Explorers of the Redwood Coast
Among the explorer network, Ron Hildebrant goes back years with Michael Taylor. After Dyerville Giant of Humboldt Redwoods fell March 24, 1991, after a strorm, Michael and Ron teamed-up to calculate height using marks on the adjacent "Cat Scratch" redwood. Dyerville Giant was discovered around 1966 by University of California scientist Paul Zinke and graduate student Allen Stangenberger. Taylor and Hildebrant realized the fallen Dyerville Giant was actually an unknown potential world record.
In February 1993, by phone, Zinke told Michael Taylor to watch for his other finds tagged 12, 13, 14, or the Three Peas in a Pod. Taylor and Hildebrant first became friends around Christmas 1990, and their first expedition together was February 1991 in Humboldt Redwoods State Park searching for tallest redwoods. Between that winter and the next summer is when Taylor began his quest for largest coast redwoods. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park was Taylor's starting point.
Michael Taylor and Steve Sillett met autumn 1994 after Taylor spotted a super tall coast redwood. When Sillett arrived with a climbing team to measure, he noticed a small #12 tag, meaning it must be one of Zinke's Peas in the Pod. This is the same redwood they named Telperion. The group also spent a night up in it high canopy during a small rain storm, sleeping in customized hammocks called Tree Boats, acquired from New Tribe of Oregon. Telperion fell during the next strong storm 1 or 2 months later. The team may have escaped death by a matter of weeks. By 1996, Sillett climbed and confirmed Taylor's Mendocino redwood as a new world record for that era; 367.5 ft. And they found others together around the same time like Pipe Dream in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
1987, Sillett's first exposure to the famous redwoods overlapped enrollment at Reed College where he studied botany. He eventually went camping at Prairie Creek, involving his legendary free-climb of a big redwood with friend Marwood. They used a smaller adjacent redwood's limbs to reach 70 feet, then leaped into the big one, and to the top. They obviously made their way down, but with some conflict with yellow jackets. The same week, Taylor, who had already experienced the redwoods at a younger age, was 15 miles away with a tour group in Redwood National Park.
In 1996, Sillett was hired to teach at Humboldt State University, and moved to Arcata from Corvallis, Oregon, three years after meeting Taylor. Sillett was very busy but managed to squeeze in a few hikes and bushwhacks with Taylor. Sillett also applied to Redwood National Parks at that time to climb coast redwoods for research. That is when Redwood National Parks established a permit process for scientists. There was no established climbing permit process for redwoods before. This is when the study and climbing began in Iluvatar and Atlas Grove redwoods. Sillett already knew Robert Van Pelt, a long-time explorer of other Pacific NW forests. He contacted VanPelt, taught him redwood climbing techniques, then Robert (Bob) joined the Atlas Grove study project. In 1997, Sillett called Taylor and started teaming with him to explore Redwood National Park on foot for more tallest redwoods. 1998 is the year Sillett and Taylor discovered Lost Monarch up in Jedediah Smith, the largest coast redwood known for that era.
Soon after in 2000, Atkins heard about Taylor. They met and teamed together for many explorations including discovery of the world records Helios and Hyperion in 2006. Earlier, Atkins broke the world record himself in 2000, with Statosphere Giant in Humboldt Redwoods State Park; it displaced the Mendocino coast redwood for at least four years. Together they found at least another hundred redwoods 350 ft. and taller.
We should note Paul Zahl, who, in 1963, led a small National Geographic expedition to what later became Redwood National Park. Finding no world record at first, he flew back east, but returned shortly and discovered the Libbey redwood: a world record that held the title for quite a few years. Zahl seems one of the shortest-lived redwood explorers, but I think the effort deserves attention. His discovery was also useful leverage to help secure Redwood National Park. Much of their quest did not have the present-day trail system to get around. He practically had to bushwhack the midst and banks of Redwood Creek. They finally found an old logging road to get into new spots.
Most of these discoverers are named in Forest Giants of the Pacifc Coast by Robert Van Pelt, or Richard Preston's non-fiction redwood adventure book. This is part of the network in a nutshell. Check out my review page on that Preston book because another explorer of a different sort is mentioned: G. F. Beranek.
Around 2008, I was contacted by Steve Sillett and Michael Taylor, about a month or two apart. Taylor invited me to explore and explained his methods. Sillett invited me to check out potential study plots and explore with him and Dr. Robert Van Pelt (aka The Lorax). Eventually Sillett offered me part time work assisting Chris Atkins to measure other tallest redwoods associated with a LiDAR project. In those years and following, I found new notable or record trees with them, some on my own, and met other people involved with the research network: Marie Antoinne, Jim Spickler, Giacomo Renzullo, Anthony Ambrose, Dr. Hiroaki Ishii and Kenneth Fisher. This is where I joined the redwood forest network.
For the LiDAR redwoods, Chris Atkins preferred camping, and we spent many evenings enjoying campfires and talking about the day's adventures as fog rolled-in over the redwood park. The few times I helped Steve Sillett, cabin lodging was in style, with home-cooked meals.
I still have strong interest for exploring, but started photography and portraiture through my redwoods experience and plan to focus on that more. But I still keep an eye out for notable redwoods.
Meanwhile, I watch a few others picking up the quest of exploring, like Zane and John. Zane Moore is an albino redwood enthusiast and committed his path to related college education. Zane will become knowledgeable with botany and forestry, but presently his experience remains minimal. John Montegue has a good eye for measuring, with emphasis looking for big redwoods and recording dimensions. Aside from Zane, few if any new redwood explorers, understand nuts and bolts of horticultuture, evergreen identification, soils, etc..
Now, what really set apart explorers like Van Pelt, Sillett and Taylor, was not enjoyment for giant redwoods and the nuts and bolts of higher education. It was a connection with the forest, understanding it more with season. Each one of them was a forester, arborist and naturalist of a sort: even Atkins is more of a naturalist than some realize. These men and their collaborators went beyond the basics of knowledge. They practically read the forest like a book, learning it's story unfold as countless chapters are written.