Trout and 'Shrooms in Washington's Olympics

A Fall Mushroom Harvest
By E. David Thielk
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Cautions and Preparations

Wild Mushrooms

Learn to reliably identify the edible and poisonous mushrooms before you attempt to gather them. For those sampling mushrooms, I suggest conservative consumption.

Never eat a mushroom that you cannot identify with complete confidence.
Never eat a mushroom species for the first time in the backcountry.
Never eat a mushroom uncooked unless you have eaten that species raw before.
When eating a mushroom species for the first time, take only a small taste, even if you know that others have found it safe: tolerance for specific mushrooms varies from person to person. Wait a day before taking a larger taste, and wait another day before eating a full serving.

Backcountry Safety

All backcountry experience has some cautions and even a day hike on the Elwha is no exception. Although"Cougar Mike" killed the last cougar in the Elwha valley in the 1920s, they have returned in recent years, and hikers should be familiar with safe hiking procedures in cougar country. In addition, a persistent bear has caused the Park Service to close campsites between Lillian River and Elkhorn. Anglers and mushroomers are still allowed to use this area during the day, however. Those that stay overnight should be familiar with "Leave No Trace" backcountry skills.


Above the Dodger Point Bridge lies Grand Canyon. This stretch is rarelyfished because of limited access. Those willing to hike the Elwha RiverTrail another six miles will find themselves at Mary Falls, where theriver is again accessible. From Mary Falls to Hayes River Ranger Station,a stretch of about seven miles, there are countless places to extend afly line. This upper stretch receives far less fishing pressure than thearea around Humes Ranch and is the destination of many serious anglers.

I prefer, however, to leave the Elwha River Trail and take the DodgerPoint Trail. Resting at the Dodger Point Bridge, I put away my fishinggear, and take out my mushroom basket and knife. Beginning the slowclimb up Dodger Point Trail, I begin the search for a different prey.

The Olympic Peninsula offers one of the world's finest opportunities forhunting mushrooms. The Elwha River watershed, while not as productive assome of the rainforest watersheds nearby, is still amply endowed withfungus. The Dodger Point Trail, rising above the Elwha River, passesthrough a cool damp environment ideal for fruiting mushrooms.

I have found the best time to forage is two weeks after the first heavyrainfall. In the low, moist areas adjacent to the river, look for russulas, boletes, and oyster mushrooms. Where the trail rises above and traverses the north slopes, look for chanterelles, hedgehog mushrooms and an occasional cauliflower mushroom.

Yellow chanterelles, the most common edible species, are visible from thetrail as you make the climb, under Oregon grape or sword ferns. I prize this gastronomical delight for its apricot fragrance, subtle flavor, and firm texture. Chanterelles are easily recognized and are seldom confused with inedible or poisonous species. You can also look for the shrimp russula and several species of boletes, including the admirable bolete. You may occasionally find a cauliflower mushroom. My favorite, however, is the rare hedgehog mushroom.

The relaxed contentment of hunting mushrooms has much in common with the calm that descends when flyfishing for rainbows. Both the mushroom hunter and the flyfisher develop an instinct that comes only with experience. The inexperienced mushroom hunter can accelerate the learning curve in a number of ways, however. Perhaps the best way to get introduced to the world of fungus is to persuade an expert to guide you for your first fewtrips.

An experienced hunter will easily recognize the microhabitat thatsupports different species of mushrooms. They will know to look forchanterelles and hedgehogs in dark sandy soils where the forest floor iscovered with sword fern, Oregon grape or salal or on the dark sides ofsteep banks leading down to streams among cedar and Douglas-fir. Oystermushrooms grow directly on hardwoods, and are often found growing fromthe trunks of downed alder or cottonwood. Boletes grow in many differenthabitats, depending on the species, but are commonly found along thedisturbed habitats associated with dryer riverbanks, trails and campsites.

Another aid is a good field guide. When choosing a field guide, selectone written by an expert on the area in which you'll be hunting. Two excellent books for the Pacific Northwest are TheNew Savory Wild Mushroom, by Margaret McKenny and Daniel E. Stuntz andAll That the Rain Promises and More, by David Aurora. Both books haveexcellent photographs, clear descriptions, and most important, includespecies commonly found on the West Coast.

Mushrooms can be both delicious and deadly and there are few rewards in taking risks. Know the key characteristics of any wild mushroom you plan to collect for the table, and make sure all of these attributes are present in each specimen. if the edible mushroom can be confused with any poisonous species, pay special attention to those features that help you tell the difference.

As the day on the river draws to a close, the chill air descending down the valley reminds me that it is time to go. I pack my gear and slip into a jacket and long pants before starting for the trailhead where my carand the complexity of life at home await me. I have enjoyed all themoments of this day, and look forward to the next trip. These fall tripsare filled with simplicity, structure and ritual and I cherish therenewal they provide. Whether I catch fish or return with mushrooms forthe table is not so important. The Elwha watershed has become my fallcathedral and I have been nourished in other ways by my visit here.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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