Big Tree Hunting

My interest in big trees began with a visit to the Carmanah Giant on my first trip on the West Coast Trail. I had read about the Giant on someone’s travel blog and did a little more research to find that it was no longer accessible (officially) from Carmanah Walbran Park due to trail closure for environmental protection. The fact that you could actually reach it from the WCT with minimal environmental damage ensured I would attempt it as I passed through and, sure enough, when I reached Carmanah Creek I rock hopped and waded my up to the Giant for an hour or so.

Carmanah Giant, Canada's tallest known tree, Carmanah Creek, BC

Carmanah Giant, Canada's tallest known tree, Carmanah Creek, BC

So the Giant was my first ‘big tree’ and from that stepping stone I discovered there was aregistry of the biggest trees of each species in BC. Using the registry and the internet it was fairly easy to find the places that had giant specimens and to begin to visit them.

For myself I found that I was particularly drawn to the classic straight-trunked Douglas fir and sitka spruce. I think this may be due to their difference from the trees I grew up with in the UK. To me there really is something special about a tree that might be 6’ (2m) or more in diameter and that grows straight up for 230’ (70m).

In addition to their size there is the immense age of these wonderful behemoths. While a giant sitka may ‘only’ be 800 years old, large Douglas fir and western red cedar may reach back 1300-4000 years. Think about that. What was the human world like in 600-700AD when a tree like that gave root?

Chris at the base of Maxine’s Tree, West Walbran Creek, BC

Chris at the base of Maxine’s Tree, West Walbran Creek, BC

Since my early days of tree hunting I have ticked off a fair few of the trees that make it on to the register and a few large ones that don’t. They are all exciting, especially when you’re not expecting them. A friend and I found a big Douglas fir when bushwhacking up from Cheakamus Lake to Singing Pass. Given where we were we had to wonder whether anyone had ever seen that tree before.

My favourites? One of them has to be Maxine’s tree, partly because of the size of the tree (BC’s second largest sitka spruce) but also because of its location in the Walbran Valley, well away from the tourist crowds. The time and effort to get there are well rewarded when you finally make it. Maxine’s Tree hardly seems to taper at all and I would hazard the guess that it is still 6’ (2m) in diameter 200’ (60m) off the ground.

The Red Creek Fir is another that I love. There’s no doubting the size of this one, the world’s largest Douglas fir. A nice thing about visiting this tree is that the San Juan Spruce is only about an hour away (by car and foot) so the two can easily be visited on the same trip.

Of course I do have the dream of one day discovering my own giant, one that would make it on to the registry. I have a couple of places that I have scoped out on Google Earth as potential sites so you never know. Watch this space.

Red Creek Fir, near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island.

Red Creek Fir, near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island.