These wonderfully sweet bits of goodness start ripening by mid-August, and by month's end are prolific in forests around the Pacific NW. And the very best place to find huckleberries is SW Washington's Indian Heaven Wilderness.
|Eagle-eye Young spots the first berries|
No one loves picking huckleberries more than my good friend Young. She's got a nose for finding them. So when planning a mid-August hike into Indian Heaven, naturally I invited her along.
After a long drive down a dusty, gravel road, and navigation over a hairy washed-out area (super glad for my high-clearance Subaru), we arrived at the East Crater Trailhead.
|Last of the asters|
We hadn't traveled more than a few hundred yards from the trailhead when eagle-eye Young spotted the first ripe berries. A harvesting session ensued - we'd both brought along containers for this very purpose. I used an old Nalgene bottle, while Young packed a large plastic jar.
|Scanning the bushes for berries|
After a good ten minutes of combing the bushes, my friend and I continued our hike. Young, jar in hand, continually scanned the forest for more berries, while I looked for wildflower photo ops. Plentiful ripe berries kept enticing us from the trail, and we succumbed to many "picking breaks."
Despite the persistent huckleberry temptations, we did finally cover the two miles to Junction Lake. The Indian Heaven Wilderness is also known for it's many sparkling water bodies, and this lovely lake is a favorite of my camera lens.
At the junction with the East Crater and Pacific Crest Trails (PCT) my friend happened upon the next huge huckleberry field. Time for another picking frenzy!
|Berry picking time!|
Huckleberries resemble very small blueberries. Their tiny size mean you have to gather a lot to fill up a container (in my case, a water bottle). Despite the morning's frequent berry stops, Young and I's jars were barely half full.
|Old PCT sign|
Hanging out along the PCT, we happened to meet a group of northbound thru-hikers. Young told them about the ripe berries, but those hikers seemed determined to cover miles, and weren't interested.
|Follow the trail to Lemei Lake|
I decided scenic little Lemei Lake would be our day's lunch stop, and persuaded Young to abandon her latest berry patch so we could arrive close to the noon hour.
|Relaxin' at Lemei Lake|
From Junction Lake, my friend and I traveled up and over a wooded ridge. Winding down the other side, I was happy to see Lemei Lake's marshy shoreline peeping through the trees. Aaahhhh......Time for a rest and lunch break!
|Almost half full!|
As we ate our lunch, Young and I discussed what we'd do with our huckleberry haul. My full Nalgene bottle is usually just the right amount for a cobbler. Young however, with the larger container, had plans to make jam.
|Queen of the rock|
Lemei Lake is such a scenic location, I couldn't resist a few photos posed on a large shoreline rock.
|Now it's Young's turn|
Young and I took turns being "Queen of the rock."
|Looking for huckleberries|
Lunch and photo session over, my friend and I continued on the trail, heading for more lakes and huckleberry fields. We remembered gathering berries in past years from a large field just beyond Lemei Lake. Hopes high, we eagerly crossed the lake's outlet creek and ascended the other side.
But this year, there were no berries to be found......
|No berries, but lotsa lupine|
However, we did discover a huge field of lupine in peak bloom.
|Another busy bee|
Oh, it was gorgeous! Berry picking momentarily forgotten, Young and I grabbed our cameras.
|Young has a "Sound of Music" moment|
It's not often we see large fields of wildflowers this late in August. Young was so happy, she had a "Sound of Music" moment amidst the blooms.
|Ultra-blue Clear Lake|
Then we continued on our loop, past another ultra-blue lake until meeting up once again with the PCT. A mere mile and a half would take us back to Junction Lake, completing the loop.
|Young's jar is almost full|
But Young and I weren't going anywhere until we filled our jars. This section of the PCT had the most ripe berries we'd seen all day. A few stops along the way, and my bottle was full. I pitched in and helped Young gather enough huckleberries for her jam making plans.
|Huckleberry cobbler - yum!|
Normally all I have to show from my hikes is a camera full of images. But this time I also brought home enough huckleberries to make a delicious cobbler. Not too shabby for a 10-mile ramble!
Maybe August hiking isn't so bad after all....