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What to Eat on Mount McKinley

March 27 2002 at 2:44 PM
roger  (no login)

Response to Clearing the Roads for 2002 Denali Season (snowpack much below normal)

Many thanks to Steve Gruhn for pointing this excellent article (which is the Life section rather than the expected Outdoors). I'm only posting a tiny excerpt. It's a great article.

Peak Eating
Pack plenty of your favorite foods for a morale boosts up the mountain

By Kirsten Dixon
AnchorageDaily News Correspondent

(Published: March 27, 2002)

Generally, a small expedition will carry two small backpacking stoves that run on white gas. Ken Bayne, an experienced mountaineer, recommends bringing about 10 ounces of fuel for each day. Bayne carries one large pot to melt snow in, a smaller pot to heat water for hot drinks, and a small pressure cooker to cook meals in. The pressure cooker shortens the cooking time, particularly at high altitude. Most expeditions bring some kind of kitchen board -- a thin plywood sheet or similar board to rest stoves on so they don't sink into the snow.

Another important kitchen element is a good insulated cup that keeps food and drinks hot.

Gary Bocarde of Mountain Travel likes to serve normal food for as many days of his trip as he can. He takes several days' worth of bagels, pancakes, French toast and similar high-carbohydrate, high-fat breakfast foods. Bocarde doesn't use freeze-dried foods -- as many guides do -- except for vegetables he adds to something more delectable.

"There aren't enough calories in freeze-dried meals, and they are too expensive," Bocarde says.

In order to expedite the meal process, some climbers prefer to eat freeze-dried foods just on the day of they hope to reach the summit.

Food variety can be a tremendous morale booster. Most guides consider creative cooking skills an essential element to good leadership in a mountaineering group. Climbers like to trade foods with other expeditions. Some bring foods just for the fun of trading.

What foods are not recommended? Freeze-dried split pea soup hasn't gained much favor except in the eyes of legendary climber Ray Genet. Just as at home, most climbers just don't like the taste of it. Genet, though, liked the soup spiked with sausage.

Peanut butter gets mixed reviews because it tends to turn to rock in cold weather, but those who take it on the trip like its protein boost and added flavor to otherwise dull fare. Chocolate candy can get "smushed and nasty."

Bringing favorite foods is critical. Altitude generally depresses the appetite, and it can be an effort just to boil water. Just like a good sled dog, climbers need to be good eaters.

"If you don't like it at sea level, there's no way it's going to look appealing when you're at 17,000 feet! Plus, you're still hauling food (both up and down) that you don't like," Bayne said.

Avoid too much fresh foods that contains lots of water, because they weigh too much. Rely on mostly dry foods: cereal, pasta, rice, wheat, oatmeal, baked goods -- brownies and cookies -- cheese, meats, butter and maybe a few freeze-dried vegetables.

Ziploc bags are the repackaging containers of choice. Heavy-duty trash compactor bags provide extra strength.

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