In late September I was so lucky to claim a spot as ‘cabin-mate’ on the Safari Endeavor with my good friend Amanda. We were explorers heading from Juneau to Ketchikan, in a boat carrying about 80 other passengers through the Inner Passage of Alaska. We saw superman-style blue icebergs, glaciers, technicolor rainbows, waterfalls, misty fjords, bubble feeding humpback whales, and so many more ‘firsts’ that I could go on and on. But the most surprising thing I saw in Alaska was edible mushrooms (ok maybe it was that authentic fur jock strap instead), and lots of them!
Shrooms, Duh – It’s a Rainforest
I’m not sure how I missed the fact that mushrooms might be fruiting while I was there, I literally have mushrooms on the brain all the time. I must have been distracted by thoughts of seeing my first whales in the wild, or witnessing the salmon run, or just communing with this special place that is not easily explored. It was truly special.
The Inner Passage is a place that can only be explored by boat, helicopter or float plane. The people that live in these areas are very committed – there are no roads in and out. The area is vast beyond your imagination, miles upon miles of ocean inlets, mountainous terrain and unexplored rainforest. Each day the Endeavor sailed south, anchoring from cove to cove and each day, we disembarked to explore the natural environs of the Alaskan frontier.
Our first excursion was a hike that promised waterfalls, a healthy climb and forested terrain. As I carefully watched every footstep over slippery tree ruts, rocks, and deep mud holes, I could not help but notice a few mushrooms here and there along the path. And soon, I saw one that I actually recognized as an edible mushroom in Colorado –lactarius deliciosus – an orange milk cap. Wait, what? But if lactarius is around, doesn’t that mean there are more similar shrooms nearby? Well, yes actually – that is exactly what it meant.
Bigger in Alaska
As our trip progressed South, we stopped for several more forested excursions. As it turns out everything in Alaska is just bigger, including the mushrooms. I found the most exceptional chanterelles – beautiful bright orange, perfectly moist and HUGE! Man – if only I had more time to trek around… in bear country. Needless to say, they didn’t let us wander too far off the trail, but honestly it wasn’t even necessary. I found boletes, hedgehogs, lactarius, chanterelles, shaggy mane and a few edible mushrooms that I didn’t even know at the time (winter chanterelles being one). I was also introduced to the super cool banana slug – which I heard if you lick, numbs your tongue. Now why in the heck would you want to do that? Gross, just gross.
I found my final Alaskan shrooms in Wrangell, while hiking to an overlook on the high point in town. Big, fat juicy hedgehogs. Certainly one of my favorites, and not something that is prevalent where I live in Colorado. Oh Alaska.
I guess the ‘morel’ of this story is that there are mushrooms all around us. Trees + moisture + temperate climate = shrooms. One of the biggest joys in my life is always looking – wherever I happen to be – a trek through the forest has yet to disappoint. If you ever get the opportunity to explore Alaska’s Inner Passage, I highly recommend it – a place brimming with the most amazing natural wonders.
Just don’t buy that fur jockstrap… or maybe, do.