While waiting for the tree climbers to physically measure what they hoped would be the world's tallest ponderosa pine, Mario Vaden and Michael Taylor decided to search farther afield for other big trees.
Sure enough, less than a half-mile away, they found some enormous sugar pine cones. So they sighted Taylor's hand-held laser range finder on the very top of a nearby huge sugar pine, one of the few such trees in the vicinity.
"We came out pretty close to 253 feet tall," said arborist Vaden, 52.
"It could possibly be the world's tallest sugar pine," said Taylor, 45, an engineer by training. "But we aren't sure yet. They are going to have to climb it. It is neck-and-neck with the other one that is 255."
The world's tallest known sugar pine, located in the Umpqua National Forest in the Umpqua River drainage, is 255 feet high, according to a measurement taken early this year by Taylor and Vaden. A sign at the site states that tree was 265 feet tall when previously measured, they noted.
"The two are close enough that they will need to be at least measured with a laser on a tripod," Vaden said. "Either way, they are both rare."
The previously known tallest sugar pine was one in Yosemite National Park that stood 269.2 feet high but died in 2009.
The surprise find of the huge sugar pine reinforced his conclusion that southwestern Oregon is the home of giant trees, Vaden said.
"Right here in this basin, we believe one reason is that they have some protection from the wind," Vaden said. "You have the mountains around and enough other trees to provide protection.
"There is also enough water runoff to give them a continuous supply year round. A lot of tall ones we've found have seasonal streams around. We know there is going to be subterranean water around."
Judging from one old tree that uprooted years ago, the top soil appears to be relatively deep, he said.
"The soil isn't too rocky and has quite a bit of depth to it," he said. "We don't know how nutrient rich it is, but obviously it has enough to grow big trees. Together, all the conditions here are special."
In fact, Taylor and Frank Callahan of Central Point discovered earlier this year what they call the "Meadow Monarch," a ponderosa pine that is about 254 feet high, more than seven feet in diameter at chest height and a crown spread that reaches 54 feet.
Although Vaden and Taylor are generally seeking the tallest trees, many big-tree hunters look for champion "point" trees, using a formula including height, diameter and circumference. Callahan has 19 national champion trees in Oregon to his credit, making him the top big-tree hunter in the state, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
When it comes to points, the Meadow Monarch is the biggest ponderosa in the state, Taylor said.
In addition to the 268-foot champion ponderosa, the two have found three other ponderosas in the local forest that top out at 266, 262 and 259.5 feet high. All of them are believed to be more than 300 years old. The tallest previously known ponderosa pine was a big boy that stands 259 feet in the Big Pine Campground southwest of Grants Pass.
"Every time we come here we keep finding something," Vaden said.
"I'm convinced there are tall ones out there we haven't found," Taylor said. "We have only begun."
Reach Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.