One of our biggest decisions to make was what to eat and how to cook it. Since we were flying we knew that we could not pack fuel and that even empty used fuel canisters are discouraged on airplanes due to fuel residue. We decided that we didn’t want to pay a taxi to drive us all over Fairbanks, so we checked the park and learned that we could purchase white gas in The Merc at Riley Creek Campground, but they would not have fuel canisters.
So, as soon as we learned this, which was almost a month before departure, we opened up our fuel canisters and let them air and evaporate any remaining fuel possible. First on our back porch and then in the garage. When we packed, we packed the canisters open with the lids removed and placed them in the bear can in my carry on pack. This enabled us to ditch the cans if any issues arose, and we had the flight to work on a new fuel plan. For our return trip, we poured remaining fuel back into the original container we had left in our locker and left the fuel for other backpackers. The end of our trip included a few days in a motel in Anchorage, so we again had no issues with our flight. It worked, this time. We still own the fuel canisters.
We did have one hiccup in our fuel plan. When we arrived at The Merc we learned that they were out of fuel! We walked into the shopping and motel hub outside of the park and checked a couple of stores before finding fuel at Denali Mountain Works.
Note: When calculating fuel, calculate for time cooking and for time preparing all drinking water. A good place to learn to calculate your fuel needs is with your stoves company or talk to a sales representative and friends who may have used the same type of stove.
There are several benefits to preparing your own food.
- Avoid known allergens and discomfort foods.
- Plan adjustments for future trips to favorite meals.
- Less bulk! I used a vacuum sealer for all our food.
- Being creative is half the fun.
- Cost of food is low, leaving more funds available to experience local cuisine in the front country.
Below are a couple of recipes we used on our Denali trip. We also packed with us a medium size bottle of hot sauce, packed in a zip lock bag in the bear can that was in our checked bag, and a block of hard cheese. Our trip was warmer then we had anticipated so the cheese only lasted through the first week. It is totally acceptable to pack a couple of ridiculous items. The only exception would be if plan to summit an intense mountain and can not leave anything at a base camp. Just watch your ridiculous items, pack them out, and don’t take too many. Be selective.
Drinking and cooking water needs to be potable. To make potable water either boil it fully for a full minute or purify through some other method. Iodine is not tasty in your cooking water. We tend to filter our drinking water, but boil our cooking water. The thing about cooking on backpacking stoves is that stoves tend to have two temperatures, high and off. To assure delicious meals, have potable water on hand to add as your cooking water evaporates. This is why I do not give hard measurements for water in the below recipes. To be prepared, we always filled our drinking water first before we started cooking, and then again when we were finished cooking.
The following recipes serve two middle aged adults, which is probably enough for one teenager/young adult. The bullion I used on this trip was too salty. Good food starts with your shopping choices. You can purchase freeze dried food online, like at Just Tomatoes, etc. Look for variety packs.
Bloody Mary Rice (No photo): This recipe was inspired while I was digging through my spices looking for something I needed while making the Red Beans and Couscous above. I was trying to come up with something to put my freeze dried green beans into when I saw the package of Bloody Mary Mix I had purchased at Market Spice at Pike Place Market a few months earlier. This ended up being one of our favorites.
- 1 cup of five minute rice
- 1 Tablespoon of Bloody Mary Mix spice mix
- 2 teaspoons to 1 Tablespoon freeze dried carrot
- 1 Tablespoon freeze dried celery
- 1 Tablespoon freeze dried bell pepper
- 1 Tablespoon freeze dried onion
- a bit of ground garlic
- 1 Tablespoon freeze dried green beans, or more
- 2 Tablespoons freeze dried tomato
- A small amount of freeze dried shrimp (I found shrimp in the American Southwest/Mexican section of my grocery store.) It is better to under calculate shrimp quantity desired and I recommend packing separately and adding toward the end of cooking.
- Cook according to rice box directions (probably simmer for five minutes).
Notice in the photo above that there are tortillas in one of our bear cans. We often purchase a packet or two of salmon and or tuna and eat them on tortillas for an excellent lunch. Tortillas are considered heavy for a back pack adventure, so keep this in mind when planning. We had an unexpected problem on our trip. Because we usually stored our bear cans in the sun, the water in the tortillas condensed and sealed our bear can. We also had to drain the water from the bear can to protect other items and reduce the weight. When we figured out this challenge, we just responded by being more aggressive about eating tortilla meals first.
So, you ask, why did it take so long to figure out that the tortillas were sweating in the sun absorbing bear can? Well, because my first assumption was that liquid would be coming from liquid . . . like maybe, say, whisky. But the disappearance of whisky was not due to leaking.
For a successful venture out into the backcountry, it is important to cover all your bases in your preparations. Do some research about the terrain you will be exploring, make sure you have your ten essentials, get an idea of where town is and what you can purchase in town. Also, check the weather as it is nice to know if a big storm just went through or is approaching. Take some classes from people who have been out in the wilderness. Talk to several people and read up, never getting all your knowledge from a single person or blog post. Learn from those who are harder core than you. People who are less hard core know where to go for fun backup options. Have an emergency plan that includes how you will call for help. Set your goals and acknowledge what your backup options are. Tell your parents, your kids, and your best friends where you are going, no matter how old you are. A successful trip is one where you have fun and you come out alive, preferably without calling for assistance.
The best place to get started to plan your Denali backcountry trip is here on the National Park Service, Denali, Backcountry information page. Or just book the flights as my awesome husband did to celebrate our 20th anniversary, then start planning.