TAC 28: Aug-Sep96

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The Food on the Hill

Pete Stanton

It's always said to be important to take something to eat when hillwalking, but some people can go a bit too far. Among the group I walk/climb/cave/cycle/canoe/camp/get riotously drunk with, there is one of us, David, who is a research physicist when not doing anything else. Over the years, he has acquired a reputation for carrying enough food to feed the five thousand. This all started around the time a few years ago when the newspapers were full of a group of walkers on Mount Elbrus who spent three days getting down the hill with three Mars Bars between the four of them. The weekend before, David had been on a day hike in the barely charted wastelands of Snowdonia carrying around a dozen Mars Bars, plus assorted other biscuits, sandwiches and fruit, in enough quantity to keep him going for a week. All without ever being more than about four miles from habitation. We don't mind: if we've forgotten to bring anything, we can always borrow some (although I don't think he'd want it back after we'd eaten it), and it's not as if carrying it all even slows him down to the pace of the rest of us.

Had David been on Elbrus that time, the conversation would have gone roughly:

- Right, we're lost and won't reach civilisation for three days. What have we got to eat?
- I've got a Mars Bar.
- I've got two.
- I've got nothing.
- I've got half of Marks & Spencer's Food Hall. What would you like?

His slightly whimsical turn of mind, combined with the ribbing he would get from the rest of us about it, did mean that sometimes he brought something just to see the look on our faces. The whole eight-inch Dundee cake was an early success; it was justified on the grounds that he hadn't had time on the Friday to cut it up properly, and anyway it was trivial to bring the whole cake and a nice big knife in his rucksack.

From then on, it became a game - what would it be this week? Just taking lots of something, or even lots of everything, became too obvious. It had to be some food that it would clearly be impossible for him to have with him. So that meant either something hot or something cold. He could cheat with hot food by just taking his camping stove and heating it up when we stopped for lunch. So it had to be something cold, preferably in the middle of summer.

And what better to eat at a lunchtime stop on a hot summer's day than a Viennetta? Needless to say, he also remembered to bring bowls and spoons, although points were lost for forgetting to pack any napkins.

It's actually very easy to get a Viennetta up a hill without it melting. All you have to do is make a "cool box" out of three plastic boxes with cut-up pieces of Karrimat for added insulation. Ordinary ice packs, as available in the shops, are not really suitable as they melt around 0C, so the Viennetta will be melting as well. What is needed is something that melts at well below 0C, so that the food will stay solid longer due to the latent heat of melting. Easy. Just make up your own ice packs from a saturated salt solution, which melts at about -15C, and pour it into 250ml plastic lemonade bottles.

The only problem with this is that your average freezer, especially if it's one of those little ones that's just a freezer compartment in a fridge, can't get cold enough to freeze the packs. That's where the fact that David works in a research lab comes in handy. Dipping the packs in liquid nitorgen (at about -196C) soon has them solid. However, it will do the same to your fingers given half a chance. In fact most organic material turns brittle if dipped into it. But fur-lined goretex mitts are fine. This is probably the first and only time that they've not been too ridiculously warm for use in Britain.

Now all it takes is to load the Viennetta and the ice packs into the Karrimat-insulated boxes, wrap it in a spare fleece, tuck it in the bottom of the rucksack and head off to camp that night in Beddgelert.

The next day dawned hot and sunny (there's a first for North Wales) and we all headed off to the car park where we were to start our walk from. As rucksacks were being decanted from cars, the following comment was heard:

- Dave, your pack's wet. Something in it's leaking.
- No, don't worry, I know what it is.

What was happening was that even through three layers of Karrimat and a fleece, the outside of the rucksack was so cold that condensation was forming on it. This was nearly 24 hours after the ice packs had been dipped.

In fact, it worked too well. The ice cream came out of the box far colder than it went in. We had to wait for it to warm up before we could cut it.

He's had a big problem finding a way of topping this ever since. One plan he does have is to make an "inverted baked Alaska". This is cold ice cream with a centre of hot jam. It's easy to make, provided you have a microwave oven. So all he needs now is to design and build an easily portable microwave generator. We expect it to happen sometime. Another idea is the full three course meal on a summit, somewhere stupidly popular like Ben Nevis or Helvellyn would be ideal. He does admit to having one insurmountable problem with this: how do you get a Chippendale table and six chairs up there in the first place?In spite of these, he's on the lookout for other recipes to try. Any suggestions via TAC please.

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