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Skyline Energy Bars

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Kurt and I first hiked the 46 km Skyline Trail in Jasper in 2011 with some friends.  We took 3 days to enjoy the incredible scenery, camping at the Snowbowl and Tekarra campgrounds.  For those who haven’t hiked this trail, it truly is a premier rocky mountain hike and I highly recommend it.  We met many other hikers along the way and found that people were doing the trail over 1, 2, 3 and even 4 days.  My curiosity was piqued by those who had started before sunrise to walk, jog or run the trail in one day.  The idea was stuck in my head that someday we would return to do the one day challenge.  Noel and Kurt finally caved to my crazy idea in 2014.

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It is essential to plan carefully for a big day hike like this.  My first concern was calorie intake and energy requirements.  I played around with a few different online calculators,  to guess how many calories we would burn walking 46 km, with 1400 meter elevation gain over 10 hours.  I estimated we would burn more than 4000 calories.  Taking this into account and I planned our food for the day.  I decided we would eat every hour to maintain a steady intake of calories.  My second concern was weight.  We wanted to keep our day bags as light as possible.  (While still bringing the required safety supplies of course.)  

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Anyone who has done a few backpacking or hiking trips knows how awful store bought bars taste.  Personally, I’ve had moments in the backcountry where I practically force feed myself to finish a bar.  And so began my quest to make high protein, high carbohydrate, and most importantly tasty trail bars and snacks.  I found a few recipes online, and then came up with my own modifications.

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We started on the trail at 7 am from Maligne Lake and were still going strong when we hit the halfway point at the Notch- a grueling 350m climb through midsummer snow. From there it was easy and spectacular ridgewalking with incredible views (and wind!)

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The fun wore off somewhere around Kilometer 35 when the views were gone and all we had left was the gruelling grind to finish.  The final stretch on the Signal Mountain fire road feels never ending, especially if you have fallen behind on your energy intake!  Be aware that this is bear country, do not skip packing your pepper spray to save a few grams. We came across a black bear mom and two cubs somewhere around Kilometer 40- it was a good thing that Noel and Kurt were still alert enough to see them in the distance and had the energy for some good hiking pole percussion to scare them off…

The Skyline trail in one day should only be attempted by experienced hikers, who are well prepared and when the weather is perfect.  Take careful consideration to pack the necessities (warmth layers, first aid, pepper spray, water filter, and food.)  Bring more food then you think necessary, 4000 calories is a lot more than I would usually eat in a day!  And finally, bring a variety of snacks.  There’s nothing worse than staring at your bag of trail mix knowing you have to keep eating but disgusted by it at the same time.  I came up with 3 varieties of the following recipe so that each time I grabbed a trail bar, it was a fun surprise!

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(Adapted from Backpacker.com who adapted from A Fork in the Trail) 

⅓ cup honey

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup peanut butter

Heat the honey and brown sugar in a large pot and simmer for one minute.  Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter.  Using this as the gooey, sticky base you can then add whatever you like.  Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy. For longer backcountry trips, I’ll sometimes throw in some ground flax seed as well, a little extra fibre doesn’t hurt.  Some variations I’ve tried:

Old Fashion (~140 calories per bar)

2 cups home-made granola

½ cup dried cranberries

⅓ cup slivered almonds

⅓ cup dark chocolate chips.

Kurt’s Favorite (~190 calories per bar)

2 cups of Golden Grahams

½ cup dried cherries

⅓ cup slivered almonds

⅓ cup butterscotch chips

Fun & Fruity (~170 calories per bar)

2 cups Fruit Loops

½ cup chopped up dried fruit (mango, pineapple, apple, whatever you have!)

⅓ cup slivered almonds (or other nuts!)

⅓ cup white chocolate chips

Mix whatever ingredients you feel inspired by at the time into the gooey mix and stir.  You can allow the mixture to cool if you prefer the chocolate (dark, white or butterscotch) chips to be whole.  

Coat the bottom and sides of a 8 inch square pan with vegetable oil.  Evenly flatten the mixture into the pan.  Freeze for 30 minutes.  Transfer to a cutting board and cut into bars (makes about 10 bars.)  Wrap in wax paper or parchment paper.

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Breakfast in the Backcountry pt. 1

When we started our adventures in the backcountry, we ate a lot of the pre-packaged, store bought meals.  These are an excellent starting point, as they get the job done and it’s easy.  But after a few hikes, or a few days of repetitive meals, it starts to get boring.  We began to venture out into the possibilities and alternatives, and things just keep getting better.

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Despite our breakthroughs with supper, I found that we were still starting the day with our same old boring instant oats.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of oatmeal for breakfast while hiking.  They are light-weight, easy to make, high in fibre and grains, and give you some sugar to start the day.  A warm bowl of oats on a cold morning in the backcountry is comforting and warms the soul.  However be aware of the high sodium, high salt, artificial flavours and preservatives that are often found in the store bought instant oats.

Our first attempts to mix it up with breakfast involved plain instant oatmeal packages with the addition of our own dehydrated strawberries, apples (and a dash of cinnamon), pineapples, or mangos.  This works wonders as the fruit will rehydrate slightly with the hot water.  Change it up each day with a variety of fruits and it will make the oats slightly more tolerable.

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The next progression is to make your own instant oats.  There are numerous websites that give recipes for this, my personal favorite being: from the Yummy Life

Even with all the different variations of oatmeal, it still gets old.  I’ve started bringing home made granola with a small amount of dehydrated milk powder for alternating days with the oats.  I roughly follow the Planet Organic Market Cookbook recipe for Organic Granola.

3 cups slow cooking oats

1 cup slivered almonds

1 cup cashew pieces

¾ cup unsweetened coconut flakes

¼ cup brown sugar

½ tsp sea salt

⅓ cup pure maple syrup

¼ cup canola oil

1 cup – whatever I have in the cupboard – dried cranberries, walnuts, raisins, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 250F.  Combine oats, almonds, cashews, coconut, sugar and salt.  Whisk maple syrup and oil together and pour over oat mix. Place onto baking trays and bake for 1-2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes.  When desired colour is achieved, remove and cool.  Place in large bowl and toss with berries or raisins.  Yields 6 cups.

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The final addition to our breakfast line up was care of Noel, bringing a batch of biscotti to Iceland.  This was a big hit and has become a necessity to fully enjoy our morning coffee/tea in the backcountry.  Whether soaked in your drink or dipped in oatmeal, the biscotti really brought breakfast to the next level for us… Watch for the recipe in part 2,  coming soon!

Laugavegur Chili

Another standby recipe we’ve come to rely upon is an adaptation of Flo’s Chili. We’ve brought it on a bunch of trips, but it wasn’t until we ate it in a sleet storm on the top of an Icelandic mountain that we discovered its true, restorative magic!

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In 2014 we took advantage of Icelandair’s new cheap flights from Canada and we hiked the Laugavegur trail in southern Iceland. This was the first time any of us had done international trekking and between airline’s rules and customs regulations we had to plan our meals carefully.

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We started in Reykjavik with a long all-terrain bus ride out to the northern trailhead at Landmannalauger on a ominous grey, moody day. As we climbed through the famous rhyolite hills, it got colder and greyer before finally turning to rain and wind (at which point the cameras had to be put away.)

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By the time we arrived at the first campground, Hrafntinnusker, we were wet, cold and quickly approaching hypothermia.  We had hiked in rain, sleet and gale force winds that blew volcanic dust into every orifice.  We managed to set up our tents into the pre-made rock shelters (apparently these storms are not uncommon at this site!) Our next priority was to warm up.  Noel, Courtney and I were borderline delirious and having serious doubts about our safety and decision to tackle this trail.  Kurt however diligently went to work rehydrating (thankful for the lack of large predators in Iceland, which means you can cook in your tent!)  Today when we tell this story, we like to say that Kurt saved our lives that night with this delicious chili.

We barely slept that night listening to the rain and wind sweep across the mountain in what felt like waves.  The storm did ultimately pass, and the next day as we crested the ridge overlooking our next campsite at Alftavatn the sun came out!  The spectacular view silenced any doubts and we sat in awe of the magnificent landscape for quite some time.  DSC00197
This recipe takes a little bit more effort before the trip, but you’ll thank yourself when you take your first bites at some backcountry shelter.  You’ll be sure to garner many looks of intense jealousy and envy from other campers as they heat up their ramen noodles for the third night in a row.

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(photographed on a different, warmer trip!)

Flo’s Chili

Inspired by Kurt’s Mom

Meal: Dinner

Serves: Many.  We usually make a big batch, then measure out 3-4 cup portions to dehydrate and package depending on how many people we will be hiking with.

Home prep time: 1.5 hours to make, 8-10 hours to dehydrate

Camp Cook time: 30 mins

Calories Total: 1634

Calories Per Serving:

Weight Total:

Weight Per Serving:

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • ¾ cup chopped green peppers
  • 600 ml (19 oz) can of diced tomatoes
  • 255 ml (7.5 oz) can of tomato sauce
  • 420 ml (14 oz) can of kidney beans
  • 420 ml (14 oz) can of brown beans
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp parsley flakes
  • 1 bay leaf

Gear:

  • 1 large pot
  • Campstove

At Home:

Brown the ground beef with the onions and pepper.  Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 1 hour.  We usually continue to simmer until most of the water has boiled off.  Once the chili has reached a paste like consistency, measure out portions that you will be able to eat on the trail (we usually bring 1-1.5 cups each).  Place the measured out portions onto parchment paper and dehydrate at 135F for 8-10 hours.  Once dry, break it into smaller pieces and store in ziplock bags or vacuum seal.  (We’ve had bad luck with vacuum seals being pierced by sharp edges.)  The dried chili can be stored at room temperature for up to one month, or in the fridge or freezer for much longer.

At Camp:

Kurt prefers to boil water and then add the dehydrated chili to the already heated water.  Take this off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes to rehydrate.  Give it a little heat and bring it up to a simmer, and again take it off the heat to rehydrate another 10 minutes.  Continue this pattern until the beans are rehydrated.  We have found that the kidney beans take the longest to rehydrate, so test them as you go.  

Serve with salt, pepper, chili flakes and grated cheese.  Even better if you have brought in a wedge of focaccia or extra tortilla to mop up all the goodness.

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