High altitude cooking basics on Denali, North America’s highest peak
Have you ever wondered how mountaineers feed themselves and stay hydrated at high-altitude on expeditions to places such as Denali in Alaska?
Climbing Denali – all 20,310ft of it – requires a serious energy output. Clients and guides spend up to 21 days carrying anywhere from 90-120 pounds apiece for 13,000 vertical feet of ascent. Climbers easily burn up to 5,000 calories and drink 4-6 liters of water per day. Here are the basics:
Kitchen set-up and equipment
On Denali we dedicate a kitchen mid-tent for cooking, eating and enjoying hot drinks. Complete with snow benches, counter space and a beautiful view, it provides shelter and a more comfortable place to whip up some Denali classics. Essential kitchen items are a couple MSR stoves, white gas, a big pot, a skillet, kitchen utensils and a spice kit.
Melting snow for water
Once a kitchen is set-up the process of melting water for an average of nine people begins. Clean snow is typically collected in a trash compactor bag and brought into the kitchen tent for melting. A large pot is filled with about half an inch of water. If snow is placed directly in the pot it can “burn” and create off flavors in the the water. Snow is added continually to the water in order for it to melt. We spend a few hours every day just melting water, and each climber will drink several hot drinks a night in order to help with hydration (hot cocoa, hot cider, and flavored decaffeinated teas).
Although Denali is a remote and sizable mountain, gourmet meals are still served most nights. With the exception of meals prior to summit day, we very rarely serve Mountain House meals. A typical menu for a day might include a bagel with bacon and cream cheese for breakfast, trail snacks for lunch, pizza for dinner (a Denali staple) and an Oreo No-Bake cheesecake for dessert.
Almost any meal cooked at home can be served on Denali. As guides we feel it is important for clients to enjoy what they are eating.
Plenty of oil or butter are necessary for the cooking, and most of the meals are planned to be cooked in one pot. During our food pack prior to the trip, all packaging is discarded and food is repackaged to reduce trash and save weight on the mountain.
Here is one of our favorite recipes that can be used and cooked on any backpacking trip or outdoor adventure:
Boboli 8″ Pizza Crusts (1-2 per person)
Boboli Pizza Sauce (1 package works for two pizzas)
Toppings (any combination you like—pepperoni and black olive or Canadian bacon and pineapple)
Crushed Red Pepper (optional)
- Heat a little oil in a skillet on medium heat and place a crust in the skillet to warm it and flip after about a minute.
- Build your pizza while it is in the skillet warming. Spread sauce on the crust and place toppings directly on the sauce and cover with cheese. Allow the pizza to warm this way for a minute or two being careful not to let the bottom of the crust burn.
- Flip the pizza upside down in the skillet using a spatula being careful to keep the toppings intact. Allow the cheese on the pizza to melt and brown by spinning it in a circular motion.
- Your pizza is done! Top with crushed red pepper if desired and enjoy!