It's Not About The Climb: Kentucky's Tallest Tree

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#1)  It's Not About The Climb: Kentucky's Tallest Tree

Postby Hook » Thu Nov 11, 2010 9:17 am


Not About the Climb

I was invited to join Tom Robison, an arborist and friend from Cincinnati , on a journey to climb Kentucky's Tallest Tree, a Yellow Poplar of 168' in hgt, and 18'8” CBH.  Knowing the condition of my knee and the looming surgery, I was tempted to decline.  The certain rewards of this endeavor immediately outweighed any amount of pain I might feel during/after the journey.  I accepted the invitation.  I later learned that my friend Landon Smith, fellow recreational tree climber and  friendly contrarian was also joining us. I figured I could have him carry me to and from the tree if need be as he is as big as a horse.  The date was set for Nov. 6, 2010. Time of departure, 05:00.  

A fair amount of frost covered the Smith family driveway when we convened to pack in the gear, and continue south through the dark  morning toward the Beaver Creek Wilderness Area.  The 3.5 hour drive was uneventful.  Spatterings of rain, here and there. The valleys covered in a fog as palpable as the anticipation growing in the minds of we three Giant chasers.  As we drove through the Daniel Boone National Forest near Sublimity City the evidence of recent heavy rains,  along with the proximity of a majestic waterfall, and scenic river demanded a detour.  We stopped at Cumberland falls, and could have spent the entire day there hiking, rock hopping, identifying trees, and snapping photos.  The Sun finally shone through, and blasted a rainbow onto the mist rising from the falls.  This was our signal to put our noses back to the ground, and track this Tulip.  

Photos From our  visit to Cumberland Falls

The Beaver Creek Wilderness area is a dense, woodland of rugged terrain, rich with Hemlock, Oak, Yellow Poplar, and other mixed forested areas

Beaver Creek Habitat Matrix.

We drove on Wildlife Management “roads” and hunting trails for miles, deeper and deeper into the forest until the trail disappeared into thick brush.  Landon put it in park a mere .38 miles from our target.  Unloading the truck, and realizing our inability to carry all of our gear led to the din of sorting clinky things in the middle of the wilderness, and discussion of the probability of making a return trip to the vehicle.  We burdened ourselves with heavy packs. Not a single hand was void of some piece of gear as we set off, following the arrow on the garmin to our desired waypoint.

I love to whack some bush.

Scrambling over boulders and fallen trees,  ripping through brambles and multiflora rose thorns while trying to stay on course made for one of my favorite bushwhacks to date.  As the distance to destination decreased to under 400' we were looking up, thinking a tree of this size would surely be visible from a few hundred feet. Nothing. There, wed spotted a very tall Slash Pine, and  a great White Oak, but nothing bearing the columnar appeal of our elusive Tulip tree.  Pressing onward we made our way to the edge of a 110' precipice.

 Behold! in the valley below, reaching up 6 more stories above our heads emerged the most magnificent tree I have witnessed with the intent to climb.
Just viewing this tree from the vantage of a cliff overhang, eye-level with the sprawling crown made this whole trip worth the time and effort.  I could have gone no further, and been perfectly content with the day's experience.  
I stood in awe for several minutes.
The trials of the terrain getting to this place evaporated in the presence of such a Giant.  Giddy, excited, yet cautious on the cliff's edge, I stared.
I shrank.
I wondered.
I imagined.
I worshiped.
I found myself experiencing a mental rhythm akin to staring at a fire.  Transfixed, in a state of wonder I looked down at this tree who for hundreds of years has been protected from the forces of wind, and greed of man by the cliff walls between us.  Unlike watching  dancing flames that flit about as a constant refreshing of elemental beauty, emanating warmth and light, watching this tree was to watch the Watcher. I imagined all that it has seen flitting about in centuries past.  Unlike the mesmerizing fire, the gratification was not instant, the reward was not fleeting as the flames receded.
This Watcher, I will not see fade away. I know that it is standing there now, as it has for centuries... Protected in a place where man rarely tread , providing lifetimes of shelter, support, and shade to multitudes of lifeforms... and a lifetime of wonder to the few who have stood before its towering form without intention to set it ablaze, to chop it down, turn to flame for temporal gain.
Photo Set From the Climb
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#2)  Re: It's Not About The Climb: Kentucky's Tallest Tree

Postby James Parton » Thu Nov 11, 2010 11:27 am


Nice adventure! You are obviously one who reveres trees. The Beaver Creek Wilderness Area reminds me of Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, here in NC. Rugged and beautiful.

Nice pictures!
James E Parton
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#3)  Re: It's Not About The Climb: Kentucky's Tallest Tree

Postby dbhguru » Thu Nov 11, 2010 2:57 pm

Thanks much for the splendid description of the great Kentucky tuliptree and the images. Liriodendron reins supreme as the East's tallest hardwood and second tallest tree species. We now have another point on the board. This magnificent species holds great height from Georgia to New York. I have long hoped that accomplished tree climbers would discover ENTS and join us in our mission to document the best of what remains, while we still have it.

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Co-founder and President
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#4)  Re: It's Not About The Climb: Kentucky's Tallest Tree

Postby edfrank » Thu Nov 11, 2010 7:39 pm


As I said on Facebook, this is a fantastic report.  This is the kind of stuff I like to see posted on the BBS along with the numeric data we collect.

For those of you on Facebook, the original post is here:


"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky
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#5)  Re: It's Not About The Climb: Kentucky's Tallest Tree

Postby Rand » Thu Nov 11, 2010 8:36 pm

Oh very nice.  The topography looks very similar to the Hocking Hills region in Ohio.  While the parks there have lots of old looking hemlock, and tons of vigorous young (~100 yr old) tuliptrees, old tulips are very rare and the ones you do find are in poor shape (crooked, broken tops,hollow, etc)  I suspect the area was selectively logged at one point.  You find a lot of 130'-140' trees, but the tallest I've found is ~154'.
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