On my first major climb, I ate nothing but canned tuna paella and sardines. I never touched another can of tuna paella after that. Since then, I’ve made efforts to make a meal plan before a climb. It’s not always very good but at least I don’t have to eat out of a can in every meal.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been going nuts trying to finalize the meal plan for a multi-day climb. There were a lot of factors to consider: dietary restrictions, individual preferences, limited water sources, food spoilage, budget constraints, et al. After so many discussions on how long pre-cooked chicken lasts and what to feed people who don’t eat meat, we finally came up with something that resembles a workable menu.
I’m relatively new to mountaineering so creating a meal plan particularly for a group is something I’m still getting used to. It can be fussy and annoyingly taxing but it has also been a good learning experience for me. Here are a few lessons I managed to pick up so far:
1. Take note of food allergies, dietary restrictions and preferences of the team members. Discuss the menu during the pre-climb meeting and ask for suggestions on what meals to prepare.
2. It’s customary to include the guide and porter on your meal plan. Consider their preference as well or any religious dietary prohibitions they may have. Our guide in our upcoming climb is a Muslim so we have a separate menu for him whenever there’s pork in a meal. In such a case, make sure to cook their food in a separate pan as well. Don’t fry the danggit (dried fish) on the same pan you’ve just used for cooking the longganisa (native sausage), with leftover oil and pork bits still sticking to the bottom of the pan.
3. Prepare nutritious meals with a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. Make sure to include potassium and sodium in your diet to prevent muscle cramps. A good and convenient source of potassium and sodium is the salted-egg-with-tomatoes combo. It’s easy to prepare and doesn’t spoil right away.
4. Be aware of the availability of water sources when planning the menu. If the nearest water source is four hours away from the campsite, then you might want to prepare meals that don’t consume a lot of water. If you’re camped next to a flowing spring though, then go ahead and have a big pot of sinigang for dinner.
5. Consider the shelf life of your food particularly if your climb will last for three days or more. Canned goods and daing (dried fish) are obvious choices for food that won’t spoil but you can still make home-cooked style meals even on the campsite. Pre-cook meat before the climb and pack in clean, sealed containers or Ziploc bags to prolong its shelf life. Another common trick is to cook meat in vinegar (e.g. adobo) to make it last longer. Vegetables can also last for days although leafy veggies will usually start to wilt by the second or third day.
6. Assign cooking tasks to team members in advance. This is mainly to avoid what we call the siraan-ng-pagkakaibigan (end of friendship) scenario. When you’re on a strenuous multi-day hike and you’ve just had a long day of trekking, everyone would be tired and no one would want to do anything anymore. Having a designated person/s beforehand to prepare the meal would minimize the turuan (finger-pointing) and hintayan (waiting for others to do the job). And it’ll ensure you’d still get to eat.
7. Bring ready-to-eat food such as canned food, corned tuna, sausages, beef jerky, bread and crackers. There may be times when you won’t be able to cook anymore due to extreme exhaustion, horrible weather, delays in reaching the campsite or other emergencies. You should have readily available food to tide you over in such instances.
8. As much as possible, buy your food supplies in the town near or most accessible from the jump-off of your climb. It’ll help the local economy and you won’t be lugging around five kilograms of uncooked rice when you leave the house. Check first the opening and closing schedule of local stores, and make sure you have enough time on your itinerary to buy supplies. Markets and stores close early in small towns. In some rural areas, there are designated market days in which more stores are open and more products are available. You may have limited options on non-market days.
9. Try to adjust your menu depending on what’s locally available. Don’t go looking for Worcestershire sauce or broccoli if you’re on a small island in Romblon. When I was in Bukidnon, I had a hard time looking for patis (fish sauce). Apparently, patis is the local term for what I know as toyo (soy sauce) and fish sauce is not a very popular condiment there. I was stubborn though and scoured every single sari-sari store in the market until I found a pouch of patis, and I mean the fish sauce kind. I’ll make my life easier next time and settle for soy sauce.
10. Adjust your cooking fuel supply based on your menu. You’d need more for meals cooked from scratch such as tinola compared with just fried meatloaf. You’d also consume more fuel at higher altitude and in cold environments. Experience is the best gauge for how much you’d need to bring on a climb. When I went on a three-day trek in Mt. Malindang, two butane canisters were good for six meals for two people. On our Kanlaon climb which also lasted for three days, 10 cans were not enough for eight meals for 11 people. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out how this goes so any helpful advice would be most welcome.
How do you make your meal plan for a climb? What lessons and good practices do you think should mountaineers learn?