This week I was having a hard time trying to decide whether to write a Backpacking 101 article followed up by an article on Kolby’s and mine backpacking trip last week or Katy’s and my crappie fishing trip. But then while Kolby and I were backpacking we stumbled into a gold mine of berries.
This is the best berry season that I’ve ever seen. The huckleberries were thick. We had backpacked into the backcountry to fly fish but who can just walk by a loaded down huckleberry bush? A handful of huckleberries can spruce up the blandest bowl of morning oatmeal, can’t it? Or you can throw a small handful in your water bottle to make a real fruit flavored drink. A few huckleberries sprinkled on a peanut butter sandwich raises a peanut butter sandwich to an elite sandwich level.
What do we do now? I’d packed in way too much gear and about died on the pack in. But how do you just nonchalantly stroll by a bush heavily laden down with huckleberries? So, we gorged for a while and picked a couple of bottles full for our oatmeal the next morning and enough to take home to make some homemade ice cream and then it was back to fly fishing.
But then matters got more serious. Kolby stumbled onto some raspberries. Fishing was done for the moment. Finally, she got her fill and I was able to coax her on down the trail to fish the next hole.
So with the above said, we’ll talk about backpacking and crappie fishing in the next three articles but for today, it’s berry picking! Berry season is in full swing right now and you need to drop everything and scramble up to the mountains with a handful of empty buckets.
Every year after gobbling down the first handful I’m reminded of how much I love huckleberries.
They’re the best berry in the world with wild raspberries trailing right behind them. I know your first question will be, where do I find them? I found mine at about 4,500 to 5,000 feet elevation. As we were headed home, we found a bunch more up high near the passes but only a couple of their berries were ripe. 95% of them were green as a gourd and maybe only 1/16-inch big. So up at the higher elevations, they were a long way off from being ripe. If you go up this weekend, I’d advise you start at 5,000 feet.
If you’re not familiar with huckleberries they’re a small bush. I’ve never measured them but I’d say that they’re about 28 inches tall on the average. They grow a small purple berry that is maybe 1/4-inch in diameter and some will be smaller. I find most of mine on hillsides. I’ve never seen them down low in flat areas.
You’ll find them on the side hills of trails and roads but of course it’s easy access to the ones along roads so they’ll get picked fast by everyone. That’s the area they seem to like. We find our raspberries intermixed in the same type of terrain.
But we also find a lot of randomly placed raspberry bushes when we walk off a trail down to our fishing holes in the rock/boulder slides. It almost seems that they do best in the worst possible spots. But granted, we still find a high percentage of them along the trails interspersed with the huckleberries.
If you want to go out this week you should find them anywhere from Smith’s Ferry on north. Once in a while I hear people say that they picked 2-4 gallons of huckleberries the past weekend. I don’t know.
I’ve never picked that many in one setting. Maybe they’re talking about how many their whole church family picked. Or maybe I’m just an amateur berry picker. But regardless, instead of taking 5-gallon buckets I’d suggest taking a large mouth water bottle to put them in while picking and then as you go you can transfer them to a bigger bucket at the truck.
I remember one year Katy and I hit our spot at Smith’s Ferry. When we pulled up and parked I killed the truck and we had a thermos of coffee. We poured a cup before we got out to pick. We were setting in the truck shooting the bull and Katy says whoa! I’m not getting out. It sounded like a light hail storm due to all of the mosquitoes hitting the sides of the truck. Carry mosquito protection because on some years they can be horrendous.
So if you don’t have anything to do this weekend, grab the wife and kids, pack a picnic and go up picking berries. But you and the wife ought to be sure to carry a pistol. You might just be picking in a popular bear eating area.
Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.