Sugar pine in Calaveras Big Tree State Park nominated to the National Register of Champion Trees. Photo by Carl Casey.
“The circumference is 30 feet and 2 inches in English measures,” Bob said. “That’s 9.6 feet in diameter!” The slow tapering trunk of the tree showed some concave areas of bark that curved slightly as they went upward, another characteristic of large, old sugar pines.
Bob asked James to wrap the tape measure around the trunk as high up as he could reach, standing on top of the debris skirt on the high point of ground. Rick found a stick to push the tape up to keep it level going around the trunk. The tape kept falling and had to be adjusted numerous times. Finally, we got it right.
“What’s the reading?” Bob asked.
“762 centimeters,” James replied.
Bob clicked his walkie talkie and said, “Steve! It’s 762 centimeters (25 feet) at 10 feet off the ground!” Bob surveyed the trunk with an expert eye honed by 30 years of measuring trees.
After a few moments Bob said with finality, “This is it! I believe this is the largest living pine tree on earth!!”
I was thrilled. My hope of finding one more sugar pine in league with the old giants was fulfilled.
Bob looked up and said, “The tree doesn’t look that tall to me, which could hurt as far as the tree’s overall points are concerned.”
But, I wasn’t too dismayed by this. Most of the really old sugar pines have had their tops broken off at some point and are generally in the 200- to 210-foot height range. Bob wound his way back through the forest, looking for a spot to measure the height with his laser rangefinder. James was standing by the trunk with a reflector, since the understory of pacific dogwood and small white firs obscured the view of the base of the tree.
After numerous attempts to catch the reflector, “Got it!” exclaimed Bob at last.
And then, silence. James tried to hold the reflector still. In a minute we hear Bob yell out, “I was wrong about the height. The tree is 241.3 feet tall!” This meant the tree garnered more than 600 points in total, a feat accomplished by only three other sugar pines, all of which were now dead.
What caused Bob’s initial height estimate to be low is the fact that the entire forest of trees in the South Grove is rather tall. The tallest known sequoia north of the Kings River is in this grove, measuring 283 feet high.
Bob came back to the base of the tree. We were all overjoyed that this magnificent old tree had survived centuries of storms, snow, wind, drought, bark beetles and blister rust to eventually, hopefully one day, claim the title of earth’s largest pine.
The sugar pine detailed in this story has been nominated to our National Register of Champion Trees, but has not yet been confirmed as an official champion. The register will be updated in 2016. To view our National Register of Champion Trees, click here.