“Look, there’s a creek flowing right past the Screaming Titans, just like Preston said in The Wild Trees.”
“Oh wow. That’s nothing like Bear Mace Gully. That’s an actual creek. How wide would you say that is, five, six feet?”
Josh and David were staring at a computer screen showing a panoramic image of the Grove of Titans taken recently by Mario Vaden. The image showed a sizable creek flowing right past the distant silhouette of the twin titans.
“OK, let’s see here,” said Josh, eagerly reaching for his topo map. “That could be . . . Jordan Creek here, or Clark’s Creek here.”
David scanned the map over Josh’s shoulder. “I think Jordan Creek’s too far west. It needs to be closer to Stout Grove. What about the east fork of Clark’s Creek, here?”
Josh stared down at the squiggly blue line, tracing it with his finger from where it sprang to life a half mile west of the campground along its northward course toward the highway. “That could totally be it,” he muttered thoughtfully.
“Gotta be,” said David.
The following Saturday morning found the two hunters standing on the Hiouchi Trail a little northwest of Stout Grove, facing west and staring up at a formidable hill which barred their way.
“At least it’s not a gully,” David muttered, his hand moving involuntarily to the fading burn mark on his right leg. He had “forgotten” to bring the bear mace this time.
“A six or seven hundred foot rise looks a lot more serious on the ground than it does on the map,” said Josh grimly.
“Well, follow me. I’m the fat one so I’ll set the pace,” said David, knowing he’d be puffing like a bellows in no time.
The most salient feature of a trek through a redwoods rain forest is the fallen trees. In a normal forest, when you come across a fallen tree, you step over it and continue on your way. But when a fifteen foot wide giant falls, it creates a wall of wood fifteen feet high, sometimes over three hundred feet long. The trees on the slope west of the Hiouchi Trail have a bad habit of falling sideways along the hill. At regular intervals. All the way to the top.
“It’s easier if you just climb over it. See.” An hour had passed, and the two explorers were nearing the hill’s summit, but the biggest tree yet was blocking their path. Josh leapt, scrambling to pull himself over the fallen behemoth. The branch he jumped for didn’t just break, but crumbled at his grip and he fell with a thud.
“Nice. It’s completely rotten. I’m going around.”
“I can make it. Look, right here. Going around will take forever.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not 6’ 4”. I’ll meet you on the other side.”
Josh steadied himself, then made another attempt. He needed to show David that his way was the right one by beating him to the other side. This time he leapt at a much larger branch. Catching it, he dangled for a second as the branch creaked and groaned beneath his weight. He had just spotted a decent foot hold when it gave way above him. Together, he and his erstwhile handhold crashed back into the trampled ferns. Cursing the unreliable branch, but more determined than ever, he gouged his hands and feet into the tree’s rotten side and began clawing his way up like a tree climber with boot spikes.
Thirty seconds later, arms aching, covered in moss and frayed redwood shavings, Josh reached the top. One glance showed him that David had found an easier place a ways up, and was now seconds away from reaching the top himself. Throwing caution to the wind, he leapt from the rotten log into a soft bed of ferns at its base, falling to the ground with a grunt as his knees groaned in protest. The heavy thud of David doing the same reached his ears as he struggled to stand up. They looked at each other, David silently acknowledging Josh’s victory. Choosing converging paths, they struggled forward up the last hundred feet of fern-clad hill, arriving at the summit at the same time.
The western slope of the hill stretched out before them, still cast in gray morning’s shadow. But here and there westward-streaking shafts of gold broke the gloom, reminding the explorers of a vast cathedral where streams of light from windows high above illuminate soaring columns of living masonry.
“That must be the east fork of Clark’s Creek at the bottom of the valley,” said Josh.
“And somewhere in there, the Grove of Titans.”
An hour later, they’d reached the creek. This was certainly no gully. Even in the somewhat dry summer a steady flow five feet wide streamed over the gently sloping basin.
“This creek seems like a flood compared to last week’s gully,” said David.
“It’s a deluge by comparison,” agreed Josh.
Nevertheless, the unsurpassed biomass of the redwood rainforest meant the creek was often choked with branch and bramble, or dammed with a stricken giant. The water always found an easy way through, but those on two legs are forced to work for each step.
At first, the two explorers tried to keep their feet dry, blazing a trail among the thick-grown ferns of the creek’s east bank. Eventually, they both decided the creek itself was the only sensible way forward. For Josh, the moment came when he reached a thicket of thorn bushes on the bank dense enough to choke a chainsaw. For Fred, perspective arrived in the form of a hidden tree root and a sideways fall into a foot of water.
They both were growing excited. The landscape looked strikingly similar to Vaden’s photo, and looming giants in the distance seemed harbingers of soon-to-be-discovered titans. Fred peeled his eyes for the Screaming Titans while Josh, usually the first to spot the biggest trees, pointed out the most impressive ones left and right.
They sloshed on as the sun rose above the eastern hill and glistened off the bubbling brook beneath them. An hour passed, then another, and their hopes began to dim. Morning faded into early afternoon, and soggy sandwiches they had hoped to eat in the shadows of titans became their only comfort. Finally they reached a place where a second creek flowed into theirs, and they knew the game was up. They had reached the confluence of the east and west forks. They were nearing the highway, and were now much too far away from Stout Grove to find the Grove of Titans.
“We’d better just head up to the highway and walk back to the car through the campground,” said David dejectedly. “I’m not climbing another hill.”
The creek was wide and open now, and progress was swift. Fifteen minutes later they heard the first rumor of traffic on the busy road ahead.
“Look!” said Josh suddenly. He was pointing off to their right.
David looked. “Wow. That’s a big one.”
“Bigger than the Stout Tree.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Oh, it’s definitely bigger.”
They forced their weary legs up the eastern slope until they reached a spot about a hundred feet from the creek. Up close, the tree certainly looked to be a titan. Not as large as the behemoths in the Grove of Titans, but certainly surpassing anything they’d seen yet.
“OK, it is bigger than the Stout Tree,” panted David, recovering from the climb.
“Yeah I told you. I already know what I want to name it,” answered Josh, his voice brimming with triumph.
“Don’t tell me,” said David warily. They had talked often of what they might name any titan they found. The dreaded answer came at once.
“I told you, you aren’t a general. They call that giant sequoia General Sherman because Sherman was an actual general.”
“I found it. I get to name it. That’s how it works.”
“But you aren’t a—”
“Its name is General Josh.”
By the time they reached their car two hours later, David had at last accepted that Josh would not change his mind.
“When you find a titan, you can name it General David,” Josh said consolingly.
“I’ll bear that in mind,” said David.