Recipe: huckleberry sorbet
It was one of those days where everything could go right, everything could go wrong, or everything could go somewhere in between. And for us, it started well before “the day” began when our alarms sounded at 2 am. The plan was to go for a hike. More precisely, we were going to hike a fourteener. For non-hikers and non-Coloradoans, it means hiking a peak over 14,000 feet high. It’s a thing here in Colorado – hiking fourteeners – because we have quite a few of them (53). We don’t actually care about bagging peaks as much as we do hiking and exploring beautiful high country. The main thing about this fourteener was getting there.
sunrise on the trail
a purplish western yellow paintbrush (castilleja occidentalis) at 12,500 feet
San Luis Peak is not remarkable for its elevation (14,014 feet, the 51st highest in the state) nor for its climb (it’s a class 1 hike), but rather for being the toughest trailhead to get to with about 2 hours travel on 30 miles of dirt road (in the dark). It is in the middle of beautiful nowhere. The biggest concern about a fourteener or any high point in western Colorado is that you don’t want to be up there when lightning strikes. The bulk of our failed summit attempts are due to being turned around by the weather. Summer afternoon thunderstorms are the norm in Colorado’s mountains and lightning deaths are not uncommon. That means you want to summit well before noon (or earlier if storms are forecast to develop earlier than usual), which translates into an early start. Early starts are what I am all about because I prefer cooler temperatures, avoiding sun exposure as much as possible, and not getting struck by lightning. That’s why we left the house at 2:30 in the morning so we could start hiking at 5:30.
pikas (lagomorphs) live at high elevations in the rocks and don’t hibernate
jeremy snacks on some homemade zucchini bread
On the 3-hour drive, we saw several bright shooting stars (it was the height of the Perseids meteor shower) despite a full moon and driving with our high-beams on. Pretty fantastic! The trailhead was empty except for one truck, which is rare for a fourteener trailhead in summer in Colorado – even on a weekday. We made our way up the valley under moonlight and headlamps until the skies brightened enough to see the trail unaided. Beaver ponds dammed much of the length of Stewart Creek and we spotted some beavers making home repairs and swimming in their ponds. Wildflowers flanked the trail for the first 5.5 miles and marmots and pikas whistled and chirped warnings to one another as we approached their habitat. Most of the climb is crammed into the last mile and a half of trail, but it was good trail with excellent scenery.
view from the top
fueling up before heading back down
there’s a nice big drop off the west side of the summit
We didn’t dilly dally on the summit for long, mainly because there was a large dark cloud that had materialized out of thin air (literally – ha!) over the peak in the last ten minutes of our ascent. The air quality was poor compared to our typical crystal clear clean Colorado air, due to increased water vapor in the air from our monsoonal patterns (hence the big clouds popping up over the high peaks). I like summits for their unsurpassed views, but when you get to 14,000 feet the landscape is mostly rock and dirt which isn’t nearly as interesting to me without the presence of plants. On our way out, Jeremy and I paused for an early lunch break at the headwall of the basin leading to the summit. We sat in the rock-strewn meadowy slopes dotted with colorful wildflowers and particularly ambitious mushrooms, watching a herd of deer pick their way up the basin along a splashing stream of snow melt. “It’s such a perfect day,” Jeremy started softly. I turned to him, my mouth full of apple, singing, “I’m glad I spent it with you.”
It’s all relative. I realize and accept (after some friends have told me so) that my idea of a perfect day is someone else’s idea of pure hell. Just like the very thought of shopping all day in a city – or worse, the suburbs – would make me homicidal. No, I’d much rather hit the trails before sunrise and pick huckleberries with a like-minded friend who loves to hike in the mountains as much as I do.
erin picks ripe huckleberries
frozen hucks from last year’s crop
The huckleberries are taking their time ripening up, but they will get there. I picked hucks well into mid-September last year. I’m finding more and more scattered groups with red to dark purple berries, but there isn’t enough to really pick a bunch and still leave plenty for the birds and bears right now. A couple of months ago I was wringing my hands over what to do with my last 1.5 pounds of frozen huckleberries when I finally decided to make the leap and try huckleberry sorbet. It required a pound of the precious berries.
sugar, water, lemon, corn syrup, and a pound of huckleberries
**Jump for more butter**