Whew, almost one full year since I last posted a blog update. I have my reasons and we’ll see how much I decide to keep this updated moving forward.
I spent this past weekend messing around and experimenting in order to refine my cooking process on overnight hikes. Specifically with the intention of finding out if cooking in a food thermos was worth the efficiency to weight ratio. At one pound for the 500ml Esbit food thermos I wanted to be sure.
I’ve been tossing around the idea of bringing a thermos to rehydrate my meals for some time. Currently I’ll put my dehydrated meals either in the wee plastic bowls that come with my cook set and then place them in a cozy to rest. Or I’ll cook directly in the pot over the flame.
Cooking in the pot over the flame results in the best texture/consistency … but it also results in the most cleanup in the form of cooked-on-mess. Also, now I have a dirty pot and if I want hot cleanup water I have to work through cleaning the pot before I boil fresh water or I have to bring a second pot.
The bowl and cozy method works too … but the bowl isn’t the best insulator and more than once I’ve spilled.
My first test was to see if the Esbit was any good at retaining its internal temperature over time out in cooler weather.
So I filled the room temperature food jug with boiling water, closed the lid and put it outside in the shade where the ambient temperature was 3°c.
I checked the water temp every hour for four hours. The Esbit performed beautifully with a water temperature of 135° after four hours outside.
After four hours in the shade in 3°c temps.
With the knowledge that the Esbit could retain temperatures like that my next step was to actually rehydrate a meal and see if it performed as well with consistency and edibility etc.
I decided to start with a Knorr Rice Sidekicks meal. I know I like them, they rehydrate relatively easily and are usually a staple meal on my trips.
First I weighed the contents of the package and split in half … I’ve learned I prefer to eat half a package at a time with some other food item as a meal.
I added boiled water to the unprimed, room temperature thermos. Put the lid on, gave it a shake and put it outside in -7°c and set the timer to 15 minutes.
I could not be more pleased with the results!
The food steamed up my lens when I got too close for a photo. There was very little water left. It was hot enough to nearly burn my tongue when I wasn’t smart and took a bite right away. The food was completely rehydrated, ready to eat.
I’m counting this as a solid win, well worth the weight, and will be adjusting my hiking dinner plans accordingly.
I foresee a bunch of uses for the food thermos on upcoming hikes.
I can put soup in it at breakfast time so I have hot soup for lunch without having to pull out the stove on the trail.
I can do the same at dinner time so I have soup for just before bed to get the internal furnace going.
I can add dried fruit and cold water before going to bed so that I have fruit salad for breakfast before my coffee water is even heated up.
Hunting … It’s my first year … and game bird season opened a week ago here in Alberta (in my WMUs that is). Beyond learning about things like WMUs (Wildlife Management Units) and haul road radio frequencies and bird identification and, and, and …
I’m also learning what to put in my pack.
Being that I’m only hunting (or, you know … not hunting because they are imaginary) birds I will venture off from the truck a few kilometres. I refuse to hike that far without a prepared pack. I make no apologies for being over-prepared.
I’m learning what to put in the pack specific to hunting … and seeing as how I’ve yet to actually shoot a bird … I’m sure this will change. But here’s a quick and dirty list so far.
This all fits in my 30L bag with plenty of room to spare for the imaginary grouse. I don’t know the weight off hand. It’s comfortable to carry.
On the September long weekend, 2016, My Slice of Paradise and I hiked the 19kms to the Wates-Gibson Hut for a three night stay. We have spent the last couple of summers adventuring in the backcountry so we’re pretty confident in knowing our limitations.
Accounting for a lighter pack with no tent and a full day of light, we knew we were more than capable of the hike.
A large male grizzly had been making himself known in the at the Astoria end of the trail all summer. Old Grumpy Pants, as he was known by the locals, was reportedly not giving up the trail to hikers. We didn’t see him but I’m sure I smelled him on the way out and we saw lots of scat.
From the trailhead to Astoria campground, at the 7km mark, the trail is in great shape. Literally akin to a superhighway in the hiking world – wide, fairly even and while there’s plenty of elevation difference in both directions … it’s nothing extreme.
Even with the recent and current rain (all summer) we made great time on this portion. It took us less than 2 hours to reach the campground for a pee break and a snack.
I’m not a huge fan of this campground. There’s an awkwardly steep access point and you’re not directly on the water, which is always my favourite place. However, I’ve never stayed here so that might not be a fair evaluation. There is a small stream not far away for drinking water and it made a great pit-stop in the rain.
Chrome Lake Trail
A few hundred meters down the trail, at the bridge, the trail leaves the well traveled Astoria Trail and branches off to the Chrome Lake trail.
The bridge is wide with rails, an easy river crossing. That’s about where our easy ended. Granted, we hiked after one of the rainiest summers on record, during yet another rainy week. But still, this is one of the gnarliest trails we’ve ever negotiated.
I think the worst part about trying to describe the trail is that there’s nothing on a map that’s going to really give you an idea of how hard it is. The elevation changes are nothing extraordinary, except the last bit to the hut. The last bit, when you’re exhausted … it’s mean.
When I came back out and was talking to a local, really experienced hiker, it was him that said,
“That’s just a really gnarly trail.”
I couldn’t have described it better myself.
A pair of gaiters were sacrificed on this hike from the low, wet bushes covering the trail and the muddy rocks. I have never been so happy with my stretchy rain pants, they saved me so much discomfort.
My guess is that about 9 of the next 12 kilometres were like the pic above. That’s the trail. It was exhausting.
It took us close to five hours to travel those 12 kilometres. There was little opportunity to lengthen your stride and chew up some distance. Almost every step had to be well negotiated, foot placement was crucial.
This was the first time I had a real fear of hurting myself on the trail and having to be rescued. And it wasn’t from anything I would have predicted. I would have thought that rock slides and cliffs etc would be the culprit.
My journal reads:
“My greatest fear was that I would slip and hurt myself out of sheer carelessness because of exhaustion.”
In this case, I was so worried about the wet rocks and the amount of roots and rock hopping we had to do. I could clearly see how a broken ankle could take a person out.
It was mentally exhausting to negotiate the trail. Technically it is pretty easy to follow, except for at one small boulder field. I had been watching my feet so long and intently that when I just happened to look up I realized the trail marker was a bit off from where I was naturally headed.
The closest we got to any wildlife was this moose print. We followed the mama and calf prints for quite a while before seeing them below in the swamp.
In 2016 I stayed in my first Alpine Club of Canada backcountry hut – The Wates-Gibson overlooking Outpost Lake.
I loved it.
My first, exhausted, entry in my journal after arriving at the hut is simply,
“This place is amazing.”
The Wates-Gibson Hut in the Tonquin Valley, Jasper National Park was a lot harder to get to than we anticipated, but once there … it was my perfect paradise. A well stocked cabin in the woods.
I will write about the hike to the hut in another post.
This post is purely to go over the amenities of the hut itself.
The hut is well maintained by the Alpine club of Canada. I have absolutely no complaints or negative feedback on my stay.
I was there for three nights over the September long weekend in 2016.
On our first night there were five others and almost a full house (22) for the other two nights.
I was nervous about my first hut stay, not knowing what would be expected of me, or what to expect of others.
The etiquette signage was much appreciated and gave everyone a baseline of what was reasonable to expect.
First, and most important of all … the bathrooms are literally thrones. They are compost toilets with barrels to be switched out as needed. With separate locking doors, hooks for lights and enough room to change if needed, the were simply the best backcountry facilities I’ve ever come across.
The cabin is well built with proper venting along the roofline.
The woodshed was well stocked. The wood was damp, but to be expected after a full summer of non-stop rain. The best strategy was to split plenty and have it stored inside while the fire was going. Axes and chopping blocks are provided, however, next time I might bring a sharpening stone and give the blades a once over as a pay-it-forward.
Always leave split wood and kindling for the next hiker.
This rule of backcountry is hard and fast. You never know what the circumstances are for the next hiker. Any time I leave a backcountry fire pit or wood stove, I always leave means to start a fire just in case.
Two large propane tanks for the lights and stoves inside the hut.
The Great Room
The weekend we were there was wet and chilly – not quite snow, but consistent drizzle and close to freezing. Understandably, the wood stove became the centre of attention. There are instructions for cleaning out the ash, an ash bucket with shovel and a barrel outside to dispose of the ash. Everything is thought of, it just relies on educated users to keep up maintenance.
The last to bed should stoke the fire, the first up should get it going again.
The main room is lined with padded benches and tables. There are plenty of chairs. I was never uncomfortable, even with a full house I was always able to stake my claim on a space for myself.
There are interesting old photos and snippets of history decorating the walls, be sure to take the time to read and sign the guest book.
On our first day, the other hikers took off fairly early for a day-hike adventure, leaving us three to ourselves. After a hard hike in we weren’t in a rush to go out in the rain again. Instead we gave the cabin a once-over with hot bleach water. We wiped down tables, counters and chairs. We swept the floors and did a quick tidy all around. I saw no evidence of rodents, which surprised me.
The drying rack above the stove was always in use. Everybody was self-aware enough to remove their items as they dried, making room for others.
I’ve spent the better part of of two years coming up with the perfect backcountry breakfast … I hate oatmeal … like, with a fiery burning passion. I’m pretty sure my Scottish grandmother considered disowning me over this.
I’ve watched with envy as fellow hikers have stumbled through their morning routine doing nothing more than boiling water, adding it to both coffee and a packet of oatmeal. And voila – breakfast.
No thinking, just caffeine and food. It was a dream.
I struggled because I find loading up on pasta makes be feel “boggy” on the trail. I tried a couple of potato based breakfasts, but was never quite satisfied with how they made me feel. I was not convinced they had the nutritional content I needed to get started on a big hiking day.
Last summer … I finally found a winner and the best part is, it’s gluten-free.
I hike with a food thermos for rehydrating my meals and I saw a post over on Backpacking Chef about rehydrating fruit in the thermos overnight, for breakfast. He placed cold water and dried fruit in his thermos before hanging his food bag. In the morning, open the thermos, pour the water into a cup and enjoy.
The fruit rehydrates really well overnight and is a nice, bright way to start the day.
This sounded promising. The idea of having a fresh fruit in the morning, with fruit juice to boot … I could get behind that.
But just fruit wouldn’t be enough. I needed to find something to go with it.
Unrelated to breakfast (I thought) I also learned that dehydrating hummus and then rehydrating on the trail was super easy and efficient. See process for dehydrating hummus below.
Tada! We had a winner.
The combination of fresh fruit in the morning with the protein of hummus on crackers or flat bread is a really satisfying mix. I can eat relatively quickly while drinking my coffee.
Or, go without coffee (gasp) and there’s no need to boil water at all.
Dehydrating hummus is easy peasy, with just a couple of changes to a traditional hummus recipe.
In a food processor I blend together chic peas, roasted garlic, lemon … and water. Leave out the olive oil. I have heard from others that they have dehydrated store-bought hummus and it’s been fine.
I make up a bigger batch, in this case I used two cans of chic peas which made three trays. I’m thinking about three to four portions per tray.
Into the dehydrator it goes. I put it on at 115° for 24 hours. That’s overkill, but I want it to be completely dry. It will be brittle and chunky.
I bust it into a powder in a Magic Bullet (a blender or food processor would work just fine).
On the trail I add oil and water, mush it together in the bag, cut off a corner and squeeze it onto a cracker.
Like so many people, I love coffee. I’m not a coffee snob by any stretch of the imagination … more of an equal opportunity coffee drinker.
It doesn’t really matter if it’s Folgers in the $35 drip maker before running out the door for work or a $5 latte from The Old Grind (a lovely independently owned coffee shop conveniently down the sidewalk from my office) … I love them all.
When I started preparing for backpacking adventures it was imperative that good coffee happen on the trail. I had no idea how, so I hit the Internet. My extraordinary Google Fu did not let me down.
First option I’m going to present, believe it or not, is Instant … no really, instant. I freaked out a bit too when it was first mentioned and I pretty much totally wrote it off.
But I came around when I found out my local grocery store carried something called Nescafé 3 in 1
It’s a wee packet (one serving) of instant coffee with sugar and creamer – just add water. This stuff gets great reviews everywhere you look, so I had to try it. It has jumped right near the top of my list of favourite options, second only to real coffee.
I have also read that a lot of people like the Starbucks® VIA
… I’m not a fan. Just a personal preference though, as so many others really enjoy them.
There are also a lot of option in the instant coffee department that I haven’t even tried. So take a look at your grocery store aisle and start testing at home to find the one that works for you.
When it comes to real coffee … I go all the way to a coffee press. When I first saw the GSI Outdoors Commuter Javapress I knew I wanted it. The smell of fresh brewed coffee on a crisp morning outdoors is pretty much my entire reason for living.
I now own three different GSI Java Presses … that’s how much I like them.
My first purchase was the smaller, personal Java Press, then I picked up a GSI Commuter Press as a Christmas gift and most recently purchased a 1L press, from Outdoor Outifitters in Hinton, for car camping trips and a good two full cups of coffee.
The smaller press has been my go-to for trail coffee for most of my trips, along with a small bottle of French Vanilla coffee flavouring.
However, after a much despised introduction to the Commuter Press that saw me fumbling with the plunger, spilling coffee out the sides and writing angry letters to the company etc … I’ve possibly pulled a 180 on my views on this device.
I’m not too proud to admit the problems I had with it were most likely user error. I successfully used the commuter mug on my last car camping trip and that was particularly handy because I had also splurged and purchased a GSI JavaMill. I’m guessing the first couple of times I tried, I wasn’t pressing directly down properly and messed with the plunger seal.
So, yes … I am now that person who goes out on a trail, grinds my coffee beans by hand and brews up a fresh cuppa joe … I am loving every minute of it.
The grinder is really a great little device. I’ve had no issues with it and the great thing about it is that a single fill is exactly the right amount of coffee for the commuter mug.
That’s one of the reasons I was recently so determined to make that thing work.
There are other options for trail coffee, that I don’t own, but are well reviewed by others, including the Jetboil Coffee Press accessory and even small percolating coffee pots for backpacking stoves.
All in all, with a little research and some trial and error, coffee lovers have a lot of options out on the trail, just remember to pack out all your garbage … that includes your used coffee grounds. They are an amazingly fragrant bear attractant. I use a Ziploc bag for all my grounds.