Eat Your Way to the Top

To climb a high altitude peak requires a lot of cash (raised, saved or gifted), huge ambition (ego), years of training and mountain experience, a couple months away from normal work and family–and a lot of food. Every pair of climbers on your team will burn up a million calories.

In the cold thin air, under a huge workload, the average high altitude climber will consume 10,000 calories a day on any of the 8,000m mountains. Even then, many climbers will lose 15 or more pounds on a trip. Do you want to lose weight?–go to Mt Everest. We might think of launching a LiveOutThere Himalayan Fat Camp. I could use another visit myself.

Ten thousand calories a day. That’s about 46 cups of brown rice, 71 skinless chicken breasts, 13 pounds of steamed salmon, who knows how much granola, and tofu. It’s also 167 Fudgeos, 39 pieces of cheesecake or 60 Molson Canadians. But the beer would freeze, so it’s out of the question. Any booze carried on a mountain has to be high-test to save weight and freezing. Something smooth like a nalgene bottle filled with B&B or Sortilège Whiskey can make a stormy night comfy.

If the high peak is in Nepal or Tibet there is tsampa and dal bhat, veggie momos and Chang to be had. Every mountainous region has its own fare and I love to try it all. If it works for the locals it oughta’ work for the visitor. There are also the little treats I like to bring from home, like cans of smoked BC salmon and back bacon. Millionaire sardines make for a good snack in Base Camp. We keep our boil-in-the-bag military style MREs (meals ready to eat) for the middle mountain and all that generally nasty freeze-dried stuff is reserved for the high camps. I prefer homemade dehydrated food if prep-time and transport allow.

Among our teams, a favorite food regardless of altitude also comes in a bag: potato chips. Even when crushed after travel a bag of Old Dutch Ketchup chips goes down well. With their universal appeal and variety of flavours the expedition organizer can’t go wrong with even small supply of potato chips. But aside from crushability, there is another problem with the bagged variety. Packaged near sea level in Mississauga plant the air inside desperately seeks escape as higher elevations equate to lower atmospheric pressure. Like bags of peanuts on an airplane, the chip packages swell to alarming size. Somewhere just below 23,800 feet most chip bags fail and an explosion of saturated fat and deep fried starch will litter the climber’s backpack.

But there is a solution: Pringles! Packaged in their clever little cans, Pringles haven’t much to do with potatoes. But who cares? They’re delicious. The real beauty in a can of Pringles lies not in its considerable calories, but in its karmic value. Look into a normal bag of chips. There, at the top, proud and curvaceous are the whole chips awaiting consumption. Beneath them, deep in the distant corners, are the broken, shattered pieces of their former selves. Each now is sadly undippable. Compare this scene to that of a can of Pringles. Modern science ensures that though the chips have been in the can for years, nothing is lost in their fabricated taste and texture. And what have these chips been up to while they await their destiny? They’ve been spooning. Snuggling. Packed together all aligned and loving. How can you not feel good eating a can of Pringles?

Although they are a fine karmic snack, Pringles don’t provide healthy fuel for a climber. But hey! if it’s Everest, K2, Annapurna, or Mt. Yamnuska for that matter—you could die anyway. Eat what you want.