20 footers nearby though. I'm surprised that the particular sentence never jumped out before. Also, compare Clynes description above to the "stumps ten to fifteen feet across" and redwood "beanpoles" mentioned by author Preston.
One must keep in mind that words like "place" can mean a hugely wide expanse, and still be telling the truth. Likewise, walking "right past it" does not necessarily mean someone came within a hair's breadth of something. A person could be a 1/2 mile away from their target walking parallel to it's easiest approach, and walk right past it. Without knowing exactly where Clynes was (and he did not say in an email one time), I can't say whether Atkins replied over a phone line with pin-point reference, or whether it was very vague to guard the location. It could have been either, and he'd still be telling the truth. Althought 20 footer thing seems pretty clear that Clynes was not very close at all.
Interesting things about Clynes' Above and Beyond Article
In the story Above and Beyond, the author who also searched for Hyperion redwood, wrote "On August 25, 2006, Atkins and Taylor were bushwhacking through a remote basin that neither had previously visited. They had recently found two huge trees–371.2-foot Icarus and record-breaking 375.3-foot Helios–in a nearby grove".
Knowing the terrain for both Hyperion and Helios, it looks like "basin" has to be interchageable with "creek". One of the rare few who found this redwood prior to 2013 emailed about the spot seeming like a basin. But when I tilt and rotate satellite images, it looks like creek, valley and drainage for the more part. So what I get from the article published on backpacker, is that Atkins and Taylor are described as finding Hyperion up a creek valley they never went to before (neither of them). But in Preston's book and chapter Michael Taylor's Dream, says the discovery was in Fog Canyon, a small tributary valley that Taylor had been to before.
From all that, for some readers, the only way the book and article may fit, is that Fog Canyon is a miniature valley and brook feeding a named or slightly larger Dry Heaves Creek, or the other way around, where Dry Heaves Creek is a tiny brook (almost seasonal) feeding into a bigger Fog Canyon and creek. Again ... most lookers think in terms of bigger tributaries distinctly separated, rather than combinations of primary and adjoining supplementary valleys.
Also, Clynes wrote about crossing water ankle deep one day, then more like knee deep the second day after some rain, prior to really entering the forest so to speak. During unusually long lapses or winter rain, like December, I have not seen Redwood Creek go ankle deep where a seasonal bridge would be pulled away just upstream of Forty Four Creek. Even closer to August or September, the water would seem closer to ankle depth near the seasonal bridge (or lack of one) much closer to McArthur creek. So in that regard, the story implies Redwood Creek trail to possibly McArthur Creek, Elam Creek or Bond Creek.
Image to right: cleaning camera lens in Redwood National Park. Same day when my photography assistant, posted above, helped me get some more recent Hyperion images.
If the writer really was referring to seasonal crossing farther upstream, the narrative should connote nearly 98% to readers who have seen maps, that Clynes' party made a bee-line for Forty Four Creek or Bond Creek. Because with no seasonal bridges in place, it would be virtually pointless to head to that point if you were aiming for creek tributaries north of there. This should also take readers back to pondering the real meaning of Atkin's comment about the "right place" toward the end of the article.
One puzzling thing, is why Clynes party put so little emphasis on whether Hyperion might be up a tributary or valley on the Bald Hills Rd. side of Redwood Creek, considering he knew potential was over there. He did write about "National Geographic Society naturalist named Paul Zahl" and the "Libbey" redwood, and it's on that side too. My guess is that their thinking was rutted in terms of named features, or, reasoning that didn't make it into the article. Maybe that's what they concluded when they first sat down to form a game plan at an Irish pub, which I suspect was Gallagher's Irish pub on 2nd street in Eureka. Because if people include the presense of existing old growth, and the fact of a long time world record from 1963 to the 80s, then the north slopes and valleys should be just as logical a place to search as the south slopes and valleys.
The Conspiracy Theory
It has been suspected by a few people, that discovers, researchers and park staff have laid an elaborate web of false clues: substituted canopy view vistas, altered time-lines, etc.. I will not confirm or deny that theory, but since a few Grove of Titans clues are known to be backwards, that does lay a basis for suspicion.
Because if it were true, searchers would be drawn continually into a modern redwood version of Greek mythology: the legend of Sisyphus and his impossible task.
Image: Bears frequent this part of Redwood National Park, shown by one of several claw marks in one stretch of Bear Claw Alley
The only free "bone" ?
About the only clue that can be offered, is the fact that at least one existing Hyperion clues is wrong or out of whack. It is either a typo, an unintentional mis-statement, a figure of speech which appears literal, or a mix-up about locations and boundaries. The contamination to the pool of clues stems from a person whose name would be well known to any seeker who expended effort. It is either an author, researcher, character, website owner or employee of the parks. If the error was interjected intentionally, I would not know, because I did not ask. There was an opportunity to communicate with the person, but I decided to avoid the subject. Something makes me think it was an accidental slip-up.
That "bone" does not say all that much. But it does open your mind to huge possibilities far exceeding what you may have expected.
A final Chapter
A few of you may have read Preston's book which ended with the discovery and and first climbing of this redwood: attended by National Geograpic. I heard through the grapevine that Preston had finished his book before the discovery, but it was not yet published. Then Michael Taylor and Chris Atkins found the world record redwood in 2006. So Preston added the final chapter Michael Taylor's Dream. How different the book would be without that discovery to cap it off.
Some folks consider Hyperion as the holy grail of redwoods. One naturalist wrote that they would not set foot on that earth because it was sacred. But its not quite like the banana slugs and bears there genuflect.
For now the location remains secret and unpublished. Hyperion is fairly remote. Maybe it's location should be called Hyperion Hill since it's on a hillside.
Redwoods like this are still inconspicous, because there are super tall redwoods all around. They literally cloak each other. And the tip tops are commonly out of view of a rangefinder.
About a previous Panoramio / Google Earth photograph of Hyperion: a few folks were curious about the Hyperion photo which used to show on the Lady Bird Johnson Grove side of Lost Man Creek in Redwood National Park. I removed it indefinitely, in case one may wonder where it went. Some images remain in my albums.