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La Vida Locavore
After moving from California to Wisconsin, I decided to start a garden ASAP. Why ASAP? Because if I don't do it now, I can't do it until the spring. I mean, I'm sure I can plant garlic in October to harvest next summer, and I can plant a cover crop of some sort... but if I want to harvest something before 2015, I better get planting now. And for some things, it's still too late.
Even so, gardening here is like night and day from California. My entire world has turned upside down, garden-wise. For example: If I put worms in my compost bin, will they freeze and die during the winter? I don't know the answer. I have a hunch that with enough mass, a compost pile could generate enough heat to keep worms alive through the winter, but how big does it have to be to do that? My new one isn't the generally accepted 3x3x3 size that a pile ought to be, since it's just a little bin outside my door. The exact size my worm bin has always been... in California. Where it doesn't freeze all winter long.
Here are some thoughts.
In California, gardening was basically split between warm season (April to September) and cool season (September to April) crops. A few crops could live any time, all year round: beets, chard, onions, sunflowers, and perennial herbs. Some crops had their own special timing, like garlic, which you plant before Halloween and harvest around the Fourth of July. But most things are either warm season or cool season.
Now that I'm in Madison, and it's August, the weather's only getting colder from here. If I'm going to get a crop at all, it'll be the cool season crops: cabbage family, carrot family, peas, fava beans, and lettuce.
What's more, I've got limited time until the weather freezes. I'm basically working under the assumption that we'll get our first frost around November 1. August to November gives me three months. That means that I can plant something that grows quickly, like a radish, but I probably won't get a crop from something that takes a while to grow - especially if it's very sensitive to the cold.
Unfortunately, my gardening books got lost in the mail, so I don't have my garden bible (How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons) on hand. If I did, I'd look up the handy table in there that tells you exactly what temperatures each plant can tolerate. Without that to rely on, we can use this site or this site.
The first site says that the following plants can withstand light frost (temps down to 28): Can withstand light frost: Artichokes, beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chinese cabbage, endive, lettuce, parsnips, peas, swiss chard, escarole, arugula, bok choy, mache, and radicchio.
Additionally, cabbage family crops, onions, spinach, leeks, peas, and sorrel can survive temps even below 28 degrees.
The latter site refers to gardening in Maine, which I imagine is COLD.
It rates plants as follows:
Very Hardy ("will winter over if protected"): collards, kale, mache, parsley, parsnip, and spinach
Hardy ("survives frost generally to the low twenties"): Fava beans, beets, brussel sprouts, carrots, chard, chicory, endive, lettuce, radicchio, radish, rutabaga, turnip, and salsify
Moderately Hardy ("survives light frosts"): Artichoke, arugula, Asian greens, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, cress, kohlrabi, leek, mustard, onions, shallots, pak choy, and scallions.
This is good information, but the next question is: how long does it take to grow? Radishes are famously quick. A chioggia beet can grow in 55 days. Carrots generally take more like 70 days. Brussel sprouts can take the cold but they take a long, long time to grow. Even though they are more cold tolerant than, say, arugula, I'd plant arugula now if I liked it (I hate it) because it grows quickly, but I wouldn't attempt to grow brussel sprouts now.
I decided to get starts for chard and kale, which means that they were planted about 6-8 weeks ago, and will continue to grow once I transplant them in my garden. The nice thing about these plants is that you can continue to harvest them. That's different from a carrot - it grows and you pick it and you have one carrot, but then the plant is not going to continue growing and producing more food. For kale or chard, you pick off what you want and make sure to leave at least 5 leaves growing. Return a few days later, and you can harvest some more.
I also got a cilantro start and planted some more cilantro from seed. I found a variety of thyme that can overwinter and planted that. I got a lemon balm start because I notice it establishes itself as a weed here. I put it somewhere where I won't mind having it as a weed. I might add catnip nearby.
My first priority was getting the carrot seeds in the ground. They take a while to grow and aren't as cold hardy as some of the other crops. Plus, they can take a while to germinate sometimes. I'm not sure which day I got them in the ground, but the first row of them has already germinated. Let's hope none of the squirrels or bunnies decide to eat them. I'm used to having lizards, skunks, and possums in my garden, but not bunnies, squirrels, and ground squirrels like we've got here.
Next, I planted bush peas, beets, spinach, and lettuce. I went with bush peas instead of pole peas because the bush variety grow quickly and give you a small crop, whereas the pole variety take longer to grow tall (up to 6 feet or more) before they start to produce. Then they produce and produce and produce, but by then I'm guessing the plant will be dead.
I would have liked to plant onions from sets (instead of seeds) and some fava beans, but right now I'm operating from what I can do for free. I borrowed a shovel from a friend, and she hooked me up with free seeds too. I ended up investing in a $7 of worm castings for the kale, but that's it.
Of the crops I planted, the majority have low fertility needs or they are legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil (peas). The exception is the kale, which needs decent soil to produce anything.
I can't pretend I did what I should have with the soil. I simply picked a patch of lawn on the south-facing side of the house (which happens to be the front yard) and started digging. I probably dug about 6 inches down, loosened all the soil, killed all the tree roots (there are many) and left them in place, and removed all of the grass and grass rhizomes. That's not exactly a double dig, but since I had no compost to add to the soil, I didn't want to go to the trouble just now - particularly because I was working against the clock to get the seeds in the ground.
Because there is a lot of un-broken-down carbon in the soil in the form of dead roots, that means that the microbes will also burn up extra nitrogen as they consume all the carbon. This worries me. I'd like to see if I can do something to the soil to add nitrogen, whether it's adding compost once I've got some or planting a cover crop of legumes of some sort. I really wish some of the birds that kept pooping on my car would do me a favor and poop on my garden instead. In the meantime, I'm just adding coffee grounds from the coffee I drink.
I'm now in a duplex with garden-friendly neighbors in the other unit, and we all want to get chickens too. We discussed it and decided that early spring would be the best time to get them, since it will be a pain to keep birds warm through the winter when they won't even be laying anyway. Might as well get six month old hens around early February. The landlord says he'll "think about it." But if we can get some chickens, then we'll have some chicken poop - which would be great for the garden.
I'll keep you updated on my attempt to grow things here in the Frigid North. It's much more of a crapshoot than in California. There it was predictably sunny and warm every day, although it rarely rained, since we've been in a drought for years. If it weren't for irrigation, gardening would have been impossible. Well, modern technology fixes the lack of water, but it can't fix the freezing weather of Wisconsin's winters. So this will be a learning experience.
You might have noticed that this blog was down for the past few weeks. What happened? Quite simple. The bill came due and I didn't have the cash. I hopefully will in the near future - that's why I'm going to a grad school where I've got free tuition and guaranteed funding for 5 years - but I don't start getting paid for being a TA til October 1, and I just moved from California to Wisconsin, which wasn't cheap. I mean, it was as cheap as I could make it, staying in Motel 6's and only taking what I could fit in my car, but it still cost something. Plus today's fun: taking the cat to the vet since she keeps peeing outside her box. Cross your fingers that she isn't diabetic. Whatever that would cost, I can't afford it.
An angel swooped in and paid the $60 owed on this blog, which is why it's up and running again, but it costs $15/mo and they bill me monthly. I just received a bill for August. I'm going to try to stay current with the bills, which will be easier once I start getting paid regularly from my teaching assistantship. This month's going to be rough financially, thanks to the move. If anyone reads and appreciates this blog, or perhaps writes on it and gets value from that, you can help keep the blog up by sponsoring it for a month.
If you would like to sponsor the blog for a month, you can send me money on Paypal to the email address OrangeClouds115 at gmail dot com, and I will send it directly to the blog people as payment. As a thank you, I would love to recognize you by name on the blog or post an ad of your choosing (it can be for a product but it can also be for an event, a website, or just a bit of text saying whatever the heck you want) on the top left corner of the blog for the month.
I recently posted about my attempt to eat "real food" while backpacking for 4 days in Yosemite. I feel a follow-up is in order.
First off, I had an Epic Food Fail. My pasta and tomato sauce meal, which I ate for dinner the first night of the backpack, was disgusting. And because I was backpacking, I still choked down the noodles. The whole wheat penne pasta tasted fine. I pre-cooked it and then dehydrated it, so it was very easy to reconstitute with hot water without a need to waste precious fuel by boiling it to al dente as I would have if I had used never-been-cooked pasta.
The problem was the sauce. I used my own special homemade sauce. Under normal circumstances, my sauce is delicious. I attempted to dehydrate it into tomato sauce leather. First I tried this in a dehydrator that lacked a fan. Instead of dehydrating, it went moldy. I lost a whole quart of precious sauce. Then I tried again in the oven. Well, it dehydrated. So I packed it up and took it backpacking without tasting it first. That was a mistake. It smelled good. It smelled delicious. I couldn't wait to eat it. It reconstituted perfectly. And it tasted terrible. It had absolutely no sugar in it, and it was extremely acidic, like eating lemon juice.
The problem with this while backpacking is not just that you are out a meal. As luck had it, I had a back-up plan in case a meal failed. I had an extra meal available to eat if need be, and then I could make up for that by buying my food during the busride home. That part wasn't the problem.
The problem were the bears. If you toss out food in the middle of the woods, you're inviting bears to come get it - and get habituated to eating human food. As they say, "A fed bear is a dead bear." Because problem bears are, eventually, executed.
My plan was to go at least 100 yards away from our camp, dig a hole, dispose of the nasty pasta sauce (I ate the noodles) in the hole, and bury it. A fellow camper was so distressed by this that he offered to transfer my nasty sauce into a ziplock bag, place it in his bear canister, and carry it out for me. And he did. He carried it for 3 days and about 6 miles.
The rest of the food worked well - aged gouda, chorizo, trail mix, Larabars, a homemade dehydrated meal of onions, carrots, bulgur wheat, chickpeas, cumin, and lemon juice, and a purchased dehydrated split pea soup mix to which I added dehydrated celery leaf, kale, carrots, cumin, rosemary, and thyme. The chickpea/bulgur dish was not as delicious as it is at home, but it was entirely edible. For breakfast, oatmeal with raisins, brown sugar, and chia seeds hit the spot. The only (other) real bummer among my food was the organic, Fair Trade instant coffee I brought with me. It was disgusting (as instant coffee tends to be). And yet, it was caffeinated, so at 5:30am when I was preparing to get up and hike with a 30 lb pack on my back, I was happy to drink it anyway.
As always, I was the only person in the group eating 100% "real food." Everyone else showed up with a collection of purchased, packaged foods, often freeze-dried backpacking meals, but sometimes meals they put together with collections of tiny pouches of sauces, noodles, rice, tuna, and other store-bought goods. They were all happy with their food, and they managed to make some elaborate, rather impressive meals, like Thai curry and miso soup.
But I noticed an unexpected outcome from doing this my way vs. theirs. My food took up less space than theirs. Naturally, I generated less trash in the end. I expected that. But all of their pre-packaged pouches took up a lot of room, and they struggled to fit it all in their bear canisters, whereas I had extra room in mine. That was nice (for me) but it would have been an even bigger benefit on a longer trip. I had the small size of bear canister and I could've fit another day or two of food in it. That would mean avoiding going up to the larger size of bear canister, which is not only larger but also heavier. And that's a big deal!!
This past week, I hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney. Depending on who you talk to, it is either 14,496 ft, 14,497 ft, 14,505 ft, or 14,508 ft. No matter what, it's the highest peak in the lower 48 states. And it requires no technical climbing or mountaineering skills to get to the top. Which is why people come from all over the world to hike it.
I think that's the wrong reason to do the trail. Don't hike it because it's the tallest; hike it because it is GORGEOUS. It's an incredibly pleasant, relatively easy trail (with the exception of a part near the top), and it's a really worthwhile hike even if you don't plan to go to the top.
Read on to find out why most people hike Whitney the wrong way (in my opinion) and how to do it right.
Whitney's summit is smack in the middle of this pic.
Most people who hike up Mt. Whitney do it one of two ways. Some get day permits and they day hike. Typically that means starting anywhere between midnight and 4am, summiting in the morning, and hiking back down by evening. Unless you're in such good shape that a 22 mile hike with 6100 feet of elevation gain doesn't phase you and you're already acclimated well to high altitude, this option is grueling.
Everyone I spoke to who did it said, "Don't do it." Some added, "It's a beautiful trail. Enjoy it." When I did the hike, I ran into plenty of day hikers on their way down. With few exceptions, they all looked miserable. I hiked part-way with one day hiker at a spot toward the end. He was dead tired and not happy about having a few more miles left to go at that point.
Why turn one of the most enjoyable hikes in the country into a grueling marathon? Besides, the lower altitudes are so beautiful, and if you day hike, you pass them in the dark on your way up and when you're too tired to care on the way down.
An option, if you are really set on a dayhike, is to hike up to Lone Pine Lake, which is 2.8 miles up the trail, the day before to take pictures, see the trail, and acclimate to the altitude. You do not need a permit to go to Lone Pine Lake.
Here are some photos of what you miss if you do this section of the trail in the dark:
That's just a few photos of the first 2.8 miles of the trail, from Whitney Portal to Lone Pine Lake. See why it's a dumb idea to hike it in the dark and miss all of that?
The other way that people do the hike is better, but I still wouldn't like it myself. They hike 6.3 miles up the trail and camp at Trail Camp. Then they get up early in the morning (sometimes VERY early, like 2am) and hike to the summit, and then backpack out that same day. The trail is 22 miles total, so they only have to hike about 16 miles in one day. And at least they see all the beauty on the trail. But they have another problem:
That is a yellow-bellied marmot, and it is more than happy to chew its way into your pack or your tent to see if you have food in there. And if you were responsible and put all your food in a bear-proof canister, oh well. Now you've got a hole chewed in your pack or tent. Someone I met on the trail had that happen to him. Another person followed the advice we got in advance and left her tent open to save the marmots the trouble of chewing it. The marmots got in her tent and peed and pooped all over, even on her sleeping bag.
I don't know what your stuff cost, but I know what mine cost. Tent, $259. Sleeping bag valued at $420 (I paid much less but that's what it would cost to replace it). Backpack valued at $275 (again, I paid way less). I don't want my gear damaged by a marmot.
Trail Camp is at 12,040 feet and it is rather crowded. It's above the tree-line so it's very exposed and windy. It can also be cold.
Here's what I did. I hiked in only 3.8 miles to Outpost Camp at 10,360 ft and I stayed there two nights. On day 1 I hiked in and took my sweet time, taking as many photos as I liked. You already saw the trail up to Lone Pine Lake (2.8 mi). Here the next mile, between Lone Pine Lake and Outpost Camp.
Here's the view from my campsite at Outpost Camp:
When I arrived in Outpost Camp, my first thought was "Wow! I get to sleep here???" I was so excited! Sure, I would wake up in the dark the next morning and leave very early, but I was staying two nights - so I'd get all the opportunity I wanted to poke around on day 3.
The advice I got to stay at Outpost Camp was mainly that it's warmer, less exposed, and less crowded than Trail Camp. Plus, some people don't sleep well at altitude (I sleep fine) and it's 2000 feet lower than Trail Camp so you might get more sleep. After the fact, I'd say my main reasons for staying there are that my feet are prone to injury and don't do well carrying weight, so backpacking 3.8 mi is better than 6.3 mi for me, even if it means a longer way to the summit; it's beautiful; and there isn't a big marmot problem. I had zero marmot trouble. I did keep all of my food, trash, and cosmetics in my bear canister, which I left about 20 feet from my tent, so there was nothing interesting in my tent at all.
So my first day, I hiked those 3.8 miles to Outpost Camp. The next morning I got up at 3:15am and by 3.48am I was on the trail to the summit, in the dark, with a head lamp. I never even saw Mirror Lake (about 4.0 mi into the trail). By the time I reached Trailside Meadow about a mile later, it was light enough to see.
I saw some cute little pikas:
Got some water:
And passed by Trail Camp. It was already light, and Trail Camp had nearly emptied out by then. After passing Trail Camp, I started on the Infamous Switchbacks. It's a 2 mile section of the trail with 99 switchbacks. You're above the treeline, and the view is nice... but otherwise it's pretty boring.
Your last place to get water before the summit is a spring at switchback #23. Make sure you have at least 3 liters to take to the summit. Your only other option from here on is eating snow - if there is any.
Finally, finally, you hit Trail Crest. At this point you have completed 8.2 miles of the trail and you are at 13,700 feet up. You now enter Sequoia National Park (you were in Inyo National Forest). You cross over to the other side of the mountain, and remain there for the balance of the hike. Here's the view from the other side, looking down on Sequoia National Park:
What I read before going was roughly "once you reach Trail Crest, the work is basically done, and you're basically there. It's just an easy 2.5 miles to the summit."
I disagree. I hated this part of the trail. Admittedly, I had a monster migraine (it wasn't altitude sickness, it was an out of control horrible migraine, the worst of the decade, that began the moment I woke up that day). But I think I'd hate it anyway. Here's the trail:
Yup. One wrong move and off you go over a cliff. The trail is really rocky for about a mile or two, which means it's not comfortable on your feet, and you have to watch what you're doing to avoid tripping and/or breaking an ankle. The way down was as bad as the way up (or worse), and I'm just grateful it wasn't wet and slippery.
From Trail Crest, you descend a bit and - about a half mile in - you unite with the John Muir Trail at 13,480 in altitude. Then you start going up again. At about 9.0 miles in, you see cairns marking the route up Mt Muir. Shortly thereafter, you come to the "Whitney Windows" - rock formations that allow you to peak through and see the summit.
This is the view of the ridge leading to the summit, taken of the side of the mountain facing Lone Pine. So the trail to the summit is on the back side of what you're seeing here. The last bit on the right side of the photo that is sticking up and out is the summit:
Don't underestimate the time it takes to go these last few miles. It's not a major elevation gain, but it's challenging hiking because of all the damn rocks on the trail.
Finally, finally, you get to the summit:
See all those clouds? They had just rolled in, in between when I reached Trail Crest and when I got to the summit. It was 12pm, and it was lightly hailing while I was on the summit. Afternoon storms are common, and I was relatively lucky on weather. It was cold at the summit, but it cleared up pretty quickly and never really rained. The day before I summitted, it snowed. I met some people who hiked nearly the whole trail and turned around because of the cold. I met others who kept going despite the cold - and they were dressed in shorts. I packed several layers, including a down jacket and a space bag. I didn't need the down jacket but I wanted to be prepared to be stuck on the mountain overnight, should a disaster occur. Thankfully, it didn't.
That day, another hiker broke her ankle near the summit. Fortunately, she got cell reception at the summit, and they airlifted her out:
So, now it was time to go down. My migraine was in full swing at this point, and hiking was not even fun anymore. I just wanted to get below Trail Crest, to get off that exposed ridge at the top of the mountain. At long last, I did. As I hiked down, I met more people who were still going up. Some of them looked like they were in bad shape.
I felt better once I reached the switchbacks again, and still better once I reached Trail Camp. As I reached Trailside Meadow on the way down, I stopped and threw up everything in my stomach, which wasn't much. I had tried to eat a sandwich at Trail Crest and had only succeeded in eating a bite. The only other thing I'd been able to eat was dried mango. And lots and lots of ice cold water.
Some people get sick from the altitude on Mt. Whitney. If you live in the U.S. you don't have too many opportunities to find out how your body reacts to being at 14,000 feet. But I'm lucky because I've spent plenty of time in Bolivia, where normal life takes place at 14,000 feet. I know exactly how I react to 14,000 feet. When I go from sea level to 9000 or above, I suffer from a minor headache and slight nausea the first day. After that, I feel fine. What happened to me on Mt. Whitney wasn't altitude sickness. It was a migraine - and one of the two worst migraines I've had in my entire life.
Fortunately, when I arrived back at Outpost Camp, my tent was already set up and ready for me. My stuff was all there. I sat with a hiker who was setting up camp next to me and we chatted as he had dinner. I ate an apple. Then I changed into clean(er) clothes, got in my sleeping bag, and was asleep by 7:30pm. And I slept for 14 hours.
During the night, I heard hikers going past me starting around 12:30pm. I woke up then and again at 3am and 7am. I got up two of those times to go to the bathroom. All three times I woke up, my head still hurt. But when I got up at 9am, my head felt fine. I got up, ate breakfast, packed up, and had an enjoyable 3.8 mile hike back to my car.
If I had to do it over again, I'd do it exactly the way I did. But now that I've done it once, I don't plan to do it again. I hike because it's fun, and the rocky top part of the trail was not my idea of fun. I really preferred the beauty of the lower altitudes over the part of the trail above 12,000 feet. I also like steeper trails than the Mt. Whitney Trail. It's not a steep trail at all. If I go back, I'll hike it as far as Lone Pine Lake or Outpost Camp or Trail Camp and then head back down. And then I'll explore the other trails in the area, because there are plenty of them, and they are no doubt gorgeous, just as this one was.
I'm told that this was a lousy year for wildflowers thanks to the drought. It was certainly a lousy year for waterfalls. On the flipside, there were fewer mosquitoes than usual (don't worry, there were still plenty and they ate well this weekend).
Lousy or not, the wildflower display was spectacular. Here are my photos. They are mostly taken at altitudes ranging between 7000-8000 feet, although a few come from lower altitudes as I descended the Yosemite Falls Trail. We backpacked from Porcupine Flats at Tioga Rd, past Yosemite Falls toward Eagle Peak, and then backtracked to the Yosemite Falls Trail, taking that down to Yosemite Lodge in the valley. I also did a day hike to North Dome and hiked along Indian Ridge and on the trail toward Eagle Peak.
Here we all are, ready to go!
We saw a TON of different kinds of penstemon, also called beardtongues. There are over 50 varieties in California. Penstemon is in the Plantain family. I did not get a photo or even identify every single type of penstemon I saw.
Closely related are Keckiella. Here is some Gaping Keckiella on the Yosemite Falls Trail.
I also saw a wide variety of monkeyflowers, which are in the Lopseed family (Phrymaceae). We have monkeyflowers in San Diego, but the ones I saw in Yosemite were all new to me.
From the Asparagus Family, I saw several brodiaeas:
My favorite flowers might have been the lilies:
In the Violet family:
In the Buttercup family:
In the Heather Family:
In the Purslane Family:
And then there are the gooseberries. These were flowers, but now they are unripe fruit. And before long, they will become bear food. Particularly because I'm probably one of the few people who hike past them that knows they are edible.
Seen but not pictured:
- Blue elderberry: Sambucus caerulea (Adoxa family)
- Yarrow (Aster family)
- Yosemite Aster: Aster occidentalis (Aster family)
- Arnica (Aster family)
- Bull Thistle: Cirsium vulgare (Aster family)
- Lots of random yellow stuff in the Aster Family that I was too lazy to identify because the zillions of yellow asters out there just aren't that interesting.
- Baby Blue Eyes: Nemophila menziesii (Borage family)
- Cow Parsnip (Carrot family)
- Zillions of different lupine species (Legume family)
- Corn Lily: Veratrum californicum (Lily family)
- Mountain Pennyroyal: Monardella odoratissima (Mint family)
- Scarlet Penstemon: Penstemon bridgesii (Plantain family)
- Mountain Pride Penstemon: Penstemon newberryi (Plantain family)
- Spiraea: Spiraea densiflora (Rose family)
- Blackcap Raspberry: Rubus leucodermis (Rose Family) - fruit, not flowers, and they were delicious!
- Currants (Saxifrage family)
- Mountain Violet: Viola Purpurea (Violet family)
- Snow plant: Scardoes sanguinea (Wintergreen family)
- Candystick: Allotropa virgata (Wintergreen family)
- ... and more I did not bother to identify.
As always, attempting to eat real food while backpacking is an uphill battle. To date, I've only done overnight backpacks, never multi-day trips. I've also never ventured into bear country. But I am about to do both.
There are some things that work in hiking and backpacking, until they don't. My old hiking boots and insoles were fine, until I began doing longer hikes and carrying a 20 lb pack on my back. Then I got tendinitis. Bringing fresh fruit and peanut butter sandwiches works on an overnight trip. For a longer trip, you can bring them for the first day - but after that you need a different plan. And don't even get me started on bathroom strategies that work for the very short term but prove catastrophic if attempted on longer hikes.
Thus, my overnight trips prepare me to a certain extent for my upcoming trip to Yosemite, but I'm basically wading into unfamiliar territory. And I'm almost guaranteed to be the only one in the group who doesn't simply pull out a plastic bag of freeze-dried god knows what, pour boiling water in, eat it, and then pack away the bag as trash. At the end of the meal, I'm the only one with dirty dishes. So here's my plan.
I got the trip details last night. We're spending one night car camping in Mammoth, and heading to Yosemite after breakfast the next morning. For those familiar with Yosemite, the trip begins at the Porcupine Flats campground on Tioga Rd, heads ESE a few miles, and then turns SW as we backpack to where we'll spend 2 nights. I can best describe it as a point a little north of about halfway in between Yosemite Point and North Dome. It's about 6 miles, basically flat but descending 1100 feet. The next day, we do a day hike up North Dome, then back to camp. Day 3, we backpack over flat terrain to near Yosemite Point. Day 4, we get up early and backpack past Yosemite Falls into the valley. It's a few miles but a 3000 foot drop. Then we catch our bus and go home.
A few more factors: All of this food needs to fit in my bear canister after we leave car camp (car camp has bear lockers), and it's going to be beastly hot outside (80s and 90s). Chocolate will melt. None of the hiking will be strenuous. Certainly not bad enough that I'll be at risk of "bonking" (running out of stored glycogen). If that were the case, stuffing myself with sugar would become very important. Sadly, I won't be doing any sugar binges on this trip. (I wish! Wouldn't it be nice to fill up on sugar "for your health"??)
By my estimation, I'll need a meal for the bus and breakfast for car camp. Then three breakfasts, four lunches, three dinners, and four days of snacks for backpacking. This will be followed by lunch and dinner to eat on the bus going home. The last day, I can potentially buy food in Yosemite Valley... but I'd rather not rely on that.
The easy part is the first bit on the bus and in car camp. Grab a burrito before boarding the bus, and then make my normal hiking breakfast at camp - a bagel with two eggs and melted cheddar cheese. And a peanut butter and honey sandwich can last long enough to serve as my first lunch.
My dinners are already set. I've cooked and dehydrated the following foods:
- Pasta and tomato sauce
- Black bean and sweet potato soup
- Lemon garbanzo bulgur pilaf
- Carrots (lightly steamed)
- Onions (raw)
- Kale (raw)
- Celery leaf (raw)
Plus I've got store-bought dehydrated curry lentil soup.
The pasta is bulky so I'll eat that first. I should have used spaghetti but it seemed to me that the noodles would all break, so I got penne instead. Plus, the sauce is chock full of olive oil, and fats are the least stable component of dehydrated food. One more reason to eat that first. I can add kale to the sauce for added nutrition.
For the lemon garbanzo bulgur pilaf, I cooked and dehydrated bulgur and chickpeas separately. I seasoned the bulgur with lemon and cumin already. Now I just mix in dehydrated onions, carrots, and kale together with the bulgur and chickpeas and I'm good to go. And salt. It's unsalted, so I'll just bring a baggy of salt and add it to taste.
The two soups are the lightest and easiest to deal with so I'll save those for last. Actually, I might leave the black bean at home because it has some fat in it and also because I don't even know how it will taste. Better only do so much experimenting with my own cooking in one trip, so that if something fails, I won't be screwed.
Aside from that, I've got a hunk of aged gouda, dried mango, rolled oats, raisins, trail mix, crackers, and Larabars, plus I found a booth at the farmers market that uses ethical meat to make nitrate/nitrite free chorizo. And I can get some dehydrated split pea soup that tastes OK.
So here's the plan:
- Bus dinner: Burrito from local Mexican joint
- Car camp breakfast: Bagel, eggs, cheddar
- Backpack lunch: Peanut butter and honey
- Backpack dinner: Pasta/sauce
- Backpack snacks: Apple, banana, trail mix
- Backpack breakfast: Oatmeal, dried fruit
- Backpack lunch: Crackers, chorizo, gouda
- Backpack dinner: Lemon bulguar garbanzo pilaf
- Backpack snacks: Mango, larabar, trail mix
- Backpack breakfast: Oatmeal, dried fruit
- Backpack lunch: Crackers, chorizo, gouda
- Backpack dinner: Curry lentil soup
- Backpack snacks: Mango, larabar, trail mix
- Backpack breakfast: Oatmeal, dried fruit
- Backpack lunch: Split pea soup
- Bus dinner: Crackers, chorizo, gouda
- Bus/backpack snacks: Mango, larabar, trail mix
Day 1: Porcupine Flats to Campsite 1
Day 2: Day hike to North Dome
Day 3: Backpack to Yosemite Point
Day 4: Backpack to Valley/Bus home
Next up? Packing it and seeing if it fits in the bear canister. I can leave the burrito and bagel/eggs/cheese outside of the bear canister, because those will be eaten before backpacking. The bagel meal can go in a bear locker at car camp. And for some caffeine, I might need to look into (and I hate myself for saying this) instant coffee. Otherwise, I'll bring black tea and hope for the best. (I was hoping to bring chocolate covered espresso beans but it will be too hot.)
So that's it! A four day backpack with 100% real food. It sounds good as a plan, but of course nothing in backpacking is quite as perfect in its implementation. So we will see.
Prior to a long hike, I ran to the store for energy bars and went with the brand that was cheapest, thanks to a sale. In this case, it was the Larabar. I got two flavors, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, and a chocolate coconut flavor. The latter did not taste good. The former was delicious. I went back and bought about 10 of them.
But how does it stack up nutritionally?
The following nutritional recommendations are made assuming one is doing strenuous exercise for several hours. In fact, if you are sitting on your tush at home, then following this advice would be very bad for you.
My backpacking class recommends energy bars that are no more than 8 to 10g protein and no more than 4g fat per 230 calories. It also recommends 5g or fewer of fiber - and says to drink lots of water with your bar. The upshot of all of this is that your body isn't doing much in the way of digestion while you exercise, so you want to give it an easy job (i.e. refined carbs).
- Product: Larabar
- Flavor: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
- Price per bar: $.99 on sale
- Selling Points: Gluten free, non-GMO, kosher, with fair trade chocolate. NOT organic.
- Weight: 45g
- Calories: 220
- Protein: 6g (good)
- Fat: 11g (way too high)
- Fiber: 3g (good)
I don't know about you, but my entire mindset as an adult and even before that has been about limiting my calorie intake, limiting the calorie dense foods I consume, and limiting the amount of refined carbs I eat. And throw in limiting salt and NOT drinking my calories. I don't always succeed at this, and I have several pounds of fat on my body to prove it, but I try.
With that kind of a mindset, it's a bit disconcerting to switch gears and plan what to eat on a long hike or an overnight backpack trip.
All of a sudden, you're burning 1000 or 2000 calories per day by hiking (or more even) and you NEED to eat a lot of calories. In fact, it's dangerous not to. You're losing salt through your sweat. And you might even feel nauseated or not very hungry while you are exerting yourself. Digesting protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates isn't easy, so refined carbs and sugars are the way to go. And, for a backpack, whole foods like fruit can be heavy - not to mention perishable if it's a longer trip - so now you're really limited to the stuff that you normally try to avoid eating. In fact, suddenly drinking your calories sounds like a downright great idea!
I'm interested what others eat in such a situation.
My tactic generally involves stuffing myself with fat and protein in the evening so that I can have the entire night to digest it. If I am leaving from home in the morning and it's a long drive to the trail, then I have it in the morning. For a breakfast, I go for what I call a "cholesterol sandwich" - a toasted bagel with butter, with a fried egg and a melted slice of cheddar on each half of it. YUM. After a 2 hour drive to the town near the trailhead, I get a latte and a biscotti. Mmm... refined carbs.
On the trail for a day hike, I've always brought a peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch, an energy bar or two, a banana, dried mango, and homemade trail mix. My trail mix changes over time but right now it's just peanuts, raisins, and pepitas because those things are cheap. In the past I've included pecans (yum), almonds, cashews, pistachios, and coconut flakes too. The nuts I get are unsalted so I've taken to adding salt myself. It tends to get absorbed by the raisins, which tastes just fine. These foods are energy dense and nutritious, but hard to get down when I'm hiking up a steep hill. Bananas are more perishable than energy bars, but they go down a lot easier while hiking.
Drinking calories might be easier than eating them. Filling my water bottle with homemade lemonade isn't a bad idea, but you can't do that in the middle of a backpacking trip unless you carry along some lemons, and that isn't practical at all. It's making me start to understand the people who pour those little packets of powder I find so disgusting into their water bottles.
Many backpackers get pre-made dehydrated or freeze-dried meals that come in plastic bags. They bring water to a boil, pour it in the bag, let it steep for 10 minutes, mix, and eat. There is no way on earth I would ever pour boiling water into a plastic bag and then consume the contents, given what we know about plastic leaching chemicals that interfere with hormones (see the latest Mother Jones piece on this). And even pouring processed food made with god knows what into a metal container of boiling water and then eating it does not sound very good to me. If I had to go the pre-made food route, I'd try an organic brand called Mary Jane's Farm.
Using individual pouches of pre-made food also makes for an awful lot of plastic waste. It trips me up that people who love nature so much they want to hike and camp in it are also avid consumers of such wasteful products. As I try to look for alternatives, I understand the difficulty of avoiding all of the plastic bag waste... but I still don't like the waste.
For an upcoming backpack trip, I've dehydrated my own food for dinner. Here are the meals I've prepared:
- Pasta with tomato sauce. The pasta is pre-cooked and dehydrated. The sauce is dehydrated into "tomato sauce leather." I might add dehydrated kale and maybe carrots.
- Bulgur and chickpeas. The bulgur is cooked alone, mixed with cumin, salt, and lemon juice, and dehydrated. The chickpeas were cooked and dehydrated. I also dehydrated carrots, onions, and kale to add to the mix. And I added dehydrated parsley.
- Curry lentil soup. Not homemade. I bought the mix from the store.
Beyond that, I'll have to come up with other ideas. Probably rolled oats with dried fruit for breakfast. Hardboiled eggs for the first day or so perhaps. (If I feel like carrying them, I could bring raw eggs, unwashed and fresh from the chicken. They don't go bad outside of the fridge for a few weeks.) Maybe a hunk of hard cheese and chorizo from the farmer's market. And definitely my dried mango. Oh, and cookies. Chocolate chip cookies, already made and in the freezer, ready to go.
What do you guys do for hiking, camping, and backpacking? I look forward to hearing your ideas.