Friday, 16 September 2011

ALPINE SOLOING FOODS. (Feeding the monkey!)

Much is made of this subject in mountaineering circles, with huge emphasis placed on carbs, proteins, vitamins and mineral intake in perfect balance every mealtime. After reading enough of this stuff one can easily get quite paranoid into thinking that: either your arse is going to fall out, or you're going to drop stone dead from exhaustion if you miss so much as a single mouthful.
Now fair enough, if you're on expedition for a week or more in isolated mountain conditions in Outer Narnia or somewhere! But for a two-day climb in good summer alpine conditions with one or two overnight bivvies it's all a little bit "Bear Grylls overkill".

Ime getting a bit worried about ole Bear!?:-)

If you don't eat anything for two days on the hill you will certainly feel like crap, get really tired, make silly potentially dangerous mistakes, and not make your summits. But you will not die of starvation, scurvey, clap, scrofula, galloping anaemia, terminal constipation or any other of the horrors that nutrition fanatics try to scare you with.
Like many other aspects of mountaineering (extreme soloing aside), mealtimes have been hijacked by people who want to sell you stuff or show you just how bloody clever they are. And for people who are just starting out, or those trying to extend their enjoyment of bivvying in mountains this can be pretty worrying and confusing stuff.
Nutrition is indeed a complex subject that requires a sound knowledge of food, drink and body chemistry, and therre is nothing wrong with studying this subject and giving yourself a healthy balanced diet in readiness for the summer bergs. Nutritionally preparing the body, however,is done months before your trip in tandem with your alpine physical fitness programme.
Because once you are on the hill, all you will be doing is pumping fluids, carbs and proteins into your head to help maintain the energy levels you built up whilst in training.

Wonder who this guy is?:-)

Some "food for thought"!:
If ever your concerned about the weight of the food you are carrying.Its wise to remember that the human-body allways heats up and produces energy "from the inside"!!
It doesnt matter how good youre expensive new clothing is,its all for nothing if your internal energy reserves are dropping.If you have to sacrifice weight make sure it isnt from your rations or your liquid reserves.

The Golden Rule!: When in doupt,carry more food!

In alpine mountaineering your energy output will always exceed your energy input, no matter how fast and often you pump in the food and drink, so it's pretty much "all downhill" from the start.
The trick is to work out a "personal system" of cooking and feeding "specific to your needs" on the mountain, that is easy and, more importantly, enjoyable enough to maintain your "energy high" so you can enjoy your bivvies, acheive your summits, and get down in one piece.

I am a lazy guy, in fact, on a scale of one to ten I must rate a 9.5 on the "Idle Meter", so I like to keep things really simple.
All my hot drinks and foods are made on a Jet Boil Stove, with the simple caveat that no foods or beverages ever touch its insides. It is only for heating water or small "boil-in-the-bag" foods. That way, I never have to sod about cleaning it!
From long experience on army active-service and civvy expeditions I know that most dehydrated ration packs contain everything I need nutritionally for a week of mountain yomping.

Dry tucker.

So all I ever bother to do is choose the least spicy, oniony, or toxic-tasting that include loads of pasta or potato, also, the largest I can find.
The rationale for this is simple: "You can make a bland meal tasty, but you can't make over-flavoured rations blander". To give extra flavour to my food I take a tiny plastic container of curry powder, because I love the stuff on anything - what you take is up to you.
Beware of taking strong-tasting dehydrated ration packs: the powdered onion, garlic and heavy flavourings can be like "battery acid" in your mouth and stomach after a hard day, and will kill your appetite. I choose extra-large ration packs for the main evening meal because I can never finish them, the rationale being: that I can just seal the remaining contents up overnight and just add a little hot water at breakfast. This is the time when my appetite is lowest, I most need the energy but least feel like cooking, so I can usually shovel it down.
My favourite breakfast ration is Porridge Oats with Sultanas (breakfast of champions!) which is another of the dehydrated variety that you can eat at any time with very poor appetite.
I always take a few items of simple fresh foods that you can eat hot or cold, along with my ration packs. These rarely vary from a quarter-pond block of Emmentaler Cheese and two packs (x4) of Wiener-type Sausages in sealed plastic wrap. Again, you can eat these cold anytime, or tear off two at a time to heat in the Jet Boil in their wrap.

My hanging Jetboil setup.

 I really love my coffee, even if it's not the best thing to drink on mountains, so I always take some "instant" which I pre-mix with sugar in an old 35mm film canister, enough for one mug at breakfast. My all-time favourite and most useful alpine drink, however, is "Coop Ice Tea"(available all over Europe), lemon or peach flavour, in 80gram packets of granules, which makes a litre (or 1.5 litres if you stretch it). Again, you can have it hot or cold, just tip the granules in a mug or bottle of water to your taste. Two 80gr packets will last me 4 days or more at a stretch. If you don't like tea, just take powdered fruit juice with some extra sugar. If you stick to lemon or orange it's superb hot or cold.
All of the above are far more refreshing than coffee or strong tea, and you will be surprised at how quickly you adapt to juices over tannin or caffeine.
My other hot favourites for evenings in the bivvy are Ovaltine/Ovomaltine or Chocolate blocks. The block forms can also be chewed if you run out of gas for your stove.
Finally, take plenty of mixed munchies to chew on route. I use a mixture of dried sultanas and "Haribo" gelatine sweets, divided up in7 or 8 plastic coin-bags and spread around my pockets, ration-box, and pack-lid. In Switzerland you can get these Banking coin bags for nothing, and there's one Bank on every corner. Also, it's the only thing they give you for free!
A packet of dry biscuits, "Tuc" for example, makes a great bread-substitute to mop up your ration packs or eat with a fruit-jam (conserve), which is best bought in 4-inch "toothpaste-style" tubes, again available in Euro Coops.
So my typical 2-3 day Alpine Solo ration and utensil list looks something like this:

GEAR: (1) Jet Boil Stove plus x2 Propane 97gram canisters, including spare gas-lighter (never trust piezo-electric!).
          (2) Plastic Mug - half-pint with handle.
          (3) Plastic "Racing Spoon" (or half Spork) on a cord around neck.

          (1) Pasta/potato based dehydrated rations with meat x2 large or x3 medium.
          (2) Porridge/oatmeal and sultana dehydrated rations x3 medium.
          (3) Emmentaler cheese in sealed plastic wrap x2 8-ounce blocks.(Can substitute with Babybel waxed cheeses x6).
          (4) Wiener sausages in sealed plastic 2 packs of 4 sausages each.
          (5) Jam/conserve, 2 tubes of 4 oz each.
          (6) Dry biscuits, Tuc or similar.
          (7) Sweets/Candies, sultana-Haribo mix, 200 grams.
          (8) "Ice Tea" granules, 2 x 80gram packs.
          (9) Ovaltine/chocolate blocks x 4 = 4 cups.

WATER: 1-litre full bladder in Sack, plus full half-litre water bottle.
             (Can take extra gas canister to melt snow/ice for meals and top-ups of
              containers.Take a strong plastic shopping bag to collect snow in,and
                   top-up your water at every oportunity.)

One final thought!! Never take rations that you have not used before.Allways taste test a new variety of dehydrated rations,so you know you can stomach them before you use them for real!

Good Climbing,



  1. Hi Robert
    this is positively antediluvian, things have moved on since the 70's. Sorry to be blunt. I am now motivated to do a nutrition innovation blog.

  2. As i have said many times."This is my way of doing things".I dont expect to please everybody,but the basic science of this is up to date and sound,and i stand by my word.
    Best,Rob Thornton.

  3. Hi Rob, great blog, great tips! Could you please say a few words about the shelter that appears in the photo? Thanks a lot. All the best.

    1. Hi Carlos,the dude in the pic is Ueli Steck and the shelter is one of his superlight single-skin one man tents.I am sorry i dont know the name of it and chances are that its an old model as this pic is about two years old.If you go to his site (just google Ueli)i am sure that you will find it and allso his latest shelters.As for myself i now make up my own cheapo-shelters/tarps for solo trips rather than buying expensive kit.Why pay tons of money for something you only use one or two nights at a time? Thanks for reading the blog! Best,Rob :-)

  4. Where the hell do you find the old 35mm film cannisters? that aside, love love love this blog, very happy to stumble across it

    1. Youre right! They are very hard to come by now but its not a problem.Any good size pharmacy can either supply you with,or direct you too,online companies that make equivalent size dispensing containers for wet or dry medications.These are ideal to keep small quantities of spices,condiments,etc,and are less likely to pop open than film-containers.They are dead cheap and reusable too!Glad you like the blog. :-)Best to you,Rob


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