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Getting Lost Among the Fungi in Washington

An S.F. photographer takes to the wilds of Washington for a weekend of feasting and foraging.

SLIDESHOW

Photographer Kimberley Hasselbrink’s view of Guemes Island from the crab boat.

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Katy Oursler tracks down some chanterelles on the great foraging adventure.

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Adirondack chairs sit outside at the Guemes Island Resort.

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Trip organizers Michael and Nelly Hand lead the crabbing expedition.

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Breakfast options from the resort’s food truck, one of the island’s only spots to buy food.

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Guemes Island, Washington.

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Here’s a tip: When you’re out in the woods foraging for mushrooms, eyes trained on the forest floor for any sign of the loamy little fungi, it is very, very easy to lose your bearings. That’s what San Francisco photographer Kimberley Hasselbrink and her friends discovered as they traipsed around Guemes Island, a vaguely triangular spot of land off the coast of Washington in the eastern San Juan Islands. “Pretty much everybody got lost at one point in the day,” Hasselbrink says. “The longest any person was gone was 10 to 20 minutes—but when that person is you, it’s a long time.”

Most of the group of eight had met two years before, on a trip to Alaska—and had gotten along so well that Michael and Nelly Hand, who fish salmon for a living in Alaska and spend part of the year on Guemes, invited the others to the island for a long weekend of foraging, crabbing, and cooking. The visitors booked cabins at the Guemes Island Resort, the only formal accommodations there, and hopped the five-minute ferry from neighboring Anacortes, Washington. The island’s population numbers in the hundreds, and there are only two places to eat: a food truck at the resort and a restaurant off the town’s general store. “I love island living because it’s so much slower,” Hasselbrink says. “It’s just a funky, quiet town.”

The main event for the group—which included a chef, a forager, and a food photographer—was a big feast on Saturday night, complete with seafood and freshly plucked fungi. Langdon Cook, author of two books on foraging and mushroom hunting, led the crew into the woods in search of chanterelles and hedgehogs. Though the friends started out on a well-marked path, they pretty quickly wandered off as they stared at the ground, looking for yellow and orange specks growing beneath the pine needles. “Off-trail is the way to go, because there are fewer eyes on things,” Hasselbrink says. “And once you find one, you look intensely in the same area for more, because chanterelles like a specific kind of forest floor.”

In their five to six hours of mushroom hunting, the crew filled their buckets with a bounty of fungi—and most of them got lost. Hasselbrink used her phone, despite the island’s spotty reception, to make her way back to the trail. “We should have been on the buddy system,” she says. “But with enough looking, I could find the trail on the map, and I got to nerd out and use my compass.”

The Hands were hoping to serve crab alongside the mushrooms when the whole group convened for dinner at their house on Saturday night. So they borrowed a boat and crab pots, and the friends headed out on the choppy bay to drop the pots into the water. Though it was rainy and they were toting rotting fish for bait, Hasselbrink found the trip exhilarating. “We were getting a ton of spray and splash,” she says. “Everything was briny and salty, a storm was coming in, and we’re on this tiny little boat that’s hopping along the water.”

Unfortunately, the crabs were not particularly cooperative—in the 24 hours that the baited pots were sitting in the water, not a single crustacean decided to stick around—so the hosts swapped the crab for salmon they’d caught themselves. Saturday night, everyone cooked together, laying the table, says Hasselbrink, with venison, salmon, and “all these crazy fun mushroom sauces and sides.” The meal was totally worth the brief moments of panic in the cold, wet Washington woods.

 

 

DO THE TRIP
Distance traveled: 1,800 miles
Days on the island: 4
Accommodations: Guemes Island Resort 
Provisions: Chanterelles, venison, salmon, food truck breakfast sandwiches, and plenty of wine.
Wifi: Some!
Necessities: Warm clothes, waterproof gear, an expert on mushroom foraging, hiking shoes, access to a fishing boat and crab pots, and some locals to show you the ropes.

 

Originally published in the March issue of San Francisco

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