A fire lookout station perched among the branches 200 feet in the air is said to make the Gloucester Tree the highest fire lookout tree in the world. Having never before encountered a fire lookout tree, I had no reason to doubt this claim. Of course, I’d rather imagine that such fire lookout trees (at least ones that could contend for title of “highest”) would be limited to the handful of places in the world that have forests with spectacularly tall trees. But the southwest corner of Australia is one of the places that is home to giants—the massive Karri trees, which rival North America’s redwoods, attaining heights of 250 to 285 feet. Like most trees in Australia, Karris are eucalypts.
To create access to the fire station high in the branches of the Gloucester Tree, pegs were hammered into the trunk in a spiral pattern, creating an airy stairway. I was fascinated to see how the tree had reacted to the pegs, with bark growing outward in an effort to protect the tree from the invader.
In a few places, steel pegs have replaced wooden pegs, when the wooden pegs rotted or broke off. But most of the original wooden pegs—dating to the 1940s—are still in place.
A couple of climbers were descending the peg stairway when we arrived. The two young men told us that the tightness of the spiral combined with the swaying of the tree made it a tough, scary climb. I decided to take their word for it.