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Tips From a Guide: Big Wall Food

Picture this: you’re 1,000 feet up El Cap, watching the setting sun with your back to the wall and feet dangling over the edge of your portaledge. In one hand you have a spoon and in the other, a fresh, bruise-free avocado sprinkled with hot sauce.

I look forward to these moments – opportunities to indulge in simple culinary delights thousands of feet off the deck overlooking my favorite place on earth.

It didn’t start this way. Packing and carrying wall food used to be a heavy, clunky proposition. Back in the ‘90s, when I first started doing walls, all the food we carried was canned. After a day of jamming cracks and hauling gear, the last thing I wanted to do was manipulate a chintzy P-3 can opener to crack open a dense can Chef Boyardee Beefaroni or peaches in syrup.

Because we used to bring cans, this meant that twice a day, breakfast and dinner, we’d go through the ritual of smashing them flat with either wall hammers or rocks before stuffing them in a trash bag and burying them in the bottom of the haulbag. By wall’s end, the bag smelled like raunchy tuna and tomato sauce and everything was stuck together with fruit syrup.

Not today. With the advent of vacuum sealing, tuna and salmon are now available in space-age pouches. That, and the Jetboil Hanging Kit, changed everything.

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Today I don’t bring a single can up a wall unless it’s a summit victory beer. Tasty Bites and pre-cooked rice are found in most grocery stores and cook in less than 10 minutes. This on-the-go-food movement means your big wall food weighs a fraction of what it did years ago. And it’s cleaner to transport.

Fresh fruits and veggies go great on walls, and I’ve devised a way to bring them into the vertical world without crushing them. I cut the tops off of empty Gatorade bottles and stuff them with anything prone to bruising, then tape the tops back on using climbing tape or duct tape.

Following is a sampling of what I bring for an overnight outing for two days or more. As you develop your own list, plan on a minimum of 2,000 calories per day per person. I consider a day of wall climbing as being active for 11 hours per day. Hauling and free climbing (or shaking in your aiders) burns a ton of calories.

Bananas, apples, oranges, garlic, onions, avocados, calorie-dense summer sausage or jerky, nuts, ramen, mac ‘n’ cheese, coffee, cocoa, pre-cooked rice, Tasty Bites, cheese, vacuum-sealed tuna, and a mess of sauce packets from Degnan’s Deli in Yosemite (two to three packets per person per meal) usually make it onto the list. I don’t pack energy bars.

For day one on the wall I throw in items for immediate eating like Odwallas and Deli sandwiches.

Supplement-wise, I add Nuun, Hammer Gel Revorite, assorted gels and Clif Blocks to the mix.

In addition to food, don’t forget the fluids; three liters per person per day is recommended for an average day of climbing. I bring less for winter ascents and bring up to one gallon per person per day for hot walls.  Consuming any kind of fluid (like coffee) is considered part of the daily fluid intake.

This is divided into stuff sacks for each given day, so if I’m doing a five-day wall with a team of three, we bring five food bags. To fill out the kitchen we bring a Leatherman tool, JetBoil, hanging kit and espresso plunger attachment, plastic bowls, sporks, Wet Ones (for cleaning), plastic mugs and a compact cutting board. To run the stove I’ll bring one large fuel canister, which is enough for three days, along with a small one as a backup.

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Back to the sunset portaledge dining scene. Avos, summer sausage, and cheese were just the hors d’oeuvres. After this pre-dinner snack, one member of the team smashes garlic open with a fist-sized rock over the cutting board. This is followed by prepping the onions and other ingredients before passing everything to the person tending the stove, who mixes it all together.

After dinner, leftover provisions are rolled into the next day’s rations bag. Mixing recovery drinks follows this. Finally, everything to eat and drink is transferred into a 25-liter pack that remains on the top of the haulbag for easy access.

Since the food bag is organized and accessible, sometimes I’ll cook up a quick meal in the middle of the day. Or bust out a strong coffee at noon.

In the end, I look forward to big walls for the incredible climbing and fine vertical dining followed by the peaceful bivies under gleaming stars.

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