Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mountain House Product Review

Mountain House 
Freeze Dried Food Product Review:
By Doctor Jared Vagy PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Physical Therapist and Biokinesiologist

Full Disclosure:
Mountain House provided the product free of charge to me after I contacted them about helping support my climbing expeditions in South America. Mountain House provided me with 16 freeze dried meals.

I spent some time before my expedition contacting different food and equipment companies to see if they had an interest in supporting my trip. I had contacted both Mountain House and Backpackers Pantry about potential sponsorship and they both agreed to sponsor me. Out of moral and ethical issues, I knew had I had to choose only one brand, so I decided to go with Mountain House since they are locally from Portland (where I grew up) and I truly believe that the majority of their products taste better.
Pre Expedition Packing

My nutrition for the next two weeks

I have decided to review four of the products that they have supplied for me on the trip.  More reviews to come as I continue my expeditions.

Product 1:  
Mountain House Granola With Milk and Blueberries
Used on Iliniza Norte and Sur for breakfast
Tastes really good! I am not accustomed to fruits or vegetables after several days in the mountains, so the addition of blueberries really makes this product superior to standard granola and milk. The blueberries are huge compared to the ones that you get in oatmeal packets.  It is also very easy to prepare, no need to boil water in the morning.
This product is great for breakfast for almost any sport but it has some downsides for use when high altitude mountaineering. The higher fat content (10grams) makes it more difficult to digest at higher elevations for people with sensitive stomachs. I have used this product in the past when I hiked the John Muir Trail and the higher fat content was actually a bonus because it provided more calories for hiking. So it just depends on your activity.
I use mountain house products primarily on expeditions and the packaging can get quite bulky. There is one trick that I have done in the past, especially for products that need cold water.  I choose to take the product from the package and put it in a zip lock bag before my trip which makes it lighter and less bulky. I then just add the product and cold water to my bowl in the morning.
Taste: 5/5
Practical use for high altitude mountaineering: 3/5
Overall Rating: 8/10

Product 2: 
Mountain House Chicken Salad Wraps 
Used on Illiniza Norte and Sur as a post climb meal
This was the first time I have had a Mountain House Wrap Meal and this one blew me away. At first I was a little concerned. I opened the package and it was filled with a uniform colored white paste. I was a little hesitant to have this after my climb at the hut which is stationed at 15,500 feet. But once I tried it, it became my favorite high altitude recovery food by far. It's carbohydrates, fat and protein ratio is 1:1:3 which means it is packed with protein.  This makes it perfect for a recovery dish. Roasted pumpkin seeds and cranberries added to the comsitency and flavor as well.
You need to supply your own bread or tortilla.  Also, although the fat content is proportionally low compared to sodium content, it still tastes heavy and is best to eat when you are hungry and for two people since it supplies a lot.
I would use this for shorter high altitude days that require a lot of power, likely more technical mountains, as the higher protein ratio will improve muscle recovery.
Taste: 5/5
Practical use for high altitude mountaineering: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 9.5/10

Product 3: 
Beef Stroganoff 
Used on Cotopaxi as a pre climb dinner

A good distribution of carbohydrates, fat and protein at 3:1:1 makes this perfect to replenish the body after a hard climb. This is a mountain house staple, it tastes good and I am pretty sure the recipe hasn't changed since I first tried it 2009. There is probably a reason for that.
The sodium content is 2050 mg per package. This is 85 percent of a 2000 calorie diet sodium intake. This makes the product ideal as a post climb meal and not a pre climb meal at altitude. If used it as a pre climb meal, the water that you drink binds with the sodium and is easier to become dehydrated. Although the good news is that I never had to get up to use the bathroom that night.  This is because the high sodium binds to the excess water in your system.  This is much the same thing that happens when you are given salty salty snacks on an airplane.  The water sodium bonding keeps you from getting into the aisle to use the bathroom
In retrospect, the ideal combination would have been to have the low sodium chicken alfredo for dinner and then to supplement the lost sodium from the tough climbing by having the stroganoff as a post recovery meal.
Taste: 4/5
Practical use for high altitude mountaineering: 4/5
Overall Rating: 8/10

Product 4:  
Chicken Alfredo Low Sodium 
Used on Cotopaxi as a recovery meal

The taste was much better than expected for a low sodium product. This is my new favorite entree dish. It is packed with nutrition. A carbohydrate, fat and protein ratio of 2:2:1 with a low sodium content of 33 percent of a 2000 calorie diet makes this my number one choice for pre climb meal at high altitude, especially if you can sneak in some fresh veggies!
The meal would lack varied consistency without adding something to it. This is very important when high altitude mountaineering. When you gain elevation, one of the main body responses is hunger suppression and nausea. Eating foods with different consistencies gives your body something different to look forward to each bite.
We had the luxury of being able to mix in some vegetables to this meal after the climb at the climbers hut, so the mixed vegetables gave it a varied consistency
Taste: 4.5/5
Practical use for high altitude mountaineering: 5/5
Overall Rating: 9.5/10

Overall Opinion So Far:
So far I spent ten days in Ecuador.  I have either climbed or attempted to climb Pinchinca, Illinza Norte, Illiniza Sur, Cotopaxi and Cayambe.  I have sampled 12 of the 16 products so far in the mountains.  Overall I am very pleased with the mountain house meals.  They have a good natural taste and are very easy to prepare.  I was especially surprised how good the low sodium meals were as well as how easy the cold water meals were to prepare.  After these 10 days it is apparent why freeze dried food is the preferred food for high camps in the mountains. The complete ease of cooking, the light weight and the taste.  After trying the majority of the products, the main thing that stands out is the lack of variety in the texture.  Some of the products such as the granola with blueberries and chicken salad did a good job of varying this.  For the products that were more uniform, we used our own mixture of nuts, cheese and crackers added to meal. Overall I was happy to product test and review this brand and I was glad to try different meals that I have not had before.  Weather dependent, we may get on one or two more mountains, then I head to Argentina for Aconcagua.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cotopaxi in a day 11-18-2012

Cotopaxi In A Day 
November 18, 2012

The Plan:
Since I was not enjoying sleeping at the higher altitudes, we came up with a good plan for Cotopaxi. Instead of climbing it in two days like normal, we would sleep at a fancy lodge at 13,000 feet, drive up to the parking lot at 11pm and climb it in one day from the parking.

The Mountain:
Cotopaxi is not a difficult mountain to climb but it is very high. It is 19,347 feet high. It is a beautiful perfectly shaped volcano.

The Lodge:
The lodge was called tambopaxi and it was pretty plush. It was warm, had excellent views of the climb and was a quick car ride to the base of the mountain. We went to bed at 8pm and woke up at 11pm ready for action.

The Climb:
Most people that climb Cotopaxi start the climb very quickly and then loose steam towards the top. We did the opposite. We started very slow, took our time and ended up passing most parties on the way up. The route is mostly packed snow with a few crevasse passes. One of the crevasses had a broken snow bridge, so we needed to climb inside and back out the other side.

The Summit:
The summit was amazing. You could see the crater of the Volcano smoking. We took some pictures, exchanged some high fives and admired the perfect weather and the great views.

Special Thanks:
I brought a cliff bar and mountain house to the top and enjoyed them at the hut as a post climb treat.

The Descent:
The descent went quickly. However it was very scary to watch other parties descend. One man was so exhausted that he kept falling on the slope and his guide was traveling behind him roped and had to self arrest to keep him from sliding off the mountain. Highly dangerous and stupid.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Illiniza Norte and Sur 11-15 to 11-16-2012

Illiniza Norte and Sur 
November 15th and 16th

The Plan:
We were attempting to climb Illiniza Norte and Sur for acclimitization. The plan was to climb Norte as we approached on the 15th and Sur in the monring of the 16th.  However, poor weather lead us to decide to climb both on the 16th.

November 15th:

Approach and the hut:
Juliana drove (I can't drive stick shift) to the base of the mountain and we packed up to the hut at 15,416. Our plans were to climb Norte that day but the weather was very bad and visibility was low, so we decided the next day we would try for a double summit. Wake up at 3:30 am, leave by 4:00 am and attempt Sur then Norte in a big day. We had some food in the hut then attempted to sleep. I had some trouble acclimatizing and was unable to sleep well at the altitude.

November 16, 2012

Illiniza Sur:
We woke up at 3:30 am and made some mountain house breakfast. It was blueberry, granola and milk. It was really good and gave us a good boost in the morning. Even Juliana enjoyed it and she thinks all freeze dried food is gringo food. We made our way across heavy fog to the base of the route and began climbing. We soloed some easy but snowy low fifth class rock and continued onto the glacier.
Illiniza Sur
Breakfast Mountain House

Breakfast Prepared

Slab Avalanche Risk:
We heard whoomphing after each step and Juliana decided to dig a snow pit to investigate. We dug out a small pit and finger tested. A three finger deep consolidated layer sat atop a sugary layer followed by another three finger deep layer separated from the rock by ice. She stomped above the pit and the entire slab separated. We decided not to take the risk and descended as the sun was rising. We had beautiful views of Cotopaxi.
The broken slab we tested
Rappelling Down

Cotopaxi at sunrise

Illiniza Norte:
We hiked back down to the hut. I wasn't feeling so well and was very nauseous from lac of sleep and the quick move from sleeping at 7,500 feet in Cumbaya (where Juliana lives) to 15,416 feet at the hut. But we decided to still attempt Norte. We headed out and climbed a variation to the normal route by staying further east and staying within the rock band.

It was good climbing but as we got higher, I felt more and more nauseous. Five minutes before the summit, I couldn't hold it in any more and vomited. I felt a little better, tagged the summit, the descend to the hut the to the car.

It was really good climbing and a lot of fun despite the minor acute mountain sickness. We made a good decision to bail on Illiniza Sur and the summit of Norte was perfect with amazing weather.

After the climb, we drove to Papallacta hot springs and met some friends to soak and relax!

Mount Rucu Pichincha 11-14-2012

Mount Rucu Pichincha
November 14, 2012

Getting there:
I decided to take teleferico cable car again, but this time I would climb Mount Rucu Pichincha.  Now that I had shoes and rain gear, I was all set.  I tried to get there as early as possible but with traffic and stopping to buy some water and food, I ended up on top of the cable car at 11:15am.  The weather looked terrible and I knew by the sound of thunder hiking up that I had maybe an hour and half to reach the summit before all hell would break loose. Julianna had told me to make sure not to climb when it was raining because of lightening storms and rock fall.  So I was fully aware.

The Ascent:
The hike starts at 12,467 feet and travels up to the summit at 15,695 feet.  Things were going great and there was very minimal route finding the first three quarters of the climb.  I then reached a couple of easy rock steps and a drainage filled with scree.  It was hard to see any form of trail because of the poor visibility, so I would mark the way with rcok cairns every 30 meters so I could find my way back.  I traced my way through wet rock and found a path to the summit.  I was in a moderate whiteout at this time and the only reason I knew it was the summit was that I could not go any higher and there was a huge sign congratualting me.  I had booked it, summting in 1 hour and 45 minutes.  I didnt hav emuch time to celebrate as right after I looked at my watch, I looked up and it starting hailing heavily.  Within seconds, the ground was turning white, so I quickly donned my rain jacket and pants and B lined straight down to the junction with the trail.

The Descent:
I was a little concerend.  Not because of the hail, but because of the thunder that I heard growing increasingly loud.  I began to shift into survival mode and started running.  I wanted to make it back down to the gondola station before the storm got any worse.  The intervals of lightening and thunder were growing closer.  I counted five seconds, four seconds, three seconds, two...  I had to cross a section of the trail with overhanging buzzing powerlines.  With the water on the ground and the power lines in sight, I booked it.  I was running out of breath, so I had to slow down.  I thought to myself that maybe I should have stayed put in a small rock cave when the storm had started.  But then I spotted a small hut minutes from the gondola station.  I ran to the hut and took a deep breath of relief.  A few minutes later an Ecuadorian man who I had passed on the way down also appeared.  We were both relieved and i got a chance to practice some Spanish.  Good thing we made it to the hut in time as there were four times that lightening struck 5 meters from the hut.  We waited for the storm to clear and then hiked back to the gondola.

Thrirty minutes later, I met two people who I had passed on the hike up. They told me that they had waited in a cave for the storm to pass.  We shared some food and a shuttle back to downtown Quito.

Lessons Learned:
Electrical storms are pretty sketchy - try to avoid them.

I headed back to meet Juliana and Joshua for diner.