climbing a 117 foot tall tulip
I am really enjoying everyone’s climbing reports and thought I should share the story of a notable solo climb of mine back in December. I posted a slightly longer version of this climb report on the Native Tree Society forum so if any of you frequent that forum you may feel a sense of déjà vu.
Carolina North Forest (CNF) is a 760 acre public use forest maintained by the University of North Carolina. The forest cradles a soon-to-be-defunct airstrip used over the years by the rich and famous of Chapel Hill as well as visiting dignitaries. CNF is crisscrossed by miles of dual use running/hiking and mountain bike trails. The forest is primarily composed of ~50 foot tall new growth loblolly pines, but there are a few pockets of mature deciduous stands as well, with multiple trees over 100 feet tall. The forest is loved by the locals and even has its own facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carolina-North-Forest/179464238759273
CNF is on my commute to and from work and I have spent many hours riding the trails scouting for notable trees. The monarch of the forest is a tulip tree (Lirdiodendron tulipifera) with a girth at breast height of 8’, 10” that towers over a section of the forest noted for its lack of undergrowth, but plentiful, straight-boled poplars, gnarly oaks, and sweet gum trees. On a sunny day last December I set aside most of the day to climb the monarch with the purpose of determining the height and total volume of the tree.
The monarch poplar is about a half mile from the trail head so I tried to pack lightly. Even so, I got some quizzical looks from trail runners as I toted my harness, ropes, slingshot and climbing helmet through the forest. The climb took place on the first day of winter, but the temperature was a balmy 65 degrees and I left my jacket at the base of the tree. I had previously measured the CBH to be 8’, 10” (or 106”) and the average spread of the compact canopy at 43’, 6” (45.5 feet major axis and 41.5 feet minor axis). Apparently, luck was on my side because I set an entry line over a good branch 65 feet high on the first try with my hand held slingshot.
Giant Tulip Pasted.jpg [ 55.37 KiB | Viewed 1043 times ]
The modified slingshot is made by attaching a $30 spincast fishing reel (spooled with 90 yards of 20 pound test line) to a $15 wrist rocket slingshot using a short piece of PVC and 2 hose clamps. A 2-ounce lead weight wrapped in bright orange duct tape serves as the projectile.
File comment: handheld slingshot
IMG_1256.jpg [ 34.02 KiB | Viewed 1043 times ]
I climbed to my first tie in point using a split tail, doubled-blake’s hitch, self-advancing setup and a single foot lock. I stopped every ~15 feet to measure the circumference of the trunk on the way up to the first branch. At 50’ up, the trunk was still 6’, 10” in circumference. The main bole splits at 71 feet into a 4’, 11” circumference leader and a 3’, 11” lesser trunk. The leader was still 2’, 5” in circumference at 94’ when it finally split into a series of secondary branches that I wasn’t comfortable trusting my life to.
I brought along a new tree climbing tool that proved worthy of its weight many times over. It is a set of 11 aluminum tent poles shock corded together that telescopes out to a little more than 16 feet long. The whole set weighs about 10 ounces and fits in an old umbrella cover that hangs from my climbing saddle. I used the poles, which have bright orange tape at 1 foot increments, to determine the length of secondary branches too steep or too flimsy to access. The poles, which have a hook on one end, also come in very handy when advancing my climbing line when the dangling end of the rope is out of my reach. (Incidentally, I bought more than 11 poles from http://questoutfitters.com/tent_poles.htm
, but I found that combining any more than 11 sections results in a pole that curves too much to be useful.)
While tied into the crotch at 94’ feet high (confirmed with a final tape drop), I extended the 16-foot pole as high as my arm could reach, but the tip was still about 2 feet shy of the tallest twig. Adding a few measurements together I confidently report the height of the tree as 117’ (+/- 6”). There are most certainly many taller tulip trees in NC, but this one is one of the tallest in CNF and a worthy specimen for the central Piedmont of NC. With a height of 117’, CBH of 106” and average crown spread of 43’ it has AmericanForest.org point value of 234.
To summarize the volume measurements, the trunk sections, primary limbs, and secondary branches greater than 2” in diameter represent 391, 59.5 and 7.2 cubic feet for a total of 427.7 cubic feet. When compared to the monster tulips of Great Smokey Mt National Park like the Sag Branch Tulip (4013 cubic feet) or the Fork Ridge Tulip ([url]viewtopic.php?f=74&t=2423[/url], 2844 cubic feet) measured by Will Blozan et al, the “Monarch of Carolina North Forest” seems positively diminutive.
Many species of lichens and mosses as well as a family of squirrels live on/in the tree. While aloft, I saw a large hawk (red-tailed?) silently glide by and land in the tree next to me. A moment later another hawk landed gracefully in another nearby tree. Both either didn’t see me (not too likely) or didn’t care that I was there (the ultimate compliment). It was fascinating to watch as they ruffled and preened themselves, and then a moment later, both flew off for other parts of the forest. That experience typifies what I love about climbing into the canopy – experiencing the forest ecosystem from a different perspective where I can almost convince myself I belong.
File comment: view from the top
IMG_1244.jpg [ 70.31 KiB | Viewed 1043 times ]
The view from the top is spectacular, and in the upper levels of the canopy last year’s tulip shells and next year’s buds can be seen almost side-by-side. There are a few more pictures from the climb at http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2507009480696.2114325.1416815241&type=1