Sunday, September 16, 2012

Outdoor Culinary | When cooking meets mountaineering

Happy 12 years Baktas MSU Mindanao State University Mountaineering Society, Inc. This first-ever organized mountaineering student organization in MSU General Santos City is celebrating its 12 strong years of climbing and brotherhood this month of September. I browsed through my photo archive and see if I can gather pictures of myself cooking while in the outdoors for this post about outdoor cooking, unfortunately I went the other way around: I traveled down the memory lane. Looking at the pictures, I couldn’t help myself but be emotional. My climbing days were full of struggles but were one of my best days, colorful and very meaningful.

My first love is mountaineering. I have taken my very first basic mountaineering course 15 years ago and since then no one can stop me from climbing and exploring and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation hundreds and thousands of meter above sea level. And this passion has led me to conceive and founded a mountaineering organization that is celebrating 12 years of existence this month.

The saddest part is, I went on climbing hiatus for more than 2 years already (hiatus is much  serious word, or shall I say I've taken a long break from climbing), and I’m not blaming my being a corporate slave, it is just it's difficult to have your vacation leaves easily approved, especially if it is for a longer period of time. 

Among the peaks I climbed, one of the most memorable was in 2010 where I climbed Luzon’s highest (Mt. Pulag), and Visayas’ highest peak (Mt. Talinis) in just a month’s time. Well, we were celebrating 10 peaks that time and we need to climb 10 known peaks in the country. I managed to climb 3 peaks that year.
While browsing the photos, I noticed one consistent thing in my climbs: I was in charge of the camp kitchen, preparing the meal for the climb.  Well, this is the role I love most when climbing. I prepare the meal plan and budget, and do the buying, and ultimately during the climb, do the cooking.

This is why I decided to create a post about outdoor cooking, as my way of celebrating my organization's big day and me as a mountaineer. I don’t follow any rules in preparing a meal for the climb, just a simple common sense, knowledge about your body’s energy needs and an extra creativity that pleases our hungry tummy. After all, having a good meal during climb adds up in having a good climbing experience. In climbing, we are consuming all our energy and what a better way to rev up is to have a great tasting meal after a hard day’s climb.

Who says we cannot eat home cooked meals or restaurant faves at the mountain peak? I don't know if this applies to most mountaineers but in Baktas MSU, we always strive to have a party-like meals during climb. I listed here few pointers I learned through the years of climbing and cooking.

1. Limit the use of processed food. Avoid canned goods if necessary. We cannot totally avoid canned goods as this is the only sure thing in the wild that will not spoil, is handy and needs no or little preparation. As a rule, I always have a supply of one to at most 2 canned goods at my pack, but that is only for emergency use (if ever you will be lost and extends the number of days as planned, or if ever the food you prepared gets spoiled along the trail). Reward yourself with a best meal, and not the one you usually have in your pantries and reach for it anytime you feel like eating.

2. Pack a Protein. When you climb, it is your muscles that are doing the hard labor, and the best way to feed your muscles is through eating ample amount of protein. I am referring to meats here (for Vegans, they know where to get their proteins!) and that is one staple food during my climbs. You can either have a beef, a pork, chicken or a combination of the three, and you can have it stewed, braised, or have them in soups.

Prepare meats ahead of time, a night before the climb. And one of the basic rule of the thumb is to prepare it clean, from the knife you are using to chopping boards and to your hands.

Through experience, I learned the basics of food preservation through the use of these basic cooking ingredients: vinegar, salt and spices. These three have anti microbial properties that can preserve the food for at least a number of days. A night before the climb, boil the meats with these basic ingredients until tender, drain and let it cool completely before packing in their individual ziplock bags. Once in ziplock bags, put it in the freezer to prevent growth of microorganisms and further delay the spoilage. An hour before you depart, wrapped the frozen meats (in airtight ziplock bags) in newspapers to control the temperature and put it in airtight containers. Don't worry your pre-cooked meat will last until you get to the peak where temperature is low just like your freezer at home.

Zip lock bags are an excellent food containers, make sure to always have them handy. remove sharp bones from meats that might tear your ziplock bags.

3. Carb-loaded Meals. Carbohydrates is your body's fuel, that is why it is advisable to do carbo-loading prior to climbs just what runners are doing a night before the marathon. Rice, bread and starchy foods like bananas, corn and sweet potatoes are excellent source of carbs. Pasta is also an excellent source of carbs, that is why I love to cook pasta on camps.

4. Who says you cant bring fish? Just like meat, fish is a good source of protein, and can be prepared just like meat. I usually make paksiw (stewed fish in garlic and vinegar) out of it,  take note it uses the same vinegar, salt and spices to prolong its shelf life. And just like our favorite adobo, it tastes even better as it is aged for days. Also, you can fry it and can then be added to your vegetables or soups.

5. Vegetables. Yes, you can bring vegetables too when climbing. Make sure you carefully plan for a vegetable menu such that you only bring what is needed (an extra gram of weight is always a burden to carry). We need to be extra patient on this as vegetables tend be heavier than the rest of your equipment you bring. It is advisable to buy it in palengke's (community wet markets) where you can have it by piece. If the menu needs only one clove of garlic, just bring one clove of garlic. For spices there are already premixes so you can save time in preparing, as well as saves on your fuel. For tender vegetables like tomatoes, you can wrap it with soft styros or newspaper, then put it in a plastic egg containers. Always bring the smallest piece of vegetable because you don't need a lot of that.

6. Always go by your meal plan. Meal plan dictates how much fuel you need to bring, what type of menu you will cook in a given day, what ingredients you will buy, and of course we need it as a guide to work within a certain budget. We need meal plan because we dont want to bring unnecessary weight. If the menu says you will need only a tablespoon of sugar, we will just bring that amount, no more no less. Know also the trail so you can maximize what type of food you can cook. If the campsite has an ample supply of water, you can have soup, or boil a pasta. Always remember, if you have a meal plan, follow it strictly. Another tip: in your meal plan, breakfast meals should be prepared in a shortest time possible as this might delay the succeeding activity, lunch are usually prepared during breakfast and eaten along the trail. Leave those menu's for dinner that takes time to cook, as we have the liberty of time to cook it.

7. Use lightweight cookset, the one that conducts heat easily, can be cleaned easily with just a tissue paper and alcohol, as well as it doubles as your eating utensil. There are a lot of camping cook sets available in any outdoor shops. And of course, partnered with ultra lightweight butane-fuelled stove.

8. Do not cook inside your tent. It is not advisable to cook inside your tent as the risk is high (do not invite danger!), that is why we always bring an extra tarp that doubles as a vestibule that covers the tent, and as an extra storage area of your bags, a meeting area when you gather around during socialization.

9. Do not limit yourself. Camping is just an extension of your home in a much creative way. You can even prepare a dessert to cap off your meal! We need sweets too to fuel our body, just like the carbs. For breakfast, you can add a brandy or rhum to your favorite coffee to give that extra kick and zing! Alcohol when taken in moderation during climb is advisable as it warms our body.

I always believe that rewarding yourself after a hard day’s climb makes it the most memorable climb. Why settle for canned goods that pack an extra weight and turns to trash that you need to bring down the peak? Climbing is always a gustatory experience, as it is a time to celebrate friendship and brotherhood over good food and drinks. That is why, prepare and plan ahead of time.
Happy birthday my beloved Baktas MSU Mountaineers. Glad that I dug up to these old videos I made during the ten peaks climb. My messages to you guys are in these videos….

My Mount Pulag Climb last May 10, 2010 together with Yapak Itim and a friend Ever Simonsson who hosted us in Baguio City:
My Mt. Kanlaon Climb last May 28, 2012 together with Alon and Tau Bong Tugas and a group from Manila headed by Deng Apuntar with Jo Steven, the iron lady:


  1. <3 i hope i have your skills kuya andoy. happy anniv :)

  2. still waiting for updates from you, sir. pareha mo sa akong uyab, pirmi in charge sa camp kitchen if naay climbs. :)


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