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Climbing Cuisine

May 30, 2011

What in the world does one bring for food when climbing?

Snack time on Mount Rainier

It is very easy to overshoot with the amount of food or undershoot trying to save on weight or calories.  It’s important to have enough fuel for your body to keep your energy level up on a day when endurance is vital.  The weight of the food is a consideration, so you need to balance weight issues with the quality of your food.  On Climb to Fight Breast Cancer climbs, the breakfast and dinner comes with the climb.  You will need to bring food for lunches and snacks.  Snack time starts after breakfast and goes all the way through dinner.  Day one is probably 1 snack and 1 lunch.  Day two is probably 2 snacks and 1 lunch.  Day three should be thought of as all snacks, probably 4-5.  I like to treat lunch as 2 snacks worth of food.

Carbohydrates are your primary fuel sources with fats and protein good for keeping your blood sugar up for prolonged periods of energy use.  However, you can’t really bring a grilled cheese sandwich with you, so what can you bring?  There are commercially made products as well as entrees you can create yourself.

The lunch/snack sack on Mt. Adams

You need food that is easy to get to (location, location, location), easy to unwrap, simple to eat with gloves on, and that doesn’t melt.  This is especially important on summit day when breaks are quick and you need to be time efficient.  While the Halloween-style mini candy bars may seem like a great idea, unwrapping them is a chore and if it’s windy the wrapper goes off into the atmosphere, violating our Leave No Trace principles (if we pack it in, we pack it out).  Bring a real candy bar and eat bites one at a time on breaks.  There are also “shot blocks” and “GU” that are easy to unwrap, simple to access with gloves on, and fast to eat.  Check the ingredients and try them out ahead of time.  Don’t bring any food or drink additives (Gatorade, Nuun, etc.) that you haven’t already sampled at sea level.

Energy Bars and Candy Bars:  Snickers candy bars, Luna bars, Lara bars, Clif bars are all examples of good sources of energy food. If you’ve never eaten them before, it’s important to try them prior to climbing.  Everyone’s taste buds are different.  I know I like a few of the Clif bars, most of the Lara bars, and some of the Luna bars. Bringing something that doesn’t taste good to you means you won’t be eating it at altitude.  This also means you are carrying weight that you’ll keep carrying if you aren’t going to eat it.  Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain.

Trail Mix:  Making your own trail mix is easy.  Mix together almonds, peanuts, M&M’s, raisins and chocolate chips.  There are all sorts of combinations of ingredients that will easily fit into a ziplock bag.  Trail mix is eatable with gloves on.  The downside of trail mix is that it can get boring after a while and may not be filling.  It can be heavy so try not to bring too much of it.

Cheddar & String Cheese:  Cheese in the individual packages is great.  While cheese should be kept cold, you are in the mountains where it is colder than at home, so it will keep for a few days.  Eat this the first few days for your snack.

The Alpine Ascents Cook Tent - Camp Muir, Mt. Rainier

Salami:  Salami is another wonderful choice. It can be bulky and heavy if you bring a lot.  Slice it prior to going on the climb.  I always store this in my coffee mug and eat it the first day.

Beef and Turkey Jerky:  There are individual packages of jerky that are a great snack food.  Jerky is best for non-summit day use as it can take a bit of time to chew.  The colder the jerky is, the harder it is to chew and swallow.  You can buy a large bag of jerky and put it into small ziplock bags for organizational purposes.

Crackers:  I like mini cheese crackers (salt is good) and a variety of whole grain crackers.  I try to purchase kinds that don’t smash easily in my pack.

Everyone that’s climbed with me knows that I participate for the excuse to eat Pop Tarts.  I always have one in my pack (strawberry with frosting).  Whatever you bring, make sure your food is kept together in a self-closing bag.  There is nothing worse than finding M&M’s in the bottom of your pack when you want to eat them.  Balance the ingredients. Don’t just eat candy or shot blocks, your blood sugar will shoot up and then crash down which will lead to fatigue.  Candy with almonds or nuts at one break and an energy bar at another is a good plan.   Remember to try unknown foods before bringing them.  Keep your snack foods interesting so you’ll look forward to eating!

You’ll then have fuel to fire yourself up that mountain and lighten your back pack along the way.

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