Over the past year or so, I've become increasingly interested in mountaineering -- camping, backpacking, snowshoeing, climbing, etc. I was tired of searching desperately and in vain for culture and entertainment in our fair city. Besides, I wanted to be more like those mountain people you see all over Colorado, refugees from CC and CU Boulder; thin and sinewy, hair tousled and noses sunburt, feet shod in Tevas and backs laden with Osprey packs. Their teeth are white and their calves well-muscled. They chat knowledgeably at Mountain Chalet; they sit confidently in the sun outside Poor Richard's restaurant. You see them headed for the hills early Saturday morning with their thousand-dollar mountain bikes strapped to their rusted '81 Volvos full of other happy, left-leaning, earth-toned Leave-No-Tracers.
So I bought the gear, learned the lingo, hiked the trails and even went so far as to date a CU student and watershed patrolman who ate wild mushrooms -- he was pretty sure they were the right ones -- roasted in a pile of pine needles. I once saw him catch a small brook trout, pop its head off, strip it of skin, and eat it raw. "Mmm, sushi," he said, as blood stained his murderous fingers.
That's the thing with these mountain folk. They'll eat anything. They've honed their survival instinct to such a fine point that on a four-day trek, they find lichen appealing. This, I am not up for. I can sleep on the ground, go without bathing for days, and I even like campfire ash in my food, as long as it's good food. But how to eat well when you have to carry everything you need on your back?
The answers can be found in a wonderful cookbook, Gorp, Glop and Glue Stew: Favorite Foods from 165 Outdoor Experts, collected by Yvonne Prater and Ruth Dyar Mendenhall. The recipes include short bios of each contributor, most of whom have climbed at least one peak over 19,000 feet without getting winded. The book focuses on creating the most flavorful meals in the most efficient, lightweight and environmentally-conscious way possible.
The recipe for wild herb tea is not only elegant, but sounds delicious. Canadian National Park Service warden and mountain rescuer Hans Fuhrer makes it by steeping a mixture of dried wild rose hips, juniper berries, yarrow, wild bergamot (also called horsemint or beebalm) and pineapple weed, all which can be found in the summertime Rockies. For a nutritious supper try Leigh Ortenburger's Mountain Hoosh. "Hoosh" was the word used by Capt. Robert Scott on his 1911-1912 South Pole Expedition when he had to eat pony meat due to lack of other food. Squeamish? Try it out. Melt some butter in a pan, and add six to eight ounces of fresh, canned or freeze-dried meat. Add 2-3 cups water and boil. Add vegetables, fresh or dehydrated, and any kind of powdered soup mix, if you like. Lots of pepper, two boullion cubes and whatever other herbs and spices you desire should be added now. Stir in either instant rice or potatoes. Add cheese last to keep it from scorching. Yummy, and it all weighs about a pound or two and takes up very little room in your pack.
The cookbook also includes sections on one-burner baking, high-energy foods, outwitting bears, packable pre-made food, simple survival foods and techniques, beverages and cookies, and cakes and breads -- including the original Logan Bread. So hard you have to divy it up with an ice pick and soak it in soup or hot water to eat, the simple bread is tasty, packed with carbohydrates and won't disintegrate in your pack.
Almost as fun as eating the food on the trail is reading the stories from the outdoor culinary contributors who created or perfected the concoctions. Each author is an experienced outdoorsman, and their recipes have been tested not just in cozy cabin kitchens but in places like the ice fields of Everest, below the earth in South Dakota's Jewel Cave National Monument or 24,900-foot Mt. Gongga in south-central China. Explanations of recipe names like Multitude-of-Sins-Sauce and Unmentionable Brew are often hilarious, some harrowing. And if you still want to live like a true mountain man, there are instructions for cooking mice, recipes for wild fish and game like Squirrel Fricasee and Juneau Icefield Go-Atter (woodrat) Stew, and brief descriptions of edible plants. No lichen, though.