September 2014

Congress Trail,

Sequoia National Park

Distance: 2.9 miles                          Time: 1.5 hours                         Type: Round trip

Giant sequoias may not be the tallest trees in the world (that title is held by coastal redwoods, which can be found on the Californian coast) but they are the largest. They are in fact the largest living things by volume period, with some measuring over 17 metres in diameter. Only growing in a limited area in the western Sierra Nevada, some of the biggest can be seen in Sequoia National Park, a few hours east of Fresno in California.


Congress Trail is an easy paved walk that takes you past some of the most impressive giants of the park. The path starts from the General Sherman Tree, the largest single living organism on the planet and an attraction that draws pretty much all of the visitors in the park. Away from the crowds the path actually becomes fairly quiet, which is surprising given some of the trees on the route are almost as big as Sherman and the walk is such an easy one to complete.


The names of the trees all fit in with a fairly repetitive theme - President Tree, Lincoln Tree, Franklin, Monroe and so on - and there are also a couple of interesting tree groups, the House Group and the Senate Group.


One of the most interesting facts about sequoias is that they rely on fire to grow. Low intensity surface fires, which occur naturally every 5 to 10 years in forests, help the seeds to be released from their cones, expose mineral soil in which the seeds take root and open spaces in the canopy through which sunlight can penetrate to fuel the seedlings' growth. It was only in the 1960s that this relationship between sequoias and fire was discovered, after 50 years of attempting to protect the trees by fire suppression. When the importance of fire was uncovered, the park caretakers realised the error of their methods and started regular controlled burns instead. The signs of fire are present on many of the trees on the Congress Trail, either on the singed lower bark of living trees or the enormous blackened skeletons left behind after more destructive blazes.


Sequoias can in fact live indefinitely: they generally die due to fire or because they topple over when they grow too large. The oldest sequoia is estimated to be around 3,500 years old. Walking among them is like taking a journey back in time and a truly humbling experience.


A map of the park can be found here: