June 1, 2011
With morel mushroom season in full swing and the Memorial Day weekend coming up, it was definitely time for a foray. While I usually spend this time of year partying at the Gorge for the Sasquatch Festival, I decided to take a more laid back holiday, especially since I was coming off 7 straight days of work.
Usually the easiest place to find morels is in a 1 or 2-year-old burn area. No one knows why this is, maybe it’s because everything else has been scorched so there isn’t any competition. However, according to my guide (the very handsome and knowledgeable author of ediblemushrooms.org) you can find morels pretty much anywhere. I highly recommend going with an experienced morel hunter your first time out so you get a sense of what to look for and help with identification (see important notice at the bottom of this page).
The weather forecast was only so-so and time was limited, so we headed up to the Cle Elum area. We certainly didn’t expect commercial foraging conditions, but figured since it was so close to Seattle, if the weather got bad we could bail out pretty easily.
We made our way up Highway 903 towards Salmon La Sac and found several promising forest service roads. If you want to set up shop here, there are numerous official and unofficial campgrounds in the area. We took one of the forest service roads up to about 2700 feet and first started hiking on the up slope. The ground was open and semi-steep and we found a few false morels almost right away. This is both a good and bad sign. It means morels likely grow here, but that we were a little bit too early and a little bit too high in elevation (snowbank false morels come first).
Next we found a big patch of pig’s ears, which are edible but have nothing on flavor compared to morels. We did a fairly thorough loop of the area, saw numerous calypso orchids (a good sign), a large snow patch (a bad sign), and after coming up empty handed decided to try the low slope.
We knew our chances of coming across a big find were pretty slim, but we were excited to see flowering wild strawberry patches everywhere on the low slope (another good sign) and not long after a few young morels. We tried a few other areas on the low slope, fighting through maple saplings each time before entering the open, grassy patches of strawberry and lupine to find a lone morel. In the end we found a handful of morels, which wasn’t bad for the earliness of the conditions and how cool this spring has been. I bet in two or three weeks the picking will be much better in this area.
Top 5 Things to Take on a Morel Hunt
1. Vented bag or gathering basket
2. Knife to harvest mushrooms just above where they meet the ground
3. Knowledge of the signs
4. A keen eye and love for exploring
- Morels are tough mushrooms to spot and I wasn’t actually able to find one unassisted. Several times my guide would see one and ask me to find it without pointing it out. I’d scan the ground for about 10 or 20 seconds before spotting it. Each time I totally would have walked past, completely missing it. This pastime is certainly not easy and at most locations you have to hike deep into the wilderness, blazing trail up and down ravines and across steep, exposed slopes.
You also need a bit of luck and persistence. Sometimes you’ll find one or two right away and then not see any more for 5 hours. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you’ve got a knack for it, you can make decent money selling them to commercial buyers, farmers’ markets, or restaurants for anywhere from $5 to $20 per pound.
However, in my opinion, on a nice day there is nothing better than exploring these hills, especially with views like this.
NOTE: Please don’t experiment. If you are not 100% SURE of the type of mushrooms you found, don’t eat them. The Pacific Northwest does have some very poisonous mushrooms, and it’s not worth the risk.