What did you eat in the backcountry? Freeze dried astronaut food?
Actually, we had a variety of pretty awesome food even though it all had to be pre-packed at the start of the expedition. It took almost an entire day to measure out in kilos the appropriate amount of food for our group for five weeks in the backcountry. Everything that we needed was pre-calculated based on number of people, weight, intensity of activity, and climate. Our job, then, was to measure out the designated amount of each item and then divide everything into four rations. Each ration corresponded to a certain number of days in the field.
We cooked in groups of 3-4, and each group was responsible for a pot, pan, lid, stove, and spatula. Every single meal was created using our MSR Whisperlite stoves, surrounded by a foil windscreen to conserve the heat.
Cooking full on meals in the backcountry requires a lot of time and effort. On days where we were stuck at camp, it was common for meals to take 2-3 hours from start to finish. This generally included everything from sharing a mate, setting up the kitchen and trying to create a level surface for the stove, choosing what to eat, deciding how to go about cooking it, constantly taste testing, dividing the food into our Tupperware containers, eating with our sporks, and finally cleaning our cookware with whatever was available (moss, snow, etc.). There were endless decisions associated with cooking meals. How much water do we need? If we cook the sauce first, where will we store it while cooking the pasta? What spices… sweet or savory? Should we use up all of the rice today? Did we hike far enough to treat ourselves to some cookies? These daily questions were incredibly important, because how we went about eating our food would determine whether or not we’d still be eating delicious meals nearing the end of the ration.
While the majority of our meals consisted of some form of “slop” (oatmeal, cream of wheat, rice, lentils, etc.), there were a handful of excellent culinary creations. Pizza, lasagna, and birthday cake were among the group favorites.
Cooking with limited ingredients and utensils for over a month really taught me how to improvise and find a way to make edible meals out of seemingly random foods. It also changed my perspective on how much food I need to eat to sustain activity versus how much food I want. Usually after a long day of climbing at home, I’ll gorge myself with a few heaping bowls of pasta or a pasty. That simply isn’t possible on a mountaineering expedition, since you need to carry all of the food as well as make sure every person gets their share. A limited food supply forced our group to communicate, compromise, and plan ahead for the week- all skills I will never forget!