Fall is here~! The huckleberry harvest is in the freezer and we now wait for the snows. It’s time to start getting the legs and core into ski-shape. We anxiously await ski season while enjoying fall’s magnificent splendor. And we recap a huckleberry season to remember.
There are few more fulfilling things to do, while living on the side of Big Mountain, than picking your own huckleberries while they are ripe on the vine. It has become an annual late August – early September ritual for us now. When the huckleberries are ripe, we take advantage of our free chairlift rides to the summit (using the previous winter’s ski pass) to get into the mix of huckleberry pickers. Picking hucks for a few hours will give you a new appreciation for migrant farm workers. It is vigorous work.
The upper half of the ski mountain is literally full of huckleberries. Everybody knows this. And many folks aggressively pick here. Consequently, you may have to work a little harder, get a little further off of the beaten paths, to find abundant, not already picked over huckleberry plants. When you do, it’s worth all of the trouble.
When you get into the motherlode of unpicked hucks, you’ll feel an exhilarating rush of excitement. That excitement derives directly from the satisfaction in knowing that you beat some of the local huck pickers at their own game. Anybody that has picked huckleberries on Big Mountain has seen them….with their gallon-sized containers over half full. I pick into a quart-sized zip-lock bag….and on a great day, can fill three bags full. But I’m clearly an amateur. I do carry multiple baggies, in the hopes that I will happen upon a motherlode.
Hiking the mountain in search of huckleberries also yields the ever-magnificent views of the Northern Rockies, Glacier National Park, the Flathead Valley, Whitefish and Flathead Lakes. These views don’t ever get old.
And if you are lucky, you just might see some local fauna. Deer, elk, wild turkey, ptarmigan, grouse, and squirrels are plentiful and always a welcome sight. You carry Counter-Assault bear spray for any unlikely and unwanted close encounters with a bear or mountain lion. I have seen several bears this year…but thankfully not while hiking or huckpicking.
Huckleberries, when fully developed and ripe, resemble blueberries, in size and shape. More often you’ll find them slightly smaller. Perhaps thats because the Huck Local 507 has already hit the plants en masse. Immature huckleberries start green, then take on a reddish hue, before fully ripening into blue or darker, purplish, almost black berries. They are similar at a glance to your basic blueberry, just not always with the distinctive blue. Huckleberries actually come from a couple of different plants…..and the Big Mountain alone offers a clinic in learning the distinctive types. A few hours picking and you end up with purple fingers.
Huckleberries, to the uninitiated, have a sweet and tart flavor to them. I’d try to explain further….but recommend you put them on your bucket list and try them fresh for yourselves. Maybe you can come up in late August or early September some year and pick some of your own?
This year was a pretty darned good year for us and the huckleberry harvest. We picked in a group and we picked by ourselves. Kevin and Lynette Murphy, their son Shaun and his girlfriend Erin, plus Kevin’s parents (and Mike’s brother and sis-in-law) Don and Carol, and Mike and I spent a late afternoon picking as a group.
After the Murphy visit, Mike and I have picked a hair under two gallons–which came out to nine and 1/2 pounds total. I got up to the mountain every day for a solid work-week–learning the ropes for myself. I had to pick in difficult to access, away from trails, kinds of locations, to get to the unpicked plants. Even picked over plants, had immature or well-hidden berries, that were missed or ignored during previous pickings. As the season wore on, you went from picking from green-leafed plants to orange to even completely red. The hucks were great in all cases.
I finally met my continually evolving huckpicking goals for the season. In the end, I picked enough hucks so that those who come to ski and stay with us this winter, will get a huckleberry pancake breakfast as part of the bargain.
Or some muffins, or a cobbler, etc. And I’ll have some modest amounts to give to friends, for them to use as they choose.
It’s not too early to make this winter’s reservations now. Although, it is an El Nino year in the central Pacific Ocean. God only knows what that may portend for our upcoming ski season. Oh well, we’ll ski whatever God puts in front of us. Like picking hucks, its what we do — living on a ski mountain and all.
They’re here all the time….born, raised and living good on the Big Mountain.