Beyond Gorp

Poll a group of individuals who spend a significant portion of their lives in the backcountry—mountaineers, explorers, wildlife biologists, and the like—and ask them about their favorite trail foods. They’ll offer you recipes from simple (“Foil Stew”) to gourmet (“Trail Tiramisu”) to exotic (“Cooked Stinging Nettles”). As the editors of Beyond Gorp: Favorite Trail Foods From Outdoor Experts found, they’ll often share stories behind the recipes and their philosophy of wilderness dining, as well.


Patagonia, Inc. founder Yvon Chouinard’s recipe for the spice rub, “Chimi Churi”

Yvon Chouinard is the founder and owner of Patagonia Inc. Today he spends much of his time in the outdoors and serving on the boards of numerous environmental groups. He describes his job as that of the “outside” man, studying lifestyles around the world and coming up with ideas for new products, to assure that Patagonia stays relevant in a rapidly changing world.

Chouinard notes that his recipe for “Chimi Churi,” a spice rub, is especially recommended on adventures in Argentina and Patagonia. One use is with Lamb Carne Asada (barbecued lamb), prepared in this way:

  • Walk out of the mountain starving, to the nearest estancia (ranch). Make friends with the gauchos. Kill a lamb and leave skin on fence.
  • Make fire and let it burn down to coals. Spear the whole lamb above the coals, and turn as necessary.
  • Sprinkle with “Chimi Churi,” frequently.
  • Cut off pieces of lamb as they get done. Smother in “Chimi Churi,” and eat with loud laughter, using our knife only.

The foods champion ice climber Will Gadd dreams of when hungry in the mountains

An accomplished ice climber and paraglider, Will Gadd is an ESPN XGames and Ice World Cup winner. Gadd has written for Climbing magazine and Rock & Ice; he is also the author of an instruction guide, Ice and Mixed Climbing: Modern Technique.

“I was hungry. We set up Eduardo’s moth-eaten tent [in a remote ice climbing area in Chile] and he pulled out a package of dried bits. Soon the tent was filled with great-smelling steam. The only problem was the quantity of food producing the steam: perhaps a cup each of a tasty but rather thin mixture. I thought it was the first course. But Eduardo said that he usually makes one packet last two nights…I dreamed of pizza and fudge. With only a few crumbs left [in the food bag, approximately 72 hours later], I led as we skied and then walked out. All the while, visions of Chilean marmots, roasting on a stick, danced in my head. Although a few pounds lighter, I had enjoyed safely completing a new route. I promised Eduardo that when we climbed together in Canada, I was going to bring elk steak and lots of hot sauce, butter, and fudge. That our friendship grew at all, under such savage culinary conditions, says a lot about Eduardo’s good nature.”


Naturalist George Schaller on dining with the locals in remote corners of the globe

George B. Schaller is a naturalist with the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. He has spent most of his time in the wilds of Asia, Africa, and South America, and has studied species as diverse as the mountain gorilla, lion, jaguar, tiger, giant panda, and wild sheep and goats of the Himalaya. He has authored fifteen books, including The Last Panda.

“When on a project, I usually travel only with local people. They cook what they want, in the way they like, and I eat what they share with me; I don’t carry special Western foods or ingredients. In the mountains of Laos, for example, the Hmong walk through the forest and pick up leaves, roots, land crabs, frogs, and other edible items and place them in a small basket. When we camp, they dump the contents of the basket into a pot and boil it into a sort of stew. It is no doubt nutritious, but I would not necessarily designate it as a favorite of mine. I also join local hosts in their tent, yurt, or hut for semi-outdoor meals that have included such items as rotten yak liver and boiled horse penis…As a result, my meager cooking skills have degenerated even further but my stomach has become exceptionally tolerant.”


Mountain photographer Bradford Washburn on the power of good food at high elevation

Celebrated mountaineer, explorer, cartographer, and photographer Bradford Washburn performed pioneering research in aerial photography, wireless communications, cold-weather search and rescue procedures, and cold-weather survival techniques. He served as director of the Museum of Science in Boston for nearly forty years.

“Our expeditions did not use recipes. Cooking was a sort of chemical experiment. When Jim Gale and I were mapping McKinley…we used the same old oatmeal, beans, instant rice, stewed prunes, hash, chipped beef, and ham—in all sorts of combinations…On one expedition we had unusually good food and were impressed by how good we felt despite the extra weight. I’m convinced that at least half the lack of appetite at high altitude is not at all due to lack of oxygen. It’s because you’ve saved the lightest-weight, easiest-to-carry-and-prepare food to eat up there, and most of this stuff would make you gag if you cooked it beautifully in your own kitchen at sea level! Good food, well prepared, will do more to keep up expedition morale and power than all sorts of psychology and esoteric cuisine!”


REI founders Lloyd and Mary Anderson’s no-gear-needed approach to wilderness cooking

In 1938 Lloyd and Mary Anderson, along with twenty-three fellow Northwest climbers, founded Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI). The group structured REI as a consumer cooperative to purchase high-quality climbing equipment from Europe because such gear could not be purchased locally. Soon, other outdoors people joined the co-op…until REI, initially run out of the Lloyd’s home and later from a grocery coop near the Seattle waterfront, grew into the international corporation it is today.

The Andersons’ recipe for “Foil Stew” is noteworthy for the lack of gear needed to prepare the meal. If a campfire is allowed, vegetables, meat, and seasonings can all be placed in one square of foil that is folded up and placed directly over a bed of coals. (Alternately, you can cook this meal over a one-burner stove, by placing one foil packet at a time over low flame or inside a covered cooking pot). When the meal is ready, you have only to unfold the foil, which becomes a plate. This recipe not only testifies to the practical good sense of REI’s founders but also to their environmental ethic, still espoused by REI today. “Be sure to pack out the foil,” the Andersons remind us.


-- Adapted from Beyond Gorp: Favorite Foods From Outdoor Experts (The Mountaineers Books, $15.95 paperback).

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