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Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

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Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

Postby lambertiana » Fri Jun 01, 2012 1:56 pm

There aren't many mentions of middle elevation west side locations on this forum, but there are many places that are good spring or fall destinations.

About ten years ago I heard that a tree had recently been measured in Garfield Grove, and found to be a little larger than the President tree in Giant Forest. This would make it the third largest sequoia (EDIT to add, more recent accurate measurements show this to be the 12th largest sequoia). They named it the Floyd Otter tree, after a forestry official who worked nearby. This tree is pretty much unknown outside some small circles. I decided that I needed to find it, and obtained a detailed grove map from a relative of Floyd Otter. It is located in the upper part of Garfield Grove, well above the trail the goes through the grove. The trail starts at South Fork at the very southern end of Sequoia NP (at 3600') and ascends rapidly - where it passes through the main part of Garfield Grove is a little over 7000', and that is only about four miles on the trail.

I first attempted to find it not long after I heard about it, on a dayhike with some cub scouts. Most of the scouts and the adult leaders decided that the hike was more than they wanted, and stopped about half a mile below the main part of the grove. I continued on, but eventually turned back a few hundred yards below the trees because everyone was waiting for me, and I knew that the remaining distance would be slow. Ever since then, this tree has been nagging at me.

Monday I convinced a friend that it would be a good idea to finally go back. We made good time from South Fork, but the trail would not be a good place if you don't like poison oak. The first mile was a lot of this:
1461.jpeg

This is looking back toward South Fork
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The lower part of the trail was in oak woodland
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Looking up toward Denison Ridge
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We eventually reached Snowslide Canyon at about 6000', this is looking up
1433.jpeg

And looking down, across the drainage of the South Fork Kaweah, toward Homer's Nose
1300.jpeg

And from Snowslide we could look across the lower part of Garfield Grove, with the olive green sequoias standing out among the blue-green firs
1424.jpeg
Last edited by lambertiana on Sat Jun 18, 2016 9:56 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

Postby lambertiana » Fri Jun 01, 2012 2:10 pm

From there we followed the trail to the main part of the grove. At about 7000' we left the trail and headed up, grove map in hand. Garfield is an unusual sequoia grove, it is almost entirely on steep slopes. And, since it is north facing, there is a lot of thorny brush (my legs have plenty of scratches now, I was wearing shorts). But the map was very accurate, showing every tree and fallen log, and we had no trouble finding the King Arthur tree (tenth largest sequoia) a couple hundred yards up the slope. It is an impressive tree:
1343.jpeg

And finally, about a hundred yards further up the slope, was the Floyd Otter tree. It has a huge burn scar on the uphill side:
1416.jpeg

1420.jpeg

The upper part of Garfield Grove is home to a number of magnificent trees. This one is right next to Floyd Otter; at 21' diameter 4' above the ground, it is impressive, but not large enough to be placed on the lists of largest sequoias:
rsz_img_1369.jpg

From the Floyd Otter tree, we could see other large trees up the slope, so we kept going up. From those trees, we were enticed by still more that were further up the slope. This kept repeating until we ended up on top of Denison Ridge. Here are a few pictures from the upper part of Garfield Grove:
1372.jpeg

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After eating lunch under a very nice sequoia at the crest of Denison Ridge, we started the long walk down. Not many miles, but that 4000' vertical was steep enough that I had to apply the brakes with each step most of the way down.
Although it is a workout to get there, the upper part of Garfield Grove is a special place. Very few people ever visit it; once we left the area of the trail, I saw absolutely no evidence of human presence. No footprints, no sign. If you want solitude in a sequoia grove, this is the place to go. And you can camp there under the trees, too. I would highly recommend this hike, although it probably wouldn't be much fun in August when it's 110 degrees at South Fork.
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Re: Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

Postby gary c. » Fri Jun 01, 2012 3:06 pm

That sounds like such a cool hike, I love the pictures.
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Re: Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

Postby Carne_DelMuerto » Sat Jun 02, 2012 12:02 pm

Great report--thank you. Years ago a good friend and I talked about searching the Homer's Nose grove for the supposedly biggest Sequoia never documented. We never made the trip, but it's nice to see someone out there appreciating these rarely visited groves.
Wonder is rock and water and the life that lives in-between.
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Re: Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

Postby sparky » Mon Jun 04, 2012 4:22 pm

I love the foothills and glad they don't get much attention....those trees are magnificent!
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Re: Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

Postby AfterSeven » Fri Jul 20, 2012 1:50 am

Hi lambertiana, I have some questions I hope you can answer about the Otter Tree as you seem to be one of the 5 or so people on the planet who know anything about it.
Below I have posted a map based on the 1975 Garfield Survey. Red is Trail (Circa 1975, it has changed since then) Blue is stream, Brown is Sequoia Log...The major Sequoias 20+ dbh are individually shown...Sequoias with Dbh 19-17 are shown as smaller trees and I think I made the tiny trees to represent 15 - 16 dbh, also the green dots I think are 10 -14 dbh....which would be the biggest trees in any forest were they not in the middle of a sequoia forest.
Recently I had seen the otter tree listed in Wikipedia...and all I could find on it was the same sentence pasted across the internet....a perfect cut and paste on about 1000 websites. That was it! However, the park service had no listing of it, I wrote a ranger who knew nothing about it, I then asked two scientists in Northern Cal who measure trees, (usually significant Redwoods, but occasionally Sequoias and Sugar Pines too.) They had no information for me either. It was a strike out. So I asked the people on the Wikipedia Top 30 Sequoia page if they had any evidence the Floyd Otter Tree, they didnt. So we agreed to delete it from the top 30 list...primarily because there was simply no evidence that the tree existed, no pictures, no news articles and no mention on the National Park Top 30 Sequoia List. Literally within 3 weeks thereafter, you posted your pictures, which appear to support the existence of the Impressive Floyd Otter Tree as originally advertised. So here are my questions:

Image

1. I assume the Otter is the 25 footer on the map...and the 21 footer across the stream to the NW is the 21 footer in your pictures and that the 23 footer on my map is the King Arthur? Does that gel well with your map?
2. As you may know Flint and Law spent decades measuring the Big Trees, often waiting for the Surveys taken 1964 - 1978 to go exploring for the biggest trees with a Transit and a copy of the latest survey....SO they found the King Arthur easily enough...measured it and named it...But I would wonder why lug such a heavy piece of equipment all the way up the hill knowing full well that (if my map assumptions are correct) just up the hill 300' from the King Arthur was the largest DBH tree in the grove, in fact one of the largest DBH trees on the planet!...and then not bother to measure it? In fact my bet is that the very first tree they visited in the grove was the Floyd Otter, so how on earth did they conclude it was not a top 30 tree...this is what strikes me as one of the strangest things in the whole Floyd Otter Tree Odyssey, how did the two most experienced Sequoia hunters pass up the most obvious choice in the grove? The fact that you have a custom Garfield Grove map at all tells me you know people who probably knew Flint and Law...Do you have any info on how the Otter went unrecognized from 1976 - 2002 as one of the 3 largest trees on earth?
3. Do you know who measured the tree in 2002 and if so do you have access to the data for diameter at 60/120/180 and total volume?
4. Do you know of any article maybe in a local paper or a press release discussing the Otter Tree?
5. Have you searched for any other elusive trees in the park like the Dalton for example?
Thanks in advance for any help.
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Re: Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

Postby Electra » Fri Jul 20, 2012 7:29 am

Very cool and a real life Sierra mystery! Makes for great reading.

It appears that the two pictures of the Floyd Otter tree above are two different trees based on the burn scars and size. Not sure what i am asking or getting at but maybe the author can clarify the photos and which two trees are represented as the otter tree.
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Re: Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

Postby gary c. » Fri Jul 20, 2012 10:05 am

Electra wrote:Very cool and a real life Sierra mystery! Makes for great reading.

It appears that the two pictures of the Floyd Otter tree above are two different trees based on the burn scars and size. Not sure what i am asking or getting at but maybe the author can clarify the photos and which two trees are represented as the otter tree.

Both pictures are of the same tree. The second photo looks to me to have been taken with the photographer standing a little more left from where the first picture was taken as is the person in the picture. The second picture was also taken a fair bit closer or at least zoomed in.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
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Re: Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

Postby Bandito » Fri Jul 20, 2012 8:16 pm

Great Report.

I've done the middle fork trail in that area, Garfield Grove is definitely on my list.
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Re: Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

Postby lambertiana » Wed Aug 01, 2012 9:19 pm

Afterseven -

I don't have a lot of answers for you. I received the detailed map from Larry Otter; I think he is Floyd Otter's son (I never met him in person, I ran across him online somehow). PM me with your email address and I can send you a scan of the map, along with a picture that shows clearly where you leave the current trail to reach the trees. I don't have the actual data of diameter at various heights, but Larry told me that the calculated volume was slightly more than the President in Giant Forest.

The trail shown in your attachment does not exist now, and I saw no sign of it. It is marked on my map, and the Floyd Otter tree is right at the leftmost bend of the trail as shown in your attachment (and on my map). The King Arthur tree is downslope (north) about where you show the 20' DBH tree.

It is also a mystery to me why Flint would measure the King Arthur tree and ignore a larger tree that is within sight from it.

Electra - Both pictures of the tree with the large burn scar are the Floyd Otter tree, from slightly different angles.
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Re: Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

Postby Mradford » Thu Aug 02, 2012 1:13 am

Such a cool trip report. And you're right not too many reports about the lower west side. Thanks for posting about such an interesting topic!
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Re: Finding the Floyd Otter Tree - #3 Giant Sequoia

Postby Hardscrabble » Fri Aug 03, 2012 8:51 pm

There were four of us that located & measured the Floyd Otter Tree in 2001. Art Crowley, ,who ran the big tree program for SAF, Jim Chelebda, Mike Reed & myself. Art is dead now & Jim Chelebda is pretty close from what I hear. We came over from Mt. Home, up to Moses Mt. & west along the Dennison ridge. The primary purpose of the trip was to check out equipment for the forthcoming Search for the Phantom of Homer's Nose. We were looking for a reasonably large tree to try out theodolite measurements & data reduction techniques.

The saddle on the Dennison ridge between the kaweah & Tule drainages is just uphill & south of the Floyd Otter Tree & is one of the nicest places I have been. There is a spring just northeast.

Lambertiana has seen this tree & has the most up-to-date information. The questions that have been raised about possible confusion with the King Arthur tree are the same questions I have. I don't have any answers or any decent hypotheses.

Check it out!
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