August 2008  Starving Donkey Syndrome

How do you choose where to tramp when you have TOO many good choices? In what he calls the ‘Starving Donkey Syndrome,’ Uncle Jacko discusses the challenges of having the privilege to choose, as well as DIY maps and the best, easy meals to prepare on a tramp.

Bad Organisation

Over Queen’s Birthday, three of us from the Southland Tramping Club decided to brave an indifferent weather forecast on a moderate tramping trip. The trouble with Southland is that we have too many choices for good trips. Indeed, in Southland we frequently risk what I call the ‘Starving Donkey Syndrome’: a donkey exactly halfway between two carrots that starves to death as it ineffectually tries to decide which one to eat first. Sometimes I could start to envy those northern trampers who seem to have a paucity of interesting places to go and so never become malnourished donkeys. 

By late morning we had argued for an hour in my kitchen about the destination, so I dug around for more maps. Reece interrogated to death and finally my by-now impatient wife, Sue, kicked us out of the house. We agreed to head eastwards, away from the promised nor’westerly crud, but even as Te Anau approached we couldn’t agree on where to enjoy this better weather. After an early pie at Te Anau, we romped up the start of the Routeburn Track, only four hours late, headed for McKellar Hut. 

Somewhat hopefully, we’d thought that once on the track a clear plan would emerge, but at McKellar Hut doubts surfaced about camping at Steele Creek in the promised snow and sleet. So we spent another hour arguing the merits of huts. By the time we’d made a decision it was immaterial, we had run out of time to make any useful gains by camping. To cut a long story short, it didn’t rain or snow – though it tried to rain as we hit the snow-covered scrub in Steele Creek. We surprised ourselves by actually reaching the pass before darkness descended. Considering the steepness of the slopes above the Upper Caples, it was fortunate that we needed our torches only at the bushline.

The trip proved technically successful, we met a number of friends in the huts, including half the Hokonui Tramping Club, and it was good to stretch our legs. On the other hand, we’d lost satisfaction through the overwhelming surfeit of choices, and had not experienced any of the normal rising anticipation of a good trip during the week beforehand. The moral to this sorry story? Plan your tramp months in advance and do not waver from the intended trip, no matter what the weather forecast – which is likely to be wrong anyway.

DIY Maps

Peter Orton from Pukekohe writes to say that he uses a Xerox product called Xeroperm (available in A4 and A3 sizes) for printing out his computer-generated maps. This plastic paper takes black and white and colour copies well, is robust and doesn’t tear. The paper’s one drawback is that severely wet conditions cause the ink to rub off over a four-to-five-day period of folding, shoving-in-pockets and scrunching. This is, of course, no worse than conventional maps in plastic bags. Xeroperm is more expensive than plain paper, but cheaper than laminating. Peter also takes a permanent marker and reminds himself of details for future trips by writing all over his map. He recommends printing at a 1:40 000 scale.

More On Spud Dust 

After an absence of a few years, Murray Horlor and I have again exchanged notes. He writes: ‘I have been using dried spud for years, with Edgels or Debnot flakes for breakfast, since discovering it by accident when trapped in the Kawekas with no other choices. (Lesson: never give a hungry dog your last lunch as you don’t know what the day will bring!).’ 

‘But mashed potato and cheese sauce proved to be the discovery of the decade for me. One 115 gram packet of spud and a family size cheese sauce does for two and doesn’t wear thin like porridge by mid-morning. If you want a change, add some curry powder to either the spud or the sauce. Continental cheese sauce is the best. One billy of boiling water makes for breakfast plus a cup of coffee (or tea if you must) and leave enough water to wash up, though secretly I agree with you – hot water is not a requirement to wash dishes, or bodies (it’s nice though). If you have spare eggs, or have met a friendly fly-in party with some, boil them in the billy and add to your breakfast. Tired of cheese sauce? Cook an extra serving of the previous night’s stew, curry or soup, keep your spoon out of it, and use that as the breakfast sauce.’

‘For some years now, as I have added them (the years) to my age, I have sought to reduce the weight of our snail houses, including food. We can pretty successfully keep a five-day pack under 14 kilograms now, including all cooking gear and housing. Our target for the evening meal is 300 grams for two. It never includes spud (as that could be overkill), but we use a base of rice, pasta or couscous adapted with assorted spices and curry powder. Generally dried vegetables are cooked with the grain, or in the case of couscous, in the water boiled for the couscous. Use two cups of boiled water to one of couscous, cover for two minutes and it’s ready. With rice, the absorption method works well: bring the rice and spices to the boil, simmer for eight-to-ten minutes, wrap in a sheet of newspaper and then in a sleeping bag, and leave while you cook the rest of the meal. Stew the curry or sauce separately.’

‘Many of the new packet rice and pasta meals make for lazy cooks, but for only a little extra weight are quick and easy. Shortly we’re setting off on another tramping-on-wheels trip into the Aussie outback and our meals will be pretty much as above. We’ve found they work well, keep the weight manageable for driving on sand, avoid the need for refrigeration and leave more room for all-important water and fuel.’ 

More on Digital Cameras

Don French of the NZ Alpine Club (Wellington section) writes that he is pleased that I am coming to grips with digital cameras. After using digital media for three years he offers these lessons:

  1. ‘The designed life of a digital camera is two-to-three years. Don’t expect them to last forever. Modern cameras are not up to the class of the Olympus OM1, which was probably the best camera that I ever owned (and may explain why Don once generously carried my (Robin’s) OM1 out from Scone Creek Hut when it died on the first day of our trip and the penultimate day of his).
  2. I keep my camera (a little snappy type) hanging around my neck on a lanyard. It makes photography a lot easier. With the camera in the top pocket of your pack, you never get it out, and usually miss those action shots.
  3. I tuck it down my shirt, or sit it in a shirt pocket. When climbing, I drop it down one of my sleeves, leaving me able to climb uninhibited. Then at belay stances I can easily use one hand to take that spectacular climbing shot.
  4. A recent innovation for compact cameras is to get hold of a neoprene stubby holder, cut the bottom out, then put a hole in its side and thread the lanyard through it. The camera fits snugly inside and can be removed from either end.’

Hakili Matagi,

Robin McNeill
44 Duke Street
Invercargill 9810

This column was originally published in the August 2008 FMC Bulletin. We will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column here on Wilderlife. 

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