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Pickin' wild huckleberries, a journey in life

When was the last time you trekked into the high country and hunted the succulent yet illusive wild huckleberry? Late summer and fall is my favorite time of the year. The mornings are cool and crisp while the afternoons are warm and relatively mosquito free.

One of my passions is backpacking, and over the past 30 plus years I have found some spectacular places to visit in the Pacific Northwest.

There’s a common theme for me on most of these adventures. The farther I walk from civilization the clearer my senses grow as I revert to my paleolithic roots. The trail usually gets steep and narrow, and I’m challenged to find the special spots I cherish. It always feels awesome to drop the heavy pack and set up camp after an arduous day.

There is a feeling of accomplishment as the spring returns to my step. All you have is what you lugged in on your back, and the older I get the more conscientious I become of the weight-to-pain coefficient. Of course, the more you stuff into your pack, the more creature comforts you have in camp. I have found over many years that planning, preparation and weight control become the drivers of a successful journey.

This last summer I spent a few glorious days in the Three Sisters Wilderness with some close friends. About two hours into the hike the wind started to pick up and heavy clouds were moving in our direction. At first a light rain with a few flashes of lightning in the distance. I walk with two aluminum poles and carry a titanium camp chair, so rather than becoming a human lightning rod, we chose to drop our packs and hunker down in a safe spot until the storm passed. It became a brilliant light show and display of nature’s raw power. When we were convinced the worst was over, the group saddled up and we headed for our destination.

We reached the trail junction at Racetrack Meadow, where it is rumored that indigenous natives would run their horses when they were alleged to be hunting and gathering for the tribe. We could almost see the finish line with just another mile to Husband Lake. The group was in good spirits but ready to find a camp spot and burrow in for the next couple of days. There is a large open site at the east end of the lake with fabulous views of South and Middle Sister. You are a couple hundred feet from the lake with breathtaking views of Husband Peak.

The next couple of days were classic Indian Summer, with cold nights and warm afternoons. Husband Lake is one of my favorite spots for huckleberries. I’m not going to tell you the exact location of “Huckleberry Heaven,” but it’s just over the hill and around the next bend in the trail. I love to sit trailside and eat hucks until my stomach is full and my fingers are purple. That’s my idea of constructive planning and a successful mission.

Upon completing an inspiring visit, we broke camp, taking a few last gulps of the fabulous scenery and walked back to Foley Ridge trailhead. The packs were noticeably light and our legs supple, making the walk out quite enjoyable. The group always looks salty, fit and confident.

We overcame any challenges and achieved our final goal of finding and picking the illusive huck. I’m not sure those berries would taste as sweet and intense without a strenuous trek and a few hurdles along the way. Work hard and be productive but never pass up the opportunity to pick the wild huckleberries of life.

Bill Haden lives in Medford.

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