My Expedition Food Obsession
Introduction | John Huston’s Pro Series: Fueling The Adventure
By: John Huston
Expeditions and expedition food have been long-running simultaneous obsessions for me. Over the past 20 some years I’ve ventured to the Himalayas, the North Pole, the South Pole and many places in between. My voracious appetite, high metabolism, and love for foods with a lot of flavor have been with me every step of the way. Sometimes the seemingly endless search for tasty, satisfying calories has gone pretty well and other times it has been a calamity.
Expedition Food: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
As a skinny, long-haired, vegetarian college-kid trekking in the Swiss Alps, I rapidly hit my budget limit when I encountered twenty five dollar plates of cheesy Rösti (Swiss hash browns). I’m a bigtime fan of hash browns. The two foot long Toblerone bar strapped to the side of my backpack helped during the day, but the Rösti was never enough and I often went to bed hungry.
A couple of years later while trekking in Nepal it was more chocolate and potatoes. This time Snickers bars, tea house style yellow potatoes, and an occasional canister of Pringles. That Snickers bar I ate at 18,000 feet while sitting atop Gokyo Ri with my buddy was one of the best ever.
During the first course that I worked as an assistant instructor for the Voyageur Outward Bound School, in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, I had so many hunger crashes that my lead instructor generously metered out all of her private snack stash to keep me going. As a winter instructor I learned which frozen cheese goes down best and how to eat to when you’re about to sleep under the stars at -30°F.
One September two friends and I biked around Lake Superior. We slept in the woods and subsisted almost entirely on diner and gas station food. After that, I’d had enough of the fake calories of processed food.
My first polar expedition was a 72-day dog sled expedition on Greenland. Our food was so bad that one of my teammates ate dog food the whole time. No joke.
In 2007 on the way to the South Pole I starved, literally. Our food tasted good, but it lacked the dense calories required for a two-month polar expedition. I could more or less feel my stomach pulling calories from my muscles. That was a hard trip.
My friend and I skied unsupported to the North Pole in 2009. Our food was so good, even though we ate the same thing for both breakfast and dinner every single day. Each day I consumed an average of over 7000 calories, a stick of butter, and several homemade truffle bars. We loved every single bite of food on that expedition. In 55 days I lost over 40 pounds, but our bodies were up to the task.
A few years ago on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic we fed our four-person team breakfast and dinner for 65 days entirely from food left behind from previous polar expeditions and failed North Pole expeditions. The price was right.
Fueling the Adventure
Fueling the body during an expedition is no easy task. And I’ve learned that meeting this challenge goes way beyond choosing three squares a day. There are so many details and variables to consider in order to get the right fuel on board at the right time for any particular activity. One has to choose the right meals with the right ingredients, figure out food consumption routines, figure out hydration routines, figure out cooking routines, pack it effectively, account for the budget, avoid physical breakdowns, avoid low energy mental lapses, etc… the list goes on and on. Depending on the person and the activity, some of these details can seem like second nature, but they can also be complicated and require a good deal of forethought and preparation. I’ve learned the hard way and those lessons stick, but the hard way isn’t always the fun way. So over the coming months I’ll dig into these topics and more.