Tag Archives: backcountry gourmet

PCT Pitas

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Getting into the backcountry is a perfect way to experience nature, and there’s no reason not to eat delicious natural foods while you’re out there! Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides loves celebrating healthy eats while in the wilderness, and our Backcountry Gourmet is unbeatable. Check out our “Pacific Crest Trail Pita” recipe below, a meal that’s great for short and long backpacking trips alike.

 

 

Pacific Crest Trail Pita

Courtesy of: SYMG General Manager and Senior Guide Colby Brokvist
Recommendations: Any trip, especially longer backpacks

Gear Needs:

  • 2 Ziplocs (for re-hydrating the tabbouleh)
  • Serving bowls
  • Spoons

Ingredients:

  • Dehydrated Tabbouleh
  • Sliced packet olives
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Feta
  • Pita bread
  • Red grapes

Optional:

  • Dolmas
  • Canned/packet chicken or sardines – you can also pre-cook some chicken to bring!
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Lemon

Directions:

  1. In the morning before leaving (or the night before), double-bag the tabbouleh with a fair amount of water and place it at the top of your pack.
  2. When meal time rolls around, put out all ingredients allowing everyone to make their own Pita Pockets!

 

Why I do this

By SYMG Guide Scott Morris

Tomorrow I leave for the first Yosemite Grand Traverse of the season, which means my work started months ago. Before anything, there is the scouting. A love of over-preparation and diligence has me out in the mountains as soon as the passes start to shed snow in the spring. I’ve walked every step of this route a few times, but I haven’t been here since the end of last season. So I walk it again, noting the campsites that have faded away and new ones that have sprung from the granite. Even the seemingly fixed macro-features of the landscape have a different look about them after a full winter.

In particular, I was in the canyon of the upper Merced, about a mile upstream of Washburn Lake. I had heard from a fellow guide about a great camp spot, but I couldn’t find it.

There’s a lot of distinctive patches of trees, Wilson, I muttered under my breath, shuffling between marked-up USGS topos, hand-drawn maps, and the few pages of notes I had: scribbled catchphrases I had managed to pull out of a long conversation with a fast-talking General Manager who’s been guiding here since I was in primary school.

I found it just where they said it would be. The first thing I spotted was a small, workmanlike fire circle, which is the natural nexus of any campsite. Ducking my head, I swept aside the bough of a lodgepole and took a step forward. When I let it go it moved back into place, irrevocably blocking out the trail and the possibility of a larger outside world, enclosing the glade in a hamlet of quiet.

Advancing farther into the camp I stopped at the flat bench tops of granite, covered with a mattress of last season’s pine needles. I confirmed their suitability for tent spaces by laying down on each in turn.  A few log sections sat near the fire, as if crowding towards a now-absent warmth. Beyond the flats, the granite receded towards the east bank of the river, which collected in a large, slowly-oscillating pool beneath a tumbling cascade of snow runoff. Almost too perfect, I laughed as I bent down to closely to consider a small cluster of Penstemon, a delicate spring wildflower.

The quiet only lasted long enough for the songbirds to check me out. Seeing me to be just a stoic passerby, they resumed their calls from the swaying lodgepole tips, flitting between branches gracefully.

Above the tops of these somber giants stood the more-stoic alpine walls of the Merced Canyon. Important high-country: this was the location chosen for the March 2015 reintroduction of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. Due mostly to livestock-carried disease and unregulated hunting, by 1915 there were no sheep left in Yosemite. The first reintroduction attempt in 1986 suffered setbacks and by the late 1990s there were a mere 125 individuals, state-wide, left in the species. As Californians rallied around this wilderness icon this proved to be a nadir, as an aggressive recovery plan was implemented. After a hundred years Bighorn Sheep are back in Yosemite, and throughout the Sierra Nevada there are about 600 animals in this rebounding population. No sheep today, so I leave the hidden site, with excitement about sharing this special place with those who travel in the mountains with us.

That’s the joyful part. Wading into austere wilderness, exposing people to the power of this landscape, that’s why I do this.

Lunch is the Goal

by Scott Morris – SYMG Guide

Some hikers, climbers, and outdoors people think that the high point of the day is the summit of the mountain that they’re trying to get to. These people are categorically incorrect. The most important, most rewarding, and most treasured time of the day is lunch.

We’ve just reached the shoulder of the Cathedral Lakes Basin, and my stomach is rumbling. I imagine my four companions are also feeling the hunger set in, as we made short work of the three or so miles from Tuolumne Meadows to where we’re now standing. We’re just above 9,000 feet, but feel relatively acclimatized – we’ve been camping in the Meadows for the last two nights which themselves sit at about 8,000 feet. When we started out this morning, big, doughy clouds slid from west to east slowly clearing; a good sign for our midday foray above tree line. I close my eyes for the briefest moment to appreciate the wind moving through the Lodgepoles and the Steller’s Jay tweeting from somewhere in the branches.

Our destination is the Upper Cathedral Lake, which sits at about 9,600 feet. I tend to favor this lake over the Lower because most hikers choose the slightly closer lower lake. The Upper sits within a stone’s throw of the summit of Cathedral Peak, which silently rakes the sky with its pinnacle. It’s also in that sweet spot of altitude, flirting with treeline to such a degree that things are thin enough to offer clear sight lines. You can see the granite walls that surround the lake, while also finding the odd tree along the water for a bit of shade to snooze through the hottest hour of the day.

We reach the lake. Setting a meeting spot, we head out for 90 minutes to enjoy the bounty of delights here. The five of us split up, each to their own private corner of paradise. There are no other humans in sight.

I make my way to my normal spot. It’s a bar of granite that juts into the lake, forming a small peninsula with a stout Douglas fir near the base, throwing a ‘Scott-sized’ pool of shade. The shade sits in a small alcove, where two different arms of rock come together to form a reclining bench, covered with a thin mat of pine needles. It’s my spot.

I settle into the nook, comfortably tired in the thin air, relaxed in the knowledge that it’s lunch time and it’s all downhill from here. From my bag I pull all the supplies I’ll need for my recess: My long-awaited sandwich (sourdough, thick-cut ham, stone-ground spicy Dijon that I had to go to three different stores to find, alfalfa sprouts, Swiss cheese, romaine lettuce, all the good stuff), my notebook (crammed with bad drawings and worse poetry), and my book (in this setting, beneath the peak that he was the first to free climb in 1869, nothing but the prose of John Muir will do).

With a practiced efficiency I set about my tasks, working slowly and deliberately. A bite of ham, a swig of water, an attempt to capture the way the granite bends and reflects into the clear water. A few paragraphs of Muir, and then a few minutes just staring at the reflections of the thin clouds, and how a slight ripple can change their shape and design. Repeat. The time passes quickly, as it often does when we have little to concern us in what seems like a separate, detached world.

Sooner than I wish, our time is almost up. I told my clients when we were walking up that if they wanted to swim that they’d have to do so naked, on account of a rule meant to protect the health of these alpine lakes. As they each jump in the water from their private beachfronts, I can see they knew I was lying. I can’t be seen breaking my own rule though, so I strip down and dive into the cold, halcyon water.

It’s time to head back down, out of the clouds, to our campsite. The sun will soon be setting on another Sierra day, and another one will follow shortly after.

Salmon Pesto Pasta

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Backpacking Gourmet with SYMG: Guide’s Salmon Pesto Pasta with Toasted Pine Nuts.

Getting into the backcountry is an immersion into a world of escape. Escape from stress, escape from crowds and grid-locked commutes, and escape from tweets, pokes, vines, likes, and blogs (except for this one of course). But one thing you don’t need to escape from – nor do I ever want to – is great food! Backcountry cooking is not synonymous with dehydrated foods, nor is it limited to granola, jerky, and ramen noodles. At Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, we carefully plan our meals with fresh ingredients to include all the essential nutrients, earning the accolade “Backcountry Gourmet” by Sunset Magazine. Here is an example recipe from SYMG’s own Roddy McCalley:

Salmon Pesto Pasta with Toasted Pine Nuts (say that 3 times fast!)

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Gear Needs:

  • Large Pot
  • Pasta Claw/spatula/spoon
  • Stove
  • Cheese Grater (if using a block of parmesan)
  • Knife
  • Cutting board

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Fuseli Pasta (something that will hold sauce well)
  • 1 packet Simply Organic Sweet Basil Pesto or other pesto powder.
  • 6-8 oz smoked salmon (foil pouch)
  • 2-4 oz parmesan cheese
  • 2-4 oz pine nuts
  • A few leaves of fresh basil—wrap in a dry paper towel before packing in Ziploc to keep greens fresh.
  • 2 oz olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Optional:

  • Make your own pesto powder with various combinations of powdered garlic, onion, basil, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, and parmesan.
  • Better smoked salmon is in the refrigerator case at most stores–it will keep for a day or two, keep your bear cans out of the sun.
  • Garlic powder

DSC_3391Directions:

  1. Begin by toasting pine nuts in a dry pan with a sprinkle of garlic powder.
  2. Set pine nuts aside when lightly browned and boil water for pasta. Be sure to add salt for ‘al dente’ pasta—even at sea level this is important; even more so at elevation due to lower boiling temperature.
  3. Chop the fresh basil and set it aside. Cook the pasta and drain it–leaving a few tablespoons of water to reconstitute the pesto.
  4. Add pesto powder, olive oil and stir. Depending on presence of vegetarians and non-dairy eaters, stir in or keep separate the salmon and cheese.
  5. Add chopped fresh basil to individual servings as garnish, with salt & pepper to taste.

Tech Tips: Meal Planning

Fresh veggie wraps along the Yosemite Grand Traverse.

Fresh veggie wraps along the Yosemite Grand Traverse.

Just because you’re in the backcountry doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy great food. At SYMG, we pride ourselves on cooking amazing food in amazing places and our “Backcountry Gourmet” cuisine has even been acclaimed in Sunset Magazine. Here are a few tips from seasoned (ha ha) John Muir Trail Guide Alex Steiner on backcountry chef-ing.

Many of our guests are surprised when we serve the first backcountry meal and it isn’t mac-and-cheese or something dehydrated in a pouch. While dehydrated foods can occasionally be lighter (keep in mind that you’ll need to pack out all the trash they create), they definitely don’t make the trip any easier. Having nutritious, fresh food provides better nutritional value and arguably creates an all around more enjoyable experience. If you’ve been eating nothing but dehydrated pasta sauce for 4 days, you won’t have quite as much pep-in-your-step as if you’ve been eating sea bass tacos with fresh guacamole.

I’d like to share some tricks-of-the-trade of a creative backcountry pantry.

  • First and foremost, be accurate in portioning food. There are certain averages that can be worked with for all sorts of food, and obviously, a group of teenage athletes will probably eat more than my grandparents, so there is some room for flex. That being said, when in doubt, hedge on being a little lighter for a comfortable carry while beefing up more nutritious items such as quinioa.
  • Tied to the first point, have calorie-dense snacks or desserts available if people are still hungry after a meal. Things like candied walnuts or cookies go a long way towards filling people up, can be eaten without any preparation, and are great for morale.
  • Have at least one fresh food every day, regardless of trip length. This one tip makes every meal something to look forward to. On day 21 of our 23 day John Muir Trail, my co-leader Wilson and I pulled out some green onions, a package of chevre (goat cheese), and some prosciutto (fancy Italian ham) for pizzas – no one could believe that we still had some good, fresh food left in our packs and it brightens everyone’s mood to still see real food.
  • Having fresh food is not easy and it needs to be packaged properly to last.

    ◦      Know the shelf life of your food – i.e., kale will keep much longer than spinach, so eat the spinach first.

    ◦      Keep things that need to stay cold all together in one stuff sack or bear can. I pack all the cheeses and vegetables in a bear can and put the whole bear can in the refrigerator. Then, when I’m hiking, I put this bear can in the center of my backpack, and always out of the sun. Consider freezing some items as well.

    ◦      Package things like tomatoes and fragile fruit tightly, but not squished, in hard tupperware-like containers. If there is empty space, stuff it with paper towel.

    ◦      Certain types of produce such as leafy greens can turn bad fairly quickly without refrigeration. Besides bringing more stable substitutes, another is to wrap the produce in dry paper towel.

Going into the backcountry is an amazing experience, there’s no reason not to have equally amazing food. I’m looking forward to hiking with you all this coming season. Bon appetite!