Quick Shakedown in the Ozarks

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Light rain with temps in the 50s… I must go now! So, Friday evening I arrived at Shores Lake as the sun went down, leaving a dim, soft light. The trailhead parking lot was empty.

I begin most walks with intense anticipation but felt a dull obligation this evening. I needed a shake-down outing in the rain in preparation for future trips, and my hiking buddy needed some time in the woods.

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Beginning the trail after sunset 

Thankfully, it only took a few steps on the trail for that sense of duty to drop away, replaced by feelings of magic while walking this familiar route in deepening darkness. The last couple of miles required a headlamp.

Seeing only the trail details right in front of me stimulated memories of previous walks on this path. Memories associated with each turn of the trail came back clearly like repeated hits of deja vu. As I walked past a couple of my favorite waterfalls in the darkness, I thought of past treks when I enjoyed these scenes in daylight.

White Rock creek

Little Roaring Falls on White Rock Creek

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Bedtime beverage

In the misty drizzle, it was easy to set up the tarp so that my down quilt stayed dry inside the trash compactor bag until I was ready for sleep. The small umbrella was helpful during the walk and while making the evening’s hot toddy.

The rainy night left me well rested. When I woke at 4 a.m., the sky was clear and the air was chilly. I felt great, so we packed up and started walking, thinking Salt Fork Creek would be an excellent location for breakfast. Walking the sun up was a treat! 

Shortly after passing the intersection at the short spur to White Rock Mountain, someone said “good morning” from inside his tent. I’m sure he was relieved that Hiker-dog wasn’t a bear.

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Important sign on the approach to the top of White Rock Mountain

The downhills east of White Rock Mountain were the most difficult footings I encountered in darkness. No falls, but two close calls and a little rock-skating here and there.

As we approached Salt Fork Creek, we saw headlamps from a campsite. A camper’s dog joined us and played with Hiker-dog. The two of them had a great time while I sat close to my stove to protect the boiling water from their prancing.

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Salt Fork Creek had clear water

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egg burrito

My dehydrated egg crystals turned out great, but I’ll pack some bacon bits next time. I dipped out some clear Salt Fork Creek water for coffee and treated another pouch full for the day. A couple of breakfast bars completed my meal as we backtracked a short distance to the East Loop Trail and continued south.

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The woods and rocks surrounding the trail were a welcome sight after so much night walking. We saw evidence of trail maintenance by the OHTA all along the trail. I think Hiker-dog appreciated this cut!

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Before arriving back at Shores Lake, the trail crossed this stream that flows down to Salt Fork Creek. This water level is pretty typical of fall in the Ozarks. You can usually find water pockets, but sometimes, creeks are bone-dry this time of year. I still had water from Salt Fork Creek, so we continued and arrived at the trailhead relaxed and ready for lunch (and an afternoon nap).

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Shakedown thoughts: The following are my thoughts about a few recent pieces of equipment or practices. I’m not that gear conscious so you won’t get technical info here. Often, I can’t remember the brand names of items while on the trail.

Headlamp – The little Nitecore NU25 headlamp worked well. It’s rechargeable so only repeated uses will tell how long the charge will last, but with the low setting I used most on this outing, it should last several hours. The higher settings were great for scanning the campsite before departing. I carried a Petzl with the retractable strap for backup. I’ve used the Petzl for several years with good results.

Coffee recipe: Details of my trail brew are available on another post, My Morning Brew: Great Coffee on the Trail. I’ve used Mount Hagen instant with good results, but my current coffee brewing method doesn’t leave any trash to carry out.

Hoosier Hill Farm Premium Whole Egg Crystals: Practice making these at home and you’ll have a protein-rich breakfast on the trail. I’m not finding this product now, but hopefully, it’s available or will be soon. I measure the crystals into a small ziplock, then add salt and pepper. When the water boils, I add a few drops of olive oil and then the egg mix. If it’s too thick, I add a few drops of my coffee since I’m mixing in the cook pot. If it’s too watery, I pour off the excess after the eggs scramble.

Shelter: I’ve used the Zpacks tarp in light rain, so this outing gave me a slightly stronger test though I’m looking forward to getting it out in a heavy rain for a final test before using it on the Ozark Trail this winter. My Big Agnes tent is a good option if I lack confidence with the tarp, but I like the lightness of the tarp. The Big Agnes was my John Muir Trail shelter and it worked well. If I hike the High Sierras again in summer, I’ll take my tarp.

Hot Toddy recipe (for medicinal purposes): Put a little bourbon in a cup (depending on taste). Boil a cup of water and add 4-6 whole cloves toward the end of the boil. Pour into cup and stir in a pinch of True Lemon crystals. Enjoy!

JMT Food: Natural Where Possible While Watching Your “Weight”

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Organizing food for the JMT (and thinning out where possible)

While studying the JMT Take/Leave Survey, I noticed a pattern. Some hikers who indicated that they took too much food would post comments like, “Didn’t feel like eating.” Then, the percent of trip completed might be 20-30%.

I’ve seen the effect of elevation changes on the appetite. Not eating enough can cause the early end to a trip. I’ve been fortunate that I stay pretty hungry on the trail, but keeping food interesting, nutritional and light, is a challenge.

There is also a danger in packing too much food (and weight) so measuring and estimating needs can be challenging. Finding foods that are calorie-dense, lightweight, and low in bulk, is the task. Finding veggies for the trail is important, too.

I do better if my trail menus contain “real food” I might eat at home. Going with natural foods where possible also helps in the taste department. Some might thrive on nothing but commercially available freeze-dried meals, but I find that home-dehydrated food is tastier and less expensive.

To dehydrate frozen veggies, just place them on the rack and let your dehydrator run for several hours until they’re crispy. You can go for chewy if your trip is soon, but I prefer crispy-dry to avoid spoilage and reduce weight.

I like to dehydrate fresh vegetables when possible. It’s important to blanch them by placing in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. I cut them then, blanch them, and then place them on the rack. Some veggies do better if I spray the rack lightly with Pam to avoid sticking. Blanching is important if you want to hold the natural color in your veggies. I even blanched two green bell peppers before placing on wax paper in my dehydrator. They were a thing of beauty and will add some flavor to several meals on the trail.

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Blanched bell pepper ready for dehydrating

For some veggies like carrots, broccoli, and green beans, I purchase Mother Earth Products freeze dried vegetables. Powdered cheese and butter from Hoosier Hill Farm also add some flavor. These products area a little pricey, but good!

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Dehydrated fruit is a real treat and good energy on the trail. My favorites are bananas, apples, strawberries, and pineapple. I slice thin and dip in instant lemonade, so the fruit holds its color. Dry until crispy to avoid spoilage and reduce weight.

Home dehydrated fruit is much better than what you can buy in the store. The flavor is amazing. It’s difficult not to eat the dry fruit before ever arriving on the trail!

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dehydrated bananas (approx. 40 slices = 1 whole banana)

Protein for backpacking tends to be heavy. Tuna, chicken, or salmon in foil packs are delicious but heavy. Carrying a few of these for lunch or dinner is an option, but I purchased a can of Mountain House dehydrated beef and chicken for weight and convenience. Meat added to breakfast or even $1.00 Knoll side dishes make a tasty and easy-prep meal.

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Dinners with a view: Having just a few simple recipes that can be varied is the way to go when backpacking. Below are my foundational breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes. With planning and preparation, food on the trail can be the source of enjoyment and energy. Enjoy your outdoor restaurants and dinner with a view where ever the trails may lead!

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Dinnertime in the Ozarks. Looking forward to meals on the JMT.

Recipes

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JMT Egg Scramble with ground beef and a touch of cheese and butter

JMT Egg Scramble  

Problem: We need an easy-to-prepare hearty breakfast that includes much-needed protein. Solution: JMT Egg Scramble.

Ingredients: (I include some brand names because of the variations in products and taste.)
At home: Place the following in a ziplock bag. Measure the amount needed for each breakfast on your itinerary:
4 tbs Hoosier Hill Farm Whole Egg Powder (equivalent to 2 eggs)
1 teaspoon Hoosier Hill Farm cheddar cheese powder
1 teaspoon Hoosier Hill Farm butter powder
Pinch of salt & pepper
Pack a medicine measuring cup which includes tsp marks (3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon)

In a separate bag, place the following:
1 tbs Mountain House freeze dried ground beef
1 tsp dehydrated onions (add dehydrated bell pepper and zucchini squash if you like)

In camp:
In a small pan or cup, place 1 tablespoon of beef and 4 slices of potato (and any other dry veggies) broken up
Barely cover with some of the water heated for coffee and soak for 15 minutes or more
After re-hydrating, add mixture from your small pan or cup to your cookpot and bring to a boil (add a little water if needed)
Add powder egg from bag prepared at home (includes salt, pepper, cheddar cheese powder and a pinch of butter powder). If mix is runny, you can add more egg mix.
Heat for just a minute and then eat out of the pot or in a breakfast burrito

Camper’s Choice Dinner

Problem: Commercial freeze dried meals are very high in sodium and boring.
Solution: Home prepared meals with varied ingredients to keep the appetite interested.

Ingredients:
Ziplock bag with ½ cup (or more) dry powder soup – I like Bear Creek Cheddar Broccoli or Creamy Potato  / Alternate: Romine Noodles, Knoll side dishes, etc.
If the soup you choose requires milk, include Carnation instant milk in the bag with soup. Usually, a tablespoon is all that’s needed.
1-2 tablespoons Mountain House freeze dried beef or chicken (from separate ziplock bags)
1-3 tablespoons (or just a fist-full) of the dehydrated veggies of your choice (potatoes, broccoli, spinach, etc.)
1 ½ cup water (or more)

In camp:
In a small pan or cup, let meat and veggies soak for 15 mins. or longer
Add meat and veggies to the 1 ½ cup of boiling water in cookpot
Add ziplock bag of soup mix and stir constantly until the soup thickens (5-10 min.)
Eat out of the pot.

Lunch Crunch Roll-Up  

Ingredients:
Soft tortilla
Meat – tuna, salmon, or other
Mustard packet or Taco Bell-type sauce
Crushed Fritos or other calorie and fat-loaded chips
Dehydrated tomatoes

In camp:
Place ingredients on tortilla and form into a roll-up.

Peanut & “Jelly” Sandwich

Ingredients:
Soft tortilla
PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter
Hilltop Garden Honey-Cinnamon Sprinkles

In camp:
Put a small amount of water (approx. tablespoon) in a cup and add powdered peanut butter until the desired thickness. Spread peanut butter on a tortilla and sprinkle honey-cinnamon crystals lightly on the peanut butter. Roll up and enjoy.

Citrus  Water

It’s nice to have a little flavor (not sweet) in your water on the trail or in camp. A little lemon or lime seems to calm the stomach at times. Add a pinch of True Lemon Crystalized Lemon to your class of water. A 2.85 oz container is the equivalent of 15 lemons so repackage in a smaller container. True Lime and True Orange are good, too.
Natural