We humans have a long held fascination for the most extreme things – the biggest, the fastest, the oldest, the rarest and of course, from mountain to building to tree, the tallest. Which is why Hyperion is such a special draw, tempting those who like to experience such extremes to beat a path to its 380 feet (115 meters) of towering trunk, branch and leaf.
But Hyperion’s scale and notoriety have brought problems to its surroundings, deep in the forests of Northern California. A coastal redwood located in a remote part of Redwoods National and State Park far from the well-worn trails, Hyperion was first first found by two amateur naturalists in 2006, park manager for natural resources Leonel Arguello told the Associated Press.
But by 2010, its location had been shared online creating an influx of enthusiasts trampling their way through areas not intended for park visitors. In 2019, Guinness World Records certified it as the tallest tree in the world, estimating it to have a diameter of just over 16 feet and be between 600 and 800 years old, only consolidating its popularity. The subsequent damage caused by the numerous social trails that have been cut through the dense undergrowth has forced the park to take drastic measures – with rangers regularly patrolling the area and trespassers now facing potential $5,000 fines and up to six months in jail. Arguello noted however that this was a maximum penalty and more likely was a $150 fine and request to vacate the area.
“The social trails have grown in number, the amount of garbage has increased, there’s human waste that has been seen and as more people go up to this tree, they create more social trails and all of that is having damage impacts to the vegetation, to the soils and, and all of the garbage just sits out there,” explained Arguello to the AP. It’s not just the surrounding vegetation that has suffered, with damage also to Hyperion itself as visitors clamber onto its base for photos.
Arguello also noted the pointlessness of getting up close to Hyperion, as you can see little more than its base and branches, “It’s tall, but it’s not really that impressive to look at from the base because you cannot see the top of the tree.” In a recent New York Times interview he even went so far as to call it “the most unimpressive tree you’ll ever see… When you can’t see the top 150 feet of tree it really doesn’t matter how tall it is.”
Indeed, there are trees with far more impressive bases spread through the Redwoods Park. Officials are instead encouraging people to make for the Tall Trees Grove which is rich with impressive redwoods and well established trails where you can hike, picnic and swim in the creek without damaging the environment.
“I hope people understand we’re doing this because our eye is focused on protection of resources and safety of the visitors,” explained Arguello. With such amazing natural wonders openly and safely available elsewhere in the park, “You don’t have to scramble and bushwhack up to this tall, skinny tree that isn’t that impressive.”