On our Spring 2016 Collection Trip, made possible by donations from Archangel supporters, cuttings from ancient trees that will be propagated and replanted to capture carbon from our atmosphere weren’t the only things we collected. Jim “Tree Machine” Clark was there and files this story.
As an Arborist in normal day-to-day work in my area, 100 feet up a tree is a really big climb.
So upon ascending the Mutanical Sequoia, at 100 feet up, I was not even halfway. There was six feet (2m) of trunk to the right, and six feet of trunk to the left. I dangled there on an 11 mm length of thread, toes of my boots on the tree, fingertips on the tree. It was so awe-striking that I surrendered into a hug, as best you can hug a nearly-flat wall of wood.
Our “Tree Machine” is a pivotal member of the Archangel team.
As a team of climbers, Jake Milarch hand-selected who he thought were the very best qualified tree climber/ expedition participants. All 13 of the climbers were really good tree climbers, but that is in the trees we have so far climbed. THIS tree, here in this secluded reach of a remote mountain valley was in such an entirely different class; it was like a true first-time experience. I felt like a noobie climber and that everything I knew about tree climbing was out the window. I was humbled to tears.
And I still had over twice the distanceI’d come yet ahead to go. Destination, 70 meters, 230 feet! At that point Damien, our #1 guide and technical tree rigger awaited. Now, a climber does not want to keep another climber waiting, so I kept on a steady ascent. In climbing Sequoias, you aren’t actually climbing the tree. You are climbing the rope that is set in the tree. At 60 M (200 feet) I realized my actual climb height is 6,200 feet. We are way high in the southern range of the Sierra Nevadas. We are in a cloud forest. The air is thin. The lungs are feeling it.
“I can’t believe you’re footlocking up a single line, Tree Machine! – You’re a freak of nature!”
“Speaking of a freak of nature (I took the opportunity to take another rest), look at this section of the tree!!!”
The tree trifurcated,- it sent an enormous limb to the left, and another enormous limb to the right and the central lead kept on going straight up. In the area where these opposing limbs splayed out and diverged, the wall of wood was REALLY wide, like 12 m (40 feet). The enormity just took my breath away, so huge, so high up. How is it even possible?
“Damien, look how incredibly wide this area is!”
“I know, Tree Machine, the tree is like a giant botanical mutant”
Mutanical. Damien proposed the name for this new entrant into the Archangel cloning collection, and it was later voted on as an appropriate name.
I had only several stories more to go up. Up above, Damien waited to clip me into a secondary rope system for safety. I was entirely out of breath when I arrived and Damien smiled and said, “OK, Tree Machine, now get on out to the ends of these limbs and collect some tips!”
I hesitated only long enough to catch my breath. “I was under the impression that I would point and you would collect.” We smiled at each other, I said, “Now get on out to the ends of these limbs and collect some tips!”
Like the professional that he is, and with deep confidence, Damien replied, “Where would you like me to go?”
I looked around. I pointed.
I pointed to the impossible get; an outer limb whose branch curled back inward toward the trunk and whose tips had found this sunny spot because, simply, there was nothing else around it. It was hanging out there in space.
Damien, without a word, begins a limbwalk out that direction, belaying his rope as he moved away from the trunk and further out onto a giant, lateral limb. Once out there, he produced a coiled length of rope with a spliced end & an aluminum connector.
“I’m hoping this will work.” he says.
“Hoping…” I thought?
Damien flings the ‘lariet’ way out, over a far limb and the weight of the aluminum caribiner pendulums the weight down and swings back up to his hand; Smooth. He’d captured the far limb.
At this point I almost told him that the branch, out there in that part of the Milky Way, I meant sort of as a joke….ha ha ? But I didn’t.
Damien rigged himself on these two ropes from two opposing points and so had to ‘ascend’ one rope in a horizontal direction while simultaneously ‘descending’ the other…..stepping off the limb upon which he stood and traversing open space off two ropes at this incredible height. What a master of his craft! Again, I was deeply humbled.
Damien finally traversed across the gap and reached the tips. He smiled widely, wiggled the branch tips with his fingers and asked proudly, “These?”
“Nope, I want those over there!”, pointing to the the far side of the canopy.
Damien Carre’, when at home in Oregon, runs Expedition Old Growth. He is a professional climbing guide and facilitates getting people high into the canopies of the oldest trees. Jake recruited this cool cat for the expedition and how fortunate that was for all of us.
Damien continued to collect lengths of premium new-growth branch tips – finger-to-elbow length clippings, pencil-diameter cuts, using regular gardening pruners. Once we had sufficient material to fill a bag the size of a pillow case,~ 10 minutes of actual pruning work – we had more than we needed from this gigantic tree. The actual clone-cuttings we would eventually use would come from the very newest growth tips of the branches, parts only as long as your index finger. It takes one shoebox full of these premium, selected finger-length cuttings to start a thousand-tree forest.
Damien returned back to the interior of the tree and handed me the hard-won length of greenery.
“Here ya go, Tree Machine. I’ve got to get a picture of you with the first clippings of the collection.”