“By my calculations, a man such as myself, would need at least 100 pounds of grease or fat from a moose or bear to survive successfully for one winter.”
The quote is from George Dalziel, written in July 1934 and after he had spent ten years in the Dease Lake/Watson Lake areas of northern Canada hunting and trapping. Believing himself a good stickman, George travelled from Lower Post that winter to Fort Norman on the Mackenzie River, walking about 15 miles (25 km) a day. He carried a hunting rifle and was accompanied by a few pack dogs that carried the meat he shot. His only luxury was a small sack of tealeaves for his nightly drink.
Peggy, Deb, Linda and I planned on hiking in the Cirque of the Unclimbables, along some of Dalziel’s route that he took to Fort Norman. Unlike him, we had charted maps, location devices, dehydrated food, waterproof clothing and warm tents. We also had far fewer survival skills.
In preparation, I studied every word that the old timers like Dalziel, R.M. Patterson, Al Lewis and Albert Faille wrote about food and its importance to survival in that harsh and rugged environment. While we couldn’t shoot a moose a week like they did or carry a hundred pounds of fat, we knew we needed a lot of nutrition to keep our bodies warm and our minds sharp.
Since we dehydrated all our food, fat, which turns rancid rather than dehydrates, wasn’t something we could use in our meals. As a substitute, we needed a good supply of carbohydrates, which we could carry. For protein, we dehydrated lean beef.
In the book Dangerous River, Patterson wrote about having oatmeal for breakfast, topped with dehydrated milk and any berries he could find or raisins he carried. Al Lewis, author of Nahanni Remembered, had the same for his breakfasts.
We, like Patterson and Lewis, cooked rolled oats for most meals, which according to nutritiondata.com, has 307 calories per cup plus 55.9 grams of carbohydrate, 5.3 grams of fat and 10.6 grams of protein. Granola on the other hand, is much lighter per volume than porridge and is great if the weather is hot but good weather isn’t something one could expect for more than a few days in the Cirque. Granola has just 212 calories per cup and 44 grams of carbohydrate, 2.5 grams of fat and 4.4 grams of protein. When the weather was cold, we added hot water to our few servings of granola but it didn’t do what oats did for energy. Cream of Wheat is another possible breakfast and it offers 241 calories per cup, and has 31.5 grams of carbohydrate, 0.6 grams of fat and 4.49 grams of protein. So pound for pound rolled oats was our best bet. And for those not really fond of porridge, masking it with dehydrated fruits or raisins works wonders.
Eggs, a common Canadian breakfast can’t be carried for a long period of time and, to get a full meal, eggs are usually served with bacon and bread. Bacon is way too heavy and bread goes stale within days.
The old timers carried flour and made bannock instead of bread but then they had the fat in which to fry the flour. As a treat we took one package of biscuit mix and a glob of fat in which to fry our mix. We couldn’t believe how good it tasted after we’d been out for about ten days. Not a crumb was left in the pan.
Our lunches were always cheese, highly concentrated sausage and crackers. The cheese would have been a luxury to the old timers but the sausage, like Al Lewis wrote, would be the same as the dried meat or jerky they made every time they shot a moose. Albert Faille, probably the most experienced of the bunch, brought pemmican with him, which he’d purchased from the Indians. Pemmican is smoked meat or jerky, fat and berries compressed into a patty.
High-fat chocolate bars are great mid day because again, the bars supply some warmth and energy. Trail mix should be loaded with carbohydrates rather than protein and used in the afternoons when energy is really starting to fail.
Patterson loved preparing meals and was famous for his mulligans stew which consisted of wild sage, red pepper, wild onions, dried potatoes, rice and leaves of lab tea plus moose meat and/or bacon. If moose meat was scarce he’d substitute a partridge.
Keeping this in mind we dehydrated meals that included a sauce such as curried beef, barbequed beef, spaghetti, sweet and sour beef, and pepper steak made with burger.
All the old timers had rice with them to add to their carbohydrate consumption but Patterson used dehydrated potatoes a lot. Rice (not rice noodles) doesn’t absorb water as easily as flour so it was safer to carry and easier to store. For our carbohydrates we used rice or pasta noodles or, like Patterson, dehydrated potatoes.
Rice noodles have 192 calories per cup as opposed to 282 in pasta and 714 in dehydrated potatoes. Fat in rice is 0.49 grams per cup as compared to 2.76 grams in pasta and 2.29 grams in potatoes. Protein in potato is ten times that of rice and five times more than pasta.
For emergencies, we carried a half-pound bag of dehydrated pea soup. It is thick, rehydrates almost instantly and is light to carry. On occasion, we used it for lunches when someone was exceptionally cold.
I am sure the old timers would have loved to spike their tea with a shot of whiskey each night, or maybe they did but just didn’t write about it. What Linda found was that often, the body shuts down its response to hunger if the body has been working extra hard. Small amounts of alcohol revives a person’s appetite.
We made it a habit after camp was set up and while dinner was simmering, of having a pre-dinner cocktail to stimulate our appetites and we found it worked.
My best advice about the food you should take if going into an area such as the Cirque is to listen to the old timers. They had it figured out – except for the booze maybe. But I’m sure if Dalziel had thought of it, he’d have taken an extra dog just to carry the stimulant.