High altitude cooking basics on Denali, North America’s highest peak

Posted by in Ambassador, Deuter USA Blog Posts

Have you ever wondered how mountaineers feed themselves and stay hydrated at high-altitude on expeditions to places such as Denali in Alaska?

Jason and Kristin smiling, but getting hungry on Denali.

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).

Tents buried in snow around Denali on a sunny day.Cooking

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:

Denali Pizza

IngredientsA very hungry hiker excited about eating a Denali pizza.

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)

Shredded Mozzarella

Crushed Red Pepper (optional)

Directions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Your pizza is done! Top with crushed red pepper if desired and enjoy!One of the hikers excitedly serving a Denali Pizza.

About Kristin Arnold & Jason Denley

Kristin Arnold & Jason Denley

Kristin and Jason grew up in Colorado and Tennessee, respectively. Kristin spent the majority of her childhood in the outdoors backpacking and skiing in the Rocky Mountains. Jason developed a love for the mountains after yearly trips to Colorado to visit his grandfather. They met in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and the lure of the big mountains and vast wilderness brought them north to Alaska where they currently reside. They split their time between McCarthy, an end-of-the-road town, and the more "populated" ski town of Girdwood. Both work as guides for Mountain Trip leading tours up Denali in the Alaska Range, and for St. Elias Alpine Guides in the Wrangell-St. Elias mountains. Both are continuing their education to become fully certified AMGA guides. When not guiding they can be found taking every opportunity to explore the mountains and rivers of the Alaskan backcountry—skiing, mountaineering and packrafting. They also love getting to spend time rock climbing and road tripping around the lower 48 in their converted camper van.