Last week, Jeff had a couple of days off from work. It was a 4 day weekend for dip-net fishing season. (If you don’t know what that is, picture a really big butterfly net that you put in the water to catch salmon unfortunate enough to swim into it!) You gotta love Alaskan “holidays”.
Since I’m not into combat fishing, we decided to head the opposite direction of the crowded rivers and go up to the mountain tops in search of Alaskan blueberries.
The day before, I was visiting with a lady in Whittier while the kids and Jeff got ice-cream cones. She mentioned that she was starting to find blueberries up Hatcher Pass. When I asked where, I kind of expected the “It’s a secret” response that’s typical when protecting one’s berry cache. But in true Alaskan fashion, she told me right where to find them.
So, in the morning Jeff and I headed out on a hiking date in search of blueberries, just the two of us. I have to admit, it was a great date.
Reed Lake trail up Hatcher Pass…
Driving up Hatcher Pass, it was a beautiful day to absorb the scenery. The sun was bright, the slopes were still their ethereal green, and the sky was deep blue. Plus, no crowds. We parked in the lot near Archangel road and headed off.
The grandeur of Alaska had our attention as we took in the expansive vistas unique to high mountains. An afternoon thunderstorm was beginning to roll in over the rugged peaks causing shadows and reflecting light on the hills surrounding us. Our gravel road changed to a narrow trail as we headed further up the glacier valley.
This is bear country! As a bear chicken, I was watching intently for them in the thick brush that lined the trail. Jeff packs a 10 mm and I’m packin’ mid-life hormones, so we may stand a fighting chance…but still, it was a little unnerving. We could see where they had bedded down and used game trails to get to the river. Jeff was probably tired of my yapping, but I made sure to make plenty of noise!
About 3 1/2 miles in, we reached the beaver ponds and sat down to eat a sandwich and some jerky. Those beavers are busy critters! They have built an impressive series of dams. A light rain started falling, and thunder cracked in the distance. That was our sign to get moving down the mountain. Reed Lake would have to wait for another day.
Where are the legendary Alaskan Blueberries?
Although we couldn’t reach Reed Lake, we heard there were blueberries along the trail. We’ve picked wild huckleberries in the Rockies, and wild Blackberries in Oregon, so we figured we would see the blueberries on the way up.
No such luck….But, no worries, it was a magnificent hike and some quality time with Jeff. I quickly changed my camera lens to a macro from the long-range telephoto lens I’d hiked up with. I figured I could find some flowers with raindrops to take pictures of.
I cast my gaze down to the under-foliage and took about 10 steps forward. Low and behold…Alaskan Blueberries!
That was as obvious a life lesson as I have ever learned in nature. On the way up the trail, our gaze was locked on the landscape. We hadn’t really “looked” for blueberries. To find them, all we had to do was change our focus.
And it wasn’t just one bush we found! They were everywhere in the underbrush! We picked about 5 cups of berries and hoofed it down to outrun the mountain storm heading our way. It wasn’t the same hike down as we truly looked at the smallest details and delicate features of the flora just begging to be discovered. Different focus, different hike.
I shook my head all the way down. Alaska taught me another lesson: Don’t only marvel at the obvious, but instead, take time to look through a different “lens” to discover small, precious secrets.
Great hike, great company, great raspberry blueberry jam…trust me, it doesn’t get any better than that.
*Tip for hiking Reed Lake or Archangel…Mountain storms are common in the summer in Alaska so start early. Come prepared with plenty of water, and a couple of clothing layers: rain gear and something like fleece. Bug spray, sunscreen and bear spray are also recommended.
Archangel road up Hatcher Pass is closed due to a bridge in need of repair, so a full distance hike to the lake will probably be at least 4-5 miles in. It’s a fairly easy walk to the beaver ponds, before steep switchbacks and some bouldering to reach the lake.
Blueberries in Alaska usually ripen in late July through mid-August. Watch for upcoming blueberry recipes and more on berry picking in Alaska.