Macaroni at Six, Yes?
Macaroni. Ah, the sound of the word: macaroni. Even mispronounced and garbled as it was, hearing those syllables positively made my mouth water. A hot meal of pasta and cheese: the thought was pretty exciting. I’d recently arrived at 5200 meters, but the altitude wasn’t bothering me; I had a rip-roaring appetite and Adam, our local cook, had suggested a meal of macaroni. After what seemed an eternity of hungry waiting, a small figure standing next to the orange dome tent on the horizon erupted in arm waving and shouting. Dinner time. Inside the tent a large pot of oily pasta noodles balanced precariously atop a pathetic propane stove frozen into the icy glacier. Instead of a cheese sauce, the occasional black fleck could be seen amongst the noodles in the pot. Clearly, our cooks weren’t too careful when washing the dishes and the burnt remains of yesterday’s dinner were now a part of lunch.
In the ensuing days, things got worse. The breakfast menu stayed the same day after day: flat bread that looked and tasted like a wooden cutting board, fake Nutella and “Joker” brand olives drowning in half-congealed oil. The day’s two remaining meals were macaroni, actually just pasta noodles, and soup. Soup was by far the worst meal. I believe I have reverse engineered the concoction. Add a handful of poppy seed-sized bread crumbs, a tablespoon of ketchup, the contents of yesterday’s chai tea bag and a squirt of lemon juice to a large pot of water. Congratulations, you now have soup.
Bad dinners had started six days earlier at 3200 meter camp. While taste certainly posed a problem, the main difficulty was that the cooks only served carbohydrates. Pasta noodles, potatoes, bread, rice and tea with lots of sugar made up the menu. Occasionally we’d be rewarded with a shred of chicken clinging tenaciously to a gnarly bone. Meal quality seemed inversely proportional to the altitude. The fried potatoes hadn’t been so bad at 3200, but didn’t cook properly at 4200. The porters wouldn’t even bring potatoes to high camp, because they took too long to cook. Considering that we were trying to climb a 5200 meter tall mountain and live on the top for weeks on end, the carbohydrate diet simply wouldn’t do. Meals were fine and dandy, but what we really needed was nutrition.
For this, I relied on my secret stash. A red rucksack lived in the corner of my tent, conveniently hidden beneath a down jacket. Forcing down 800 ml of nutrition free ketchup and breadcrumb soup proved harrowing day after day, and I’d come to my tent and try to recover from the meal, dipping into the secret goodies inside. Calculating how long we’d have to endure summit food, I rationed my limited supply of Hammer Nutrition’s Recovery Bars, the protein-rich cure for bad meals.
If bad food wasn’t problem enough, my previous mountaineering experience has taught me to stay away from solid food while I’m on the trail. On the first few mountaineering trips, this meant I either climbed hungry, which made me feel sick, or ate during the climb and consequently felt queasy. Fortunately, I discovered Hammer Nutrition’s products. When local cooks started serving us mediocre food at the 3200 camp, I’d realized my stash of Hammer would play an important role in getting up the next 2000 meters of mountain.
Each morning before tying the thin black laces of my dusty Mammut hiking boots and toiling further up the Painful Mountain, I’d grab an assortment of Hammer products from my stash. No matter what, every day started with a bottle of Perpetuem, a powdered meal replacement which was as important to me as manna was to the Israelites wandering in the desert. A sachet of powder emptied into a bottle of water provided the energy I needed to toil further up the Painful Mountain. A few minutes before climbing, I’d start hitting off the bottle. Provided I took a drink every fifteen minutes or so, Perpetuem provided a steady baseline energy. Despite the Perpetuem, climbing proved tiring. Occasionally,I’d pop a Hammer Gel from my pocket. Minutes after eating the sticky and slightly sweet gel, I’d start to feel full and energetic again. The only thing lacking then was proper hydration. Because a team member had broken our filter the second day out, we only had steri-pens, funky little ultraviolet probes that killed the tummy trouble-inducing pathogens in the glacial meltwater we collected. Though bacteria-free, the water tasted terrible until I added small coin-shaped electrolyte tablets, also from Hammer Nutrition.
Luckily, a few of the guys had different tastes, so I’d trade Hammer Bars and Heed for more of my favorites: Perpetuem, gels, and the fizzy tablets. The benefits of using Hammer were immediately apparent. I climbed from camp to camp in very little time. The thousand meters between 3200 and 4200 camps took me just over an hour.
One day the team needed me to hike down to 4200 meter camp from our summit camp at Chuckmuck. That evening, I made my second summit attempt. Since I was by myself and didn’t have to accommodate anyone else’s pace, I decided to push myself and see just how fast I could cover the thousand meter uphill trek. Two sachets of Perpetuem, four gels, and exactly two hours and fifty eight minutes later, a huge smile lit up my face, just like the huge sun just beginning to light the slopes of Chuckmuck around me. A trip to the summit usually took 5 hours. I’d cut 40% off that and still felt great. But at 17,000 feet, feeling great mostly means you don’t feel utterly tired out. I crawled in my tent to chaw on a frozen Hammer Recovery Bar before enjoying a few hour nap.
I must have slept hard, because I woke to a terrible sound: “Maaaaaaaaacaroni!” The wailing yell seemed to hang on the air, waiting for my sleepy brain to interpret it before its full weight crashed down on my mind. A wave of dread washed over me. Not only had I slept through half a day, but it was lunch time, and that meant gagging down terrible particles of pseudo-food. Fortunately, before I could get used to the daily rhythm of bad meals thrice per day, a miracle happened. One morning, no one called us to the tent for breakfast. Murmurings slowly began to circulate among the inhabitants of Chuckmuck that perhaps certain people were no longer with us. One of the Wild Bills soon confirmed the rumor: the cooks had left. Meals were now our responsibility. Oh the joy.
Each evening we’d all gather in the cooking area. The Wild Bills had a container of oil. The Old Chap contributed a bag of red pepper flakes which he’d brought expressly for the purpose of drowning out the signature flavors introduced by local cooks. Using the bags of leftover pasta noodles and bits of chicken which were delivered to the summit every few days, we’d put together meals of pasta and chicken seasoned with oil and red pepper flakes. For the occasions when raw ingredients didn’t show up, we had a large bag of Mountain House freeze dried meals which, though incredibly salty, contained meat and other substances known to be good for the human body. Without the burden of being served food, we enjoyed our evenings together, eating well and going to bed content. In blissful control of our diets, we lived out our days at Chuckmuck in peace and contentment.