Forest of Redwoods

Dangling Climbers

And the Howland Hill Mystery Deciphered

Copyright 2016 by Mario Vaden


Around 2014, a small black line caught somebody's attention, hidden behind a coast redwood in a hidden patch near the old bygone Nickerson Ranch south of Howland Hill Rd. The mysterious line made them curious. I thought this would be an interesting educational twist for the unusual redwoods pages. As it turned out, the rope was rigged by researchers for in the redwood canopy where theys study redwoods, birds, salamanders, lichens and other. Spotting a redwood with an ascending researcher is a rare and unusual sight. Between 2012 and 2015 it was obvious that parks and visitor centers began hiding photos and information from people if it pertained to research climbing. But in my opinion, the effort required to study coast redwoods is worth teaching so more people can appreciate the herculean work invested. For a number of years, it was the researchers themselves who covered expenses "on their own dime". Eventually contributions grew.

The work takes several steps. First, a crossbow is aimed at a strong limb far overhead sending a rubber tipped arrow needed to elevate strong fishing line upward ... then downward as the arrow falls back to earth. Next, the fishing line is used to pull a thin rope back up and over the same limb. And next, the thin rope is used to pull a very strong climbing line up and over the limb one more time. The climbing line will be upward of 400 ft. to 500 ft. length. Research climbers climb up using small friction devices called ascenders, making the climb seem like a ladder-like movement. Once they reach the canopy, a variety of lanyards, ropes, pulleys and other tools are used, including cambium-savers to protect bark. Much of the research available to read, or the photos National Geographic captured, were accomplished with the aid of these climbing techniques. The photo below shows researcher Dr. Hiroaki Ishii from Japan, ascending in Redwood National and State Parks.

The crossbow gained an extra use the week this photo was taken. The group needed to stretch a very long measuring tape straight across a ravine but had difficulty raising it over a tangle of vine maple branches. I suggested the crossbow. They fired the line across, and used that to pull the tape over the top of the maples.

Nickerson Ranch Grove Coast Redwood Research Climber