Recipe: huckleberry syrup
Little pockets of mountain aspens are starting to light up around Colorado. I noticed this as we drove from Crested Butte back to the Front Range – brilliant sparks of gold or red in a sea of green. Every year without fail, some nature photographer will start spouting on about the colors being early and every year the colors are on time. Except last year – they were late and got walloped by early snows. I’ve got my eye on the local stands and once things start to move, it’s time for me to hit the road. In the meantime there has been plenty to do before the fall shoot commences.
in the hall of colors
autumn is my favorite season
So that freeze did come as predicted. It also brought our first snowfall of the season by morning. While it was nothing skiable, it was still gorgeous, wonderful snow. We had a backpacking permit for that morning and I could tell Jeremy was fretting over the weather. Driving up to the trailhead, we emerged out of the cold, grey, wintery world into blue skies, strong sunshine, and an inverted snowline! The snow ended above 10,000 feet (but there was also fresh snow on the high peaks above 12,500 feet). It was quite chilly, but we were feeling better about the trip.
first snowfall on our deck
inverted snowline: snow below, no snow above
lunch break with marmots, porcini (growing nearby), and a lovely view
From our lunch spot, we looked east, beyond the mountains where Boulder and Denver usually punctuate the distant landscape. That morning, the Great Plains had filled up with clouds like a sudsy bubble bath in a tub. We were in another world in the mountains. I love inversions. And while it was delightful to have such clear weather overhead, what the photos don’t tell you is how hellish the winds were above treeline. On the other side of Pawnee Pass, the trail drops steeply into the rocky headwall of a cirque. That wasn’t so bad except for slicks of ice and violent gusts up to 45 mph pushing us this way and that. The funnel-shape of that section seemed to focus all of the thermodynamic anger of the atmosphere.
the descent toward pawnee lake in the distance
it was much nicer in the trees
finally in camp by sunset
After climbing 2100 feet to the pass, we dropped 3600 feet past beautiful Pawnee Lake through huckleberry-strewn hillslopes and forests. I’m happy to report that most of the huckleberries survived the freeze (but not all). Our route navigated big sunny meadows with giant boulders and downed trees scattered like spilled matchsticks from the previous winter’s avalanches. I found a place I dubbed Raspberry Central for all of the wild raspberry canes drooping with heavy, deep red, sweet berries. Once we passed the low point of the whole trip (8900 feet), we followed Buchanan Creek up-valley until we found a secluded site away from the trail, with good access to water, 11 miles from our start.
stuff we bring on no-cook trips
more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at on this trail
on buchanan pass in even worse wind conditions
taking a break to fuel up for the last climb
I used to have trouble sleeping for more than an hour at a time in the backcountry, but these days I can manage a good 4-6 hours straight. The key is to be so exhausted that you just sleep through anything. We shook the ice off our tent before dawn and pointed ourselves east toward Buchanan Pass in sub-freezing temperatures. When we reached Fox Park, the winds began to pick up. As we rose out of the beautiful basin and out of the protection of the trees, the winds unleashed their full fury the closer we got to the pass. The gusts were even stronger than the day before, forcing us to stumble like drunkards in 60 mph gusts that threw us right, left, forward, and backward. In contrast, the other side of the pass was calm, quiet, and warm. By trip’s end we had 26.2 miles under our feet and 6500 feet of climb/descent.
When we got home, we dutifully sorted our gear, set the tent up to dry, and put things away. I only had enough energy to shower and eat half my dinner before I bonked face-first onto the bed yelling, “I love my pillow!” In the morning, my stomach was grumbling on empty and my brain was already focused on what to make for breakfast – because it was Jeremy’s birthday! Bacon. He loves bacon. And eggs. He likes eggs. And pancakes with… huckleberry syrup. That’s what birthdays are all about – happy things.
sugar, water, huckleberries
**Jump for more butter**