Five instructors from the Cornell Tree Climbing Institute traveled to California during the first week of June to gather seed cones from the giant sequoia trees in the central Sierra Nevada, ascending into the tops of four separate trees that date back more than 2,000 years.
The work crew's primary objective was to collaborate with the seed collection program at the University of California at Berkeley's Center for Forestry. The seeds are stored in state-sponsored seed banks that harbor the genetic legacy of California's old-growth forests, according to team members Mark Holton and David Katz.
The seeds open only under extreme heat such as during a fire. If they are left to fall to the ground, they are typically eaten by animals. So the solution is to harvest the seeds in the canopy of the trees, which is where the Cornell climbers came in.
The Cornell group gathered 20 bushels of seed cones from the canopy of the massive trees over eight days.
Giant sequoias grow between the elevations of 4,000 to 7,000 feet on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and can grow up to 310 feet tall and have a trunk more than 15 feet wide. Cornell climbers ascended onto a specimen that measured 297 feet tall and featured an excellent view over the San Joaquin valley.
"Hanging from ropes in a tree is like second nature to me now," said Katz, who helped found the Cornell Institute in 2005. Since then, Cornell Outdoor Education has been teaching university students and community members to scale the trees of Tompkins County.
"After spending countless days in the canopies of Central New York, I did some field research in Costa Rica and thought, 'We have to run a course here!'" he said
This past January, he led the fifth annual Costa Rica Tree Climbing course for Cornell. Katz praised this expedition-style learning experience for its additional challenge of large trees, unique wildlife and an opportunity for cultural immersion.
After climbing the trees of temperate and tropical forests, Katz was excited to have the opportunity to climb some of the tallest trees in the world.
"Everything here is massive. We were all just left in awe by the magnitude of these sequoias," he said.
The Cornell Tree Climbing Institute operates under the umbrella of Cornell Outdoor Education in the basement of Bartels Hall. The CTCI also publishes a tree-climbing manual and videos online at www.coe.cornell.edu under "Tree Climbing."
Cornell tree climbers in sequoias David Katz, of the Cornell Tree Climbing Institute climbs a giant sequoia in California. The Cornell climbing team helped gather cones for a state seed repository. (Provided photo)