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Paleo-ish eating (and it’s effects) in the alpine

August 29, 2012

I’ve just returned from an A-M-A-Z-I-N-G trip to Canada where I climbed in the Bugaboos (primary reason for taking the trip) as well as in the Lake Louise area of the Bow Valley. It was the most fun climbing trip I’ve ever taken; we got out and climbed on something every single day, which explains why I was exhausted upon returning home. (Also, it may be worth noting that at home I get to “sleep in” until 6 a.m….yes, we had many an alpine start, but totally worth it!)

I was nervous about the trip for many reasons. How hard would I be able to climb? Would my feet blister and fall apart (as they normally do) with all of the walking? How would my body respond to non-paleo fuel on long days in the alpine? I tried not to worry too much about the things outside of my control. I have climbed a lot this year (well, relative to previous years given that there is no climbing within 5 hours of our current station) and I knew some of our longer alpine routes were at an ‘easy’ grade albeit in mountain boots, but would still be long, exhausting days. I trusted in my ability to climb harder grades thanks to my time spent climbing with my fellow Chicks alumna Tonya in North Carolina this year, and I brought lots of medical supplies for my feet.

Mountain fuel paleo style!

Going into the trip, I had talked about food – a lot – with our guide, Jen Olson [Jen’s websites Mountain Guida & Climber Passionate], who herself has done some paleo research and eating this year, too. Jen was organizing all of the food for us on this trip. We were going to be spending up to seven days at a remote campground high in the Bugaboos Provincial Park at camp Applebee. Weight (as in food weight) is a major issue because that food has to be carried up to the campground, which is no easy task. She was able to secure some really delicious bison and caribou jerky meat and sausages for the trip, and set us up with plenty of Lara bars, seaweed, and even fresh veggies! She found (liquid) eggs in a carton that could be kept at room temperature for up to a week. Jen put so much effort into getting us as much paleo-friendly fuel as possible. We brought packets of almond butter and raw nuts from home for some extra calories in a dense form. We were trying!

But we definitely couldn’t afford – or carry what it would require – to be strict paleo and carry on for long days in the alpine for the entire week. The alpine start mornings required quick fuel in the form of oatmeal (no sugar) with a variety of seeds (trust me, this was hard enough to choke down at 4 a.m.!). Dinners were dehydrated meals that were VERY healthy and home-made by a local friend of hers with all regionally sourced ingredients. Then of course there was the wine and vodka.

What? You can’t go climbing and not drink at the end of the day! Don’t be dumb.

Oatmeal in our bellies for an early-morning start.

The ‘testing’ of my body on non-paleo food – something I haven’t done since June 1 – began at the airport. At home, I drink my coffee with coconut milk, which is not something Starbucks carries. So I resorted to some half & half instead. By the time we landed in YYC I’d had two cups of coffee with just that small bit of dairy and my stomach was already visibly distended with gas (yuck, I know, but I’m trying to share my experiences here!). Sooo, apparently dairy is a no-go for me. Check. Lesson learned. Good to know and not anything to stress about since we wouldn’t have dairy in the mountains.

The stomach discomfort from the dairy bled over into the start of day 1, which was a long, hot, steep hike to the campground with 50+ lbs. of gear strapped to my back. An extra trip to the Kain Hut from Applebee to pick up food packages from porters made for many hours of hiking and the start of a physically taxing (but uber-ly fun) trip that required fuel in the form of calories. I’ve always noticed that climbing trips make me HUNGRY. It’s most likely because I’m out moving all day, as opposed to my normal life in front of a computer for 8 hours a day. I get hungry and stay hungry throughout the trip, which generally continues for several days after returning home as my body tries to figure out what is ‘normal’ again. (In fact, I’m still trying to tell my body to calm down and stop requesting calories because it does not NEED them for my at-home level of activity!)

One of several summit shots, the sure sign of a successful climbing trip!

Generally, the food we ate tasted good. Some of it was very good (bison and caribou meat was delicious as well as the home-made granola bars Jen made for us which we considered to be our ‘treats’ and ate on top of many a climbs!) whereas some food I had to literally choke down, like the mass amounts of oatmeal we tried to eat at 4 a.m. as we started off on long glacier walks up steep cols before climbing for hours and hours…

What I quickly realized is my body didn’t like something I was eating that wasn’t part of my normal paleo routine. Just what that was though, I’m not sure. Gluten? Something in the starches (pasta? rice?) from dinner? In any case, it made me have to go to the bathroom ALL. THE. TIME. It was not comfortable while out for long days in a climbing harness and luckily there were some open-air toilets in the park just for folks like me apparently (which was just fun in and of itself!) But what could I do? I needed the fuel to be able to climb and be an active (and safe) member of the team. Sitting at camp with an upset stomach was not an option for me nor was trying to do what we did without caloric fuel.

Grateful to have this at camp. Bonus: it was a ‘room with a view’!

So, needless to say, it was not hard to go back to eating paleo again when we came out of the mountains, although I did indulge in some ice cream on the way out of the Bugs since my system was already so doinked with upset already. I did develop some potential ideas for future trips in the backcountry where we will again be required to eat sustenance that may not always stay on-point paleo. So, for our upcoming fall trip to Indian Creek (where we can buy HEAVY supplies if we want since we drive to the campground) I plan to purchase:

– Chicken in a pouch and some tuna in a pouch – good protein punch!
– Avocados (I firmly believe avocados make EVERYTHING taste better.)
– Paleo zucchini bread I make at home and other ‘paleo’ baked goods (muffins, etc.)
– Tons of fresh veggies – carrots and peppers have done fine for me while camping this summer, snap peas are a good snack, too, broccoli, what else?
– Lara bars (duh)
– Almond butter single-serving packets (Much like avocados, I think almond butter can make almost anything taste better, even meat! It’s also a quick source of calories while on a long climb.)
– Raw nuts
– Jerky! I’m dying to find out where I can get some bison or caribou huge hunks like we had in Canada (which Jen got at the local farmer’s market).

I’d like to also bring hard-boiled eggs but my previous experience keeping my cooler actually cold at Indian Creek was an abject failure, and I’m not sure how much heat a hard-boiled egg can tolerate. If I learn they are OK at moderate temps for a few days, then I will surely bring lots of those along, too!

How do I feel now that I’m back at home? Aside from still trying to convince my body it’s not burning an exorbitant amount of calories still, I am feeling not too bad. I have been having MAD sugar cravings though, which I’m struggling to keep at bay by not feeding them during the day with paleo substitutions (fruit!). But trust me, I’ve been eyeballing some ‘paleo’ cookie recipes for days now. I don’t know why I’m so craving sweets (too many Lara bars is a primary suspect)! But, this isn’t outside the norm for me; I always, always struggle with this when returning from a climbing trip. It’s just that most climbing trips involve shoving candy in my face (like Swedish fish or Tootsie Rolls) for energy in the middle of the day so it’s obvious why I still crave that when back at home.

Some serious sending happened on the Grand Sentinel, a quartzite tower in the Bow Valley.

I am not sure if it’s just me being paranoid or sensitive, but I feel like I looked leaner *before* the trip than I do now. I don’t know if it was just my body retaining water with the grains? But, despite this being a ‘recovery’ week (which means I’m only doing CrossFit, no rowing) I have still had pretty good performance marks in the gym and am feeling strong (even though my knees still HURT from that hike up to, and down from Applebee). I have not weighed myself (even though there was a scale in our hotel in YYC the night before we flew home) and I must say I was so tempted to this morning feeling like I looked ‘fat’ to test what the scale actually says. Thank goodness it’s in the attic (which I hate) so I wasn’t about to go there, as much as I really wanted to.

So, in a nutshell – awesome trip (look for me to link to a trip report I will post on Chicks Climbing soon!) and an overall interesting experience with my body’s reaction to non-paleo food. I learned that it definitely prefers the paleo methodology of eating, which is good to know with certainty as it helps keep my cravings for processed food in check.

Do you have any suggestions for backcountry paleo eating on a multi-day trip? I’d love to hear your opinion of what works and what doesn’t as I will have plenty of ‘testing’ to com in the next year!

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4 comments

  1. I don’t climb, but we hike a lot since moving to Colorado. (Living at almost 9000 ft.) On our day hikes, we usually take something with dark chocolate, lara bars and beef jerky. I have noticed, since moving here, that I have more gas. Apparently that’s normal at this altitude. Doesn’t make it better, but it does explain my “issues” LOL! Consequently, avocados and asparagus make it all worse. 😦


    • Wow, that’s interesting! I didn’t realize *that* potential affect of altitude, but definitely had issues there too. Thanks for sharing 🙂


      • LOL…my husband wishes I’d quit….”sharing”, that is. Hee hee!


  2. […] I also bought this super-cool made for camping spice rack which should significantly aid in the eating of the chicken in a bag. As will the bevy of fresh veggies we will be buying once we get into town. I will also have the luxury of drinking my coffee with coconut milk since we are going to be car camping, yeehaw! Of course, I can’t fathom a climbing trip that does not involve drinking after a long day of climbing, so I’m sure I will be having a little wine each night, don’t you worry! I hope my body will be happy with this food plan and I don’t have a repeat of this week! […]



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