Chronicles Of Measuring Champion Trees
Cape Meares Spruce
The Klootchy Creek Spruce is without a doubt the most famous tree in Oregon.Located in a small county park in Highway 26, the main artery connecting Portland to the Oregon Coast, and is visited by over 100,000 people a year. The tree was first nominated as the national champion Sitka Spruce in 1973, and was the first tree to be designated an Oregon State Heritage Tree.
The land it is on was originally owned by a logging company called Crown Zellerbach Corporation, but when the land was logged the giant spruce was spared, probably due to its advanced age and extensive rot. In the 1940â€™s the land became a popular camping and fishing spot, despite being on private land. When the land changed hands in the 1980â€™s, the county bought the parcel around the giant spruce and developed it into a county park.
Despite widespread confusion about the treeâ€™s champion status (an equally large Sitka spruce in Washington State was nominated in 1987,) its location made it a beloved Oregon landmark. In December 2006, a windstorm opened a scar running down the side of the trunk, revealing a huge cavity at about 80 feet up. It was clear that the tree would not be around much longer. With this in mind, Ascending the Giants began to think about the future champion spruce for Oregon. We knew about two other very large Sitka spruce on the coast, but the Oregon Big Tree Registry only had measurements of the Klootchy Creek tree. Then, in December of 2007, the wind ripped the tree in half, and what had been a hypothetical problem for us became a real one.
Coverage of the death of the Klootchy Creek Spruce was widespread and surprisingly emotional: many of the visitors to the park felt a special connection to the tree and were saddened to learn of its demise. We felt that now was the right time to take measurements and introduce Oregonians to their new champion Sitka spruce.
Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint and National Wildlife Refuge is west of the town of Tillamook, less than an hour drive from Klootchy Creek Park. It is a steep, rocky bluff that juts nearly vertical out of the ocean, and is the site of a historic and heavily visited lighthouse. Farther in from the ocean and infrequently visited is the Cape Meares Giant.This massive sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) shows all the hallmarks of costal life: vigorous growth and numerous breakouts. Its signature feature, a massive â€œarmâ€ that is attached almost halfway up, had its top half blown out in the same windstorm that took out the Klootchy Creek tree. The resulting structure is remarkably stout, and because of this appears much shorter than its actual height of 144 ft.
Because of the treeâ€™s location within the federally run wildlife refuge, we had to obtain a special use permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, good for only the date requested.Aware of the reality of climbing a tree on the Oregon coast in December, we grabbed our best rain gear and hoped to get lucky. We were not. The wind and rain was so violent on the morning of the 22nd that we thought of canceling the climb. We set an access line in the tree and waited for conditions to become safe, which they eventually did.
As we approached the top of the tree, we had to negotiate our way around many large hanging branches that had broken off of the top in the last few years. Upon reaching the top, we could see that the extensive rot column in the main trunk was compromising the branch collars. This was causing the top to shed these branches, taking large strips of trunk wood with them. Because the center of the trunk was so decayed, we were able to literally stand up in the top of the tree to take our height measurement. As we did, the clouds quickly burned off and the Pacific Ocean came into view to the west.