It’s not quite Tough Mudder, but it certainly feels like an assault course as we gingerly navigate through a flourish of ostrich ferns, shrubs and crumbling Western Cedar and Douglas fir trees in this remote Tofino forest.

As testament to the dank October climes, Old Man’s Beard lichen and mounds of moss are keeping us company at every turn. We’re lapping up a West Coast facial as well as a few cheeky late-bursting dark salal berries and evergreen huckleberries.

It all feels like an appropriate rainforest homage to the mushrooms we’re about to forage. Yet one step on the wrong part of the peaty undergrowth can make your boot sink further than expected and potentially disturb the morning’s prize catch: Chanterelle, yellowfoot, angel wings and hedgehog mushrooms.

We’re being encouraged to look underneath logs, just as Joel Ashmore — the pastry chef who is taking us foraging along with two colleagues from Wolf in the Fog, one of the newest restaurants to open to notable fanfare in Tofino — scores first. Suddenly, he swoops down and deftly trims the forest floor of a cluster of 10 or so chanterelles. “This is an absolutely prime patch here. Look at this honker,” he laughs. “Once you have your mushroom eyes, it’s game on.”

Sure enough there’s a cascade of excited whoops, as our group of 10 foraging newbies — from Seattle, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver — start steadying knives around the base of the varying fungus. With an average annual rainfall of 128 inches, the west coast of Vancouver Island is arguably one of the most mushroom-populated areas of B.C., especially when it comes to chanterelles.

From the latter’s trumpet shape to the smaller brown-topped yellowfoot — both with their gill-like ridges under the tops — to the hedgehog with its more spiny underside, we’re going in for the kill no matter how small or challenging. Even a lonesome chanterelle tucked far away under the shade of a decaying log doesn’t escape. Only a couple of us spy the more rare, celestial-looking bright-white angel wings growing out of a rotting tree.

“It’s so funny seeing people go for the first time because they quickly revert to kids,” says Ashmore, cleaning the soil off the mushrooms’ stems and delicately placing them inside his striped basket (never use plastic — baskets and cloth bags are good for aerating the mushrooms and release their spores, he adds).

“I’m always surprised how disconnected some people can be to the source of their food, so this is a great way to really experience where it can be from, and this is pretty much the perfect type of forest for mushrooms to grow in.”

Today we’re in a second-growth clear-cut logging area that is open to the public off a gravel road just a few kilometres from Kennedy Lake, wading over brooks and sticking close to the roots of trees to avoid sinking into the mud. It seems everyone in town are keen foragers, including Chocolate Tofino makers, for example, who forage for wild blackberries from Clayoquot Sound to add to their buttercream with dark chocolate in a white chocolate shell. Despite our happy haul, the area’s been so picked-over that the team doesn’t feel it’s committing a foraging faux pas.


Updated Highway 4 Road Closure Schedule at Kennedy Hill