On Saturday 5 September dawned clear and bright as six hardy Vermilion Forks Field Naturalists headed out on what is becoming an annual trek up to Jim Kelly Mountain. We always plan this trip for the first week in September because the huckleberries and blueberries are at their peak. Last year, for example, we picked enough for several pies. Our early summer, however, confused the berries so that this year, not only were the berries absent but some bushes were trying for a second crop. No matter, the weather was fine and the views were spectacular.
On the way up we saw a big black bear on the blueberry bush-infested ridge opposite us. We hoped there were berries there so he could fatten up for the winter. As we climbed out of the forest and into the alpine we saw fresh snow covering Jim Kelly peak and nestling in shady spots along the trail. We had lunch on a warm heather meadow in the sun, but as soon as we began climbing onto the ridge a cold wind sucked the warmth out of us. We climbed to a sheltered bowl just below Kelly Peak in which nested the first of several lakes in the area. After some photo ops we headed up along the ridge with spectacular views to the southwest of Cascade peaks with Coast Mountain peaks shimmering in the distance. The views were stunning, the sun was bright but the wind was cold. We met a group of rock climbers who had been scaling one of the faces of Jim Kelly. How they managed to hold onto the rocks in that biting wind is a mystery.
We hiked to the farthest and biggest of the lakes that shimmered turquoise in the sun and stopped for a snack. Unlike previous years, no one went in for a dip. Rather than retracing our footsteps we decided to loop back over the meadows, scree and among the lakes to the downward trail. This proved more difficult than in previous years because the snow patches that usually cover the steepest scree slopes had melted. Instead of having fun slipping and sliding downhill we were obliged to pick our way carefully over steep slopes and loose rocks.