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Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

10:27 p.m. on May 29, 2012 (EDT)
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About ten years ago I heard that a group had just finished taking measurements of a Giant Sequoia in the Garfield Grove at the southern end of Sequoia NP that turned out to be the third largest giant sequoia. They named it the Floyd Otter tree, after a forestry official who worked not too far from there. I was determined to find the tree, and obtained a detailed grove map from a relative of Floyd Otter. The Garfield Grove is not easily reached, the trail starts at South Fork in Sequoia NP, and ascends about 3500' vertically to the main part of the grove. You have to really want to go there. And the Floyd Otter tree (as well as the King Arthur tree, which is #10 on the list of largest sequoias) is well above the trail, so some bushwhacking is required to go up the 30 degree slope to find these trees. I made one attempt about eight or nine years ago, when I was on a dayhike with some cub scouts, but they all bailed out on me and didn't want to continue. I turned around only a quarter mile below the trees because they were waiting for me.

Today I remedied that, and went with a friend to finally find the tree. It is a strenuous hike that is best done spring or fall - it's too hot at South Fork in the summer to do that kind of vertical, and in the winter the grove is buried under many feet of snow. We started this morning to find that the poison oak is having a banner year (good thing I'm not allergic to it, I was wearing shorts). The first mile of the trail was a lot of this:


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The trail is steep and gains the first 3000' in about three miles, then levels for a while, then gains another 500' in about half a mile. We started in lower elevation oak


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And eventually made our way up to the middle elevation forest of incense cedar, ponderosa pine, white fir, and sugar pine. 

We were under forest canopy most of the day, with few of the typical sierra vistas, but here are a few that we had


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When we got to Snowslide Canyon, this is a view looking up the creek

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And then down the creek and across the canyon toward Homer's Nose

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11:19 p.m. on May 29, 2012 (EDT)
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Finally we reached Garfield Grove proper.  Garfield Grove is unusual for a large sequoia grove in that it is almost entirely on steep slopes.  We continued on the trail until we finally reached the point where we had to leave the trail and go upslope. Since this is on a steep north-facing slope, we had to contend with a lot more brush than is normal in the sierras, and a lot of it had thorns (again, I was wearing shorts). Fortunately, my grove map was very accurate, and we had no problem finding King Arthur, the tenth largest sequoia. It is an impressive tree:

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And about 300 yards up the slope from King Arthur we found the Floyd Otter tree. Since it was accurately measured only 11 years ago, it has not been added to most lists of the largest sequoias. It is slightly larger in total trunk volume than the President tree in Giant Forest. It has a huge burn scar on the uphill side:

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The upper part of Garfield Grove is home to a number of magnificent trees; this first one is right next to the Floyd Otter tree, and, although it is 21' diameter at 4' above the ground, it is not big enough to make it on the lists of the largest trees. Quite a tree nonetheless.

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And some others in the upper part of the grove

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From the Floyd Otter tree, we could see other big trees on the slopes above us, so we continued up, only to be enticed by other trees even further up the slope.  Eventually we got so close to the top of Denison Ridge that we decided to go all the way there.  We ate lunch on top of the ridge, under a nice medium-sized 15' diameter sequoia.

This was a great hike to a place that very very few people have seen.  Although it was a significant undertaking (in my experience, about as much work as hiking Half Dome as a dayhike) it was well worth it.

12:19 a.m. on May 30, 2012 (EDT)
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What a wonderful view of a relatively hidden place!  Thanks for taking time to take the great photos and share them with us.  Isn't it a great feeling to finally find such a fabulous old giant you've heard about and been looking for for so long?  Memorable adventure.  Again, thanks for sharing.

2:31 a.m. on May 30, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks. We visited the "tourist groves" in SKCNP a couple times during our stay in CA last year. I would have loved to do something more backcountry, but we had a dog with us and actually had to trade off sitting with him at trailheads while others went for short hikes among the trees. It's amazing, though, how once you get 1/4 mile away from the main attractions like the Sherman tree you see fewer and fewer people. I'd love to come back and spend a day in a more remote grove like this one. 

7:03 a.m. on May 30, 2012 (EDT)
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What a nice hike.  I would be scratching right now.  I'm allergic to Poison Oak.  Are you allergic to Poison Ivy?

7:48 a.m. on May 30, 2012 (EDT)
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Wow....those are unreal. What an excellent payoff for the effort! Thanks very much for sharing this trip.

12:54 p.m. on May 30, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks for shareing your awesome trip report.

2:49 p.m. on May 30, 2012 (EDT)
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Well done sir!

7:18 p.m. on May 30, 2012 (EDT)
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WOW! Having the people there as a sizing reference really makes it even more unbelievable.

9:48 p.m. on May 30, 2012 (EDT)
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BigRed said:

Thanks. We visited the "tourist groves" in SKCNP a couple times during our stay in CA last year... ..I'd love to come back and spend a day in a more remote grove like this one. 

Richard:

If you liked these places in the tourist season, you should check them out on skis.  The redwood and sequoia groves are amazing  XC ski venues.  Stately, quiet, and virtually no tourists!  Alas one must time their trip due to road closures.  Something to consider, if you can arrange it.  Some venues are pure beginner’s routes along seasonally closed roadways, while others can be as rugged as any mountain ski outing.  But all are really beautiful.  Just don't camp under the trees, snow bombs dropping 50' will ruin your day.

Ed

12:23 a.m. on May 31, 2012 (EDT)
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I don't know if I'm allergic to poison ivy.  I grew up in upstate NY and spent a lot of time in the woods there, so I'm sure I ran across it at one time or another.  But I never had any reaction.

Big Red, what you said is so true.  I like to do a nice five mile loop in Giant Forest that starts at Sherman, where all the people are.  The first mile or so on the Congress Trail still has a fair number of people.  But once I depart from the Congress trail I rarely see anyone else.  The Garfield Grove is even better because it is virtually unknown outside some circles, and it takes a very significant hike to get to it.  And the best part of the grove has no trail to it.  All of those factors combine to ensure complete solitude there.

Ed is also right about winter in the Sequoias.  That is my favorite time there, a day or two after major snowstorms.  With the white snow, cinnamon trunks, dark green needles, and brilliant blue sky, it is a special place.  Not to mention that the snow keeps a lot of people away.  Here are a couple pictures taken in Giant Forest in the winter:


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And Ed is right about snow bombs, although if they have only dropped from 50' they are not from the sequoias.  150' or more would be more accurate.  And they aren't small, either.  Sometimes when I am there after a snow storm, every once in a while you hear a big WHUMP when a snow bomb as big as a picnic table lands nearby.

2:33 a.m. on May 31, 2012 (EDT)
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AT one point we had pretty firm plans for a snowy visit in February, but we called it off on account of a forecast for heavy snow the whole weekend -- that wouldn't deter us from skiing, but the driving to get there was looking pretty dicey. Oh well, guess we'll have to come back. We did pass through in mid-summer on more of a car-camping tour with some Dutch friends that had come over for three weeks. I managed to squeeze in a run from Sherman down to the museum, through the Congress groves, beyond which I saw all of about 4 people-- and 1 bear:

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5:40 a.m. on May 31, 2012 (EDT)
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lambertiana said:

..And Ed is right about snow bombs, although if they have only dropped from 50' they are not from the sequoias.  150' or more would be more accurate...

True.

I didn't think folks would believe me if I said a snow bomb could find an unobstructed fall from such heights.

Ed

8:28 p.m. on June 3, 2012 (EDT)
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That's some beautiful stuff. Must be humbling standing next to trees that big. Hope I make it out there before the developers finally throw enough "campaign contributions" at congress.

11:58 p.m. on June 3, 2012 (EDT)
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No worries about developers.  All sequoias are fully protected, and these are in a national park to boot.  

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