Climbing the world's tallest tree, in California

[Video Link]

The great science reporter Robert Krulwich of NPR has a beautiful story up from earlier this year about epically tall trees in the ancient forests of California. I missed this when it was first published, but it's been making the rounds again this week on Twitter. Krulwich begins by introducing us to a tree in Humboldt Redwoods State Park in California, nicknamed "Stratosphere Giant." It's 369 feet high, "about twice the size of the Statue of Liberty (minus the foundation)." But...

After its short four-year reign as World's Tallest, two hikers, Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor, were deep in another section of another park, Redwood National Park (purchased in 1978 during the Carter administration) when they came across a new stand of trees, taller than anyone had ever seen before. The tallest of the tall is 379 feet 4 inches, 10 feet taller than the Giant. It's now called "Hyperion."

We have the precise measurements because after Chris and Michael announced their discovery, a team of scientists, led by Humboldt State University ecologist Steve Sillett, climbed to the top of the tree and dropped a tape down to the ground. Some things are still that simple. Steve's colleague, Jim Spickler (check out his biceps! scary), repeated the climb and brought a camera, so we can go with him. This video, which comes with dramatic music in all the right places, is, to use a much overused word, but I'll use it anyway..."awesome".

That video is above. Note that the exact location of these trees is not being disclosed, for the protection of the trees. Check out the rest of Krulwich's blog post here. A little aside: back when I was a weekly contributor to NPR, my producers sometimes used to tell me when we were stuck on a story, "ask yourself, what would Krulwich do?" He's that amazing of a storyteller, in text, on TV, and in audio.


  1. Tape measure? They couldn’t figure out basic trigonometry? If it was good enough to measure Mt Everest… 

    1. I imagine in a densely packed forest it could be impossible to see the top of the tree without other trees getting in the way making it extremely difficult to use trig.

  2. “..and dropped a tape down to the ground..”

    Dang!  They could have used a barometer instead.

    1. Pleasantly surprised to see the Peace Tower making a guest appearance (Yay, Ottawa!), but doubt it’ll catch on as the gold standard of tree height measurement. “The world’s tallest tree is 1.25 Peace Towers (0.68 Washington Monuments) high.”

      1. Hear!  Hear!

        Those of us who don’t live in the USA do get tired of hearing the standard units of measurement:  American-football fields for length, Manhattans for area, etc.

        /Y’know, maybe by the next century, measurements in the USA will be in metric! 
        //I’m pretty sure I’ll be dead when that happens…

  3. Shouldn’t have named it after a Titan.  We’re going to regret that once we get down to Prometheus.

  4. Unless the tree is exactly plumb to the ground, and a uniform diameter all the way, I don’t know that dropping a tape is the most accurate way to measure the height.

  5. In southern Australia, there are many reports of Eucalyptus regnans reaching heights greater than 379 ft, and we know this because they were measured after they were chopped down, or in the case of the Ferguson Tree, at 435 ft (132.6 metres), it was found fallen down over a ravine found in the Watts River region of Victoria. The surveyor who discovered it believed that it would have been around 500 ft [150 metres] high before it fell.

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