I convinced my friends Young and John to join me. They too like huckleberries, so it didn't take much arm-twisting.
|No hiking post is complete without a trail sign.|
The Indian Heaven Wilderness is located in southwestern Washington. It's known for beautiful alpine meadows, plentiful scenic lakes, and massive huckleberry fields. Long ago Indians used to come to this area to race horses and pick berries. A large berry field near the eastern wilderness boundary is still reserved for the local tribes.
|Time to pick some berries!|
But within the Wilderness boundaries, anyone is welcome to gather berries. I made sure to pack a large nalgene water bottle to hold my stash. Young and John scrounged up two spare water bottles from their pickup. Bring on the berries - we were ready!
The Indian Heaven Wilderness offers many trailheads and lots of hiking options. For today's hike, I chose my favorite, the East Crater Trail to Junction Lake. The plan was to tack on a loop to Lemei Lake and return via the Pacific Crest Trail, a grand total of 9.2 miles.
|The mushrooms were out in force.|
My friends and I started out on a glorious late summer day. The sun was shining, the temps still moderate, and the green woods beckoning. We didn't travel very far before getting sidetracked by a large field of huckleberry bushes, heavy with fruit. Time to get pickin'.
|This mushroom looks like a pancake.|
In no time I'd amassed a good collection of berries in my bottle. But we'd burned a half hour, and there was still a lot of trail yet to cover. So my friends and I packed away the bottles. There would be many more chances to gather berries further down the trail.
|We reach the Pacific Crest Trail|
As we hiked, Young and I kept spotting bushes full of huckleberries. It was so tempting not to stop and do more picking. But since the last two miles of our return trip would be on this same trail, we decided to wait until then. (Although it didn't stop Young and I from grabbing a berry or three as we walked by!)
John, keeping his eyes on the ground instead of in the bushes, spotted a huge patch of unusual mushrooms. Some of them were really pretty - round as a golf ball, orange colored with white spots and another large and flat like a pancake. I took so much time photographing the fungi, John probably regretted telling me about them.
|Young walks along Junction Lake's shoreline|
But 2.6 miles from our trailhead, the East Crater Trail connected to the Pacific Crest Trail. Also at this intersection was the appropriately named Junction Lake. A scenic little body of water, it was ringed by Douglas Firs, and to our delight, more huckleberry bushes.
|These huckleberry leaves are sporting fall colors|
Around the lakeshore, some of the huckleberry bushes were just beginning to turn. Their leaves displayed the most wonderful hues of red.
|On to Lemei Lake!|
At Junction Lake, my party and I left the PCT for a spur trail that would take us the two miles to Lemei Lake. Although nearly noon by now, it was agreed to hold off lunchtime until reaching this next destination.
Besides, there were bushes of berries lining the trail. One could always grab a handful for a quick snack!
|Loved these red leaves|
The trail climbed up a wooded ridge, with more mushrooms hiding out below the trees. We meandered through more huckleberry fields, past a few bushes sporting the most lovely red leaves I've ever seen.
|Lemei Lake makes a wonderful lunch spot|
Then our path began the long descent into Lemei Lake. Following a well-rutted track led us into the grassy meadows surrounding this cute little lake. We chose a spot near the water. Gazing across the water, towering fir trees made a nice backdrop. A very peaceful spot. Perfect to rest and enjoy our lunches.
|Scenic lakeshore of Lemei Lake|
Grasses floating in the water made unusual patterns. Dragonflies buzzed the lake's surface. It was hard to leave - I could've stayed here all day.
|Mega huckleberry picking session|
But the call of the huckleberry is a strong one. Young noticed a huge clearing nearby full of berry bushes. Packing up our lunches, a mega picking session ensued.
|Beautiful little creek|
We spent a long time wandering around the bushes. But I managed to fill my bottle to the brim. Yahoo - I now had a goodly amount of berries, more than enough for a cobbler. An there's nothing better than warm huckleberry cobbler! Young and John also nearly filled their bottles. Our work now done, it was time to finish the hiking loop.
|We reach the PCT once again|
Past beautiful blue Clear Lake, we again rendezvoused with the PCT. Following this famous trail back to Junction Lake, we passed by several small scenic lakes. First Deer Lake, then Bear Lake, and finally tiny Acker Lake tucked in woods way below the trail. All of these lakes had great shoreline campsites, and I made a mental note to return here next year for a backpacking trip.
We also passed a few PCT through hikers. I talked to one man briefly and offered him my gummy bears, but he declined saying his pack was already too full. It's amazing to think these people started at the Mexican border and now here they are in southern Washington!
|Our trail passed by many lovely lakes|
Arriving back at Junction Lake, John spotted a huge group of people fanned out in the huckleberry bushes. It appeared they were grabbing every berry in sight. As my friends and I made our way back down the East Crater Trail, Young noticed there weren't many berries left in the bushes. Surmising this party must've picked them clean, we were glad to have filled our bottles at Lemei Lake.
A wonderful day to be out in the woods and high meadows of Indian Heaven Wilderness. And always nice to come home from a hike with an extra something yummy to eat. If you've never tried huckleberries, they're a real treat. More tart than blueberries, they are amazing in pies, jams and cobblers. And - speaking of cobblers - that's exactly what my berries became.
Too bad huckleberry season only comes around once a year!
Sharing with: Tuesday Muse.