Tea at Altitude

Some of my tramping mates like camping out on the top of minor peaks. That is fine, but can I get a decent brew at altitude?

The first problem is deciding what the perfect infusion temperature for a brew is:  the Internet contains more conflicting advice than I could imagine. I settled for the Twinings Tea website, which seemed to indicate that it was possible to brew up as cool as 95°C, though the optimum temperature was 99°C for black tea, obtained by waiting one minute after taking the billy off the boil before adding the tea leaves. This is at some variance to traditional billy tea, but let that be put aside for the moment.

The Barometric Formula tells us that the water vapour pressure decreases by the logarithm of height, while atmospheric pressure reduces by the exponential:  they cancel and we find that the boiling point of water linearly reduces by 1°C per 300 metres of altitude gained. A brew-up on the summit of an 1,800 metre peak will thus have the billy boiling at 94°C, which is an invitation to drink instant coffee. Now I think about it, my mates who like camping high don’t drink tea…

Go Well on Spuds

The other year, I was heartened to read of research undertaken at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that found potatoes are as effective as carbohydrate gels for boosting athletic performance. In essence the researchers found no differences between the performance of athletes who got their carbohydrates by ingesting potatoes, or gels at recommended amounts of about 60 grams per hour; both groups saw a significant boost in performance that those consuming only water did not achieve.

It is not all a bed of roses:  those consuming potatoes experienced significantly more gastrointestinal bloating, pain and flatulence than the other groups, possibly because of the larger volume of potatoes needed to match the glucose provided by the gels. To be honest, instant spud, aka spud dust, with a bit of melted cheese is always satisfying for me; and for good reason I have tried eating a gel only once.

Lightweight Tent Flies

Markus Milne from Canterbury writes with a plug for Z Pack’s custom made tarps from cuben fibre. Cuben fibre, as described in an earlier UJCC, seems to be the new wonder lightweight, high-strength material. Marcus had a custom fly made up that is three metres by four metres and weighs only 360 grams, for use as a booster with a lightweight tent in Fiordland. He thinks this fly would be one of the lightest around, but observes that they are not cheap. I am suitably impressed, at least by the lack of weight.

Lightweight Tents

Geoff Speargrass writes that he has finally found the tent he has been looking for:  from TarpTent, a Lithium Stratospire, two person tent made of Dyneema with a full inner, which he tested out the other week in suitable conditions. It weighs 800 grams total and uses two trekking poles to hold it up, and as he says, ‘is amazingly stable. And roomy, with space for packs and boots in each vestibule. Two doors. Twin exhaust, mags, No, just joking there, but the tent is what I have been looking for for years. I think’.

On that basis, as long as you can afford it all, you should be able to remain pretty comfortable in Fiordland with one of these and a Z Pack tarp for just under 1.2 kg.

Night-time Tramping

There is something to be said for floundering around in the dark in the Hills. For one thing, your senses are altered. For another, you can tackle things that you would baulk at if you could see them. The classic case was Bill Graves’ exploration at the head of the Dark River where they happily pitched their tent and got water in the dark; they were most reluctant to get more water the following morning once there was sufficient light to see the exposure. Back in the day, former Southland Tramping Club members Bill Gordon and Ralph Miller sidled in the dark the slopes under Mt Tutoko after the first traverse, oblivious to what lay, or rather, didn’t lie, underneath them.

I once found that if there is only one torch in a party of twelve on a moonless night, special techniques to cross streams are required, such as everyone hanging on to the pack of the person in front. Another time on a hunting day trip, I discovered that you can, sort of, make progress with a candle if the wind is light enough. One year we also found that you can pitch a corner of your tent on a bush overhanging a bluff if it is dark enough. That said, wandering around in the snow on a clear, moonlit night is something to relish – I still savour wandering around in the moonlit snow many years ago above Barker Hut once a severe storm had blown through.

Last year a good tramping friend from the Southland Tramping Club, Alan Admore, passed away. Alan was one of those nice, friendly, ever-optimistic, relaxed types who have the unassuming knack of making a tramping trip all the nicer merely by being on the trip. We had a bit of a long day one winter Sunday at the end of a crossing of the Takitimu Mountains; sufficiently long that the mistrustful spouse (who had stayed at home) of one of the party felt compelled to unnecessarily report us overdue to the Police. Not knowing that, Alan enjoyed that evening immensely.

The party’s mood became more urgent as the gloom thickened and the likelihood of us getting out before dark dwindled, made even more urgent as dinner time came and went without pause so we could best use the remaining daylight. Sighs of relief followed by euphoria came as we confronted our fate with a snack stop, brew-up and torch rummage. That was followed by a good old fashioned struggle down the river bed splashing across the river braids (without the aid of the moon) for an hour because we couldn’t find our way through the scrub and gorse to open paddocks not more than 50 metres away, which is a situation at which you just have to serenely smile.

Hakili matagi,

Robin McNeill

This article was re-published from the March 2021 issue of FMC’s Backcountry magazine. To subscribe to the print version, please visit www.fmc.org.nz/aboutbackcountryWe will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column here on Wilderlife.