Sunday, October 2, 2016

Wallowa River Figure-8 Trail: 5-Day Menu

What is a "figure-8" trail you ask? A figure-8 trail is when one attempts to do a loop trail, but takes an accidental turn and cuts the loop in half, only to figure this out a day and a half later. Then one decides to double back and complete the loop in the other direction in order to see the part of the trail one thought one already saw. It proves to be a bit of a mind trip, but makes the trip that much more exciting! This has never happened to you, you say? Well, you should try it some time!

This last weekend Max and I took five days for a backpacking trip in the Wallowas in northeastern Oregon. This was some of the most stunning, sweeping scenery I have ever seen. It was also completely different from moment to moment. We traversed mountain meadows, volcanic hillsides, granite slabs, and wandered past brilliant blue alpine lakes. We couldn't even complain that we added about 4.5 miles by doing the figure-8 route on accident (in our defense, the junction was not marked and very easy to misinterpret as there was a big washout!).

And we ate amazingly on this trip. I was never too hungry and never too full and we hit the quantities just right. The whole time I felt like I was burning really clean energy. It's hard to describe but I just felt good. I tried out some new things that I'm excited about.

Usually with our dehydrating, we'll make a full meal ahead of time and dehydrate that. This method has great results - the meal is almost always amazing, and you get to try the finished product before you head out so you know approximately what you'll be eating. But the downside is that it's very time consuming.

We've had a lot of success in the past with variations on the Backpacker's Bounty Soup, where you essentially dehydrate all the vegetables and meat separately, then cook them together in the backcountry and it still melds really well and is super delicious. So I decided to try to expand that to other ideas and do some more "deconstructed" meals so I could spend less time in the kitchen.

Our trip was 5 days, meaning we'd need dinner for 4 nights on the trail so we decided to streamline even more and do 2 different dinners and just alternate them: Easy Salmon Coconut Curry and Beefed-Up Pasta Sauce over Butternut Squash "Noodles." In addition, I brought some grass-fed collagen powder to add to the dinners for a little extra protein and some joint-repairing benefits.

The curry and pasta sauce turned out so dense, flavorful, and delicious, but the squash "noodles" didn't quite turn out how I wanted them to. They were OK as something to serve the pasta sauce over, but I'll need to keep experimenting with the noodle idea.

Curry ingredients on the left and pasta sauce ingredients on the right. About to add some spinach.

Another trick I'd tried before that worked out really well was adding dehydrated vegetable ingredients to an already-made dehydrated meal to stretch it a little further. We had one half-bag of "Sausage Scramble" left in our freezer (the mystery meal that also made an appearance on our San Juan kayak trip) that didn't look like quite enough to feed us both for one breakfast, so I dehydrated some zucchini and summer squash and added that to the mix. That breakfast turned out to be so good! The zucchini and squash added a perfect flavor.

We ate the same thing for lunches and snacks each day so I didn't bother repeating the list in the menus below. We shared one tin of sardines packed in oil, one carrot, one bag of plantain chips, and one landjaeger meat stick each day. We brought one KIND bar (I know...not paleo but so good still!) per person per day, one pint tub of Paleo Cookie Butter for the whole trip, and probably about 5 or 6 cups of store-bought trail mix total.

Day 1: Wallowa River Trailhead to Aneroid Lake (6 miles)

Today we hiked in and the weather was decidedly summer. The sun was out and hot and we were thankful to be in the shade. We found some nettles along the way to harvest and add to our dinner tonight. We got a beautiful campsite right on the lake and even went for a swim!

Breakfast (in the car driving to the trail head)
  • Sardines w/ mustard 
  • Carrot w/ mustard
  • Paleo Cookie Butter
  • Plantain Chips
  • KIND Bar
  • Landjaeger beef stick
  • Trail mix

Day 2: Aneroid Lake to Polaris Pass to Horseshoe Lake (15 miles)

Hiking up and over the pass was an experience. As we hiked up we were treated to views of rounded hills and red rocks, lit up by fiery orange and crimson bushes. It almost looked like a moonscape with trees. Then once we crossed over the pass, everything we could see was sharp, angular granite! It was like we had crossed over into a different world. Then the descent was about 5 miles of switchbacks cutting down a long, steep hillside. By the end we felt like we had been on that same hillside all day long. This is also where we went wrong. Instead of taking the trail south to Frazier Lake, we cut north through the middle of the loop, past 6-Mile Meadow (which we weren't supposed to arrive at until the last day) and on to Horseshoe Lake (which we though the whole time we were there was Frazier Lake). The reason those last 2 miles felt so long was because they were actually 5 miles.

  • Same as above
  • Beefed-Up Pasta Sauce with Butternut Squash "Noodles" w/ about 2 TB collagen
  • Theo Salted Dark Chocolate

Day 3:  - Horseshoe Lake to Moccasin Lake (3 miles)

Still didn't know that we weren't where we thought we were for all of today. Woke up and started the "5 mile" hike to Moccasin Lake and arrived way earlier than we thought we should have. We ran into some people fishing and asked them what lake we were at and they verified it was Moccasin. We spent a while looking at their topo maps trying to figure out what we'd done, but finally concluded we had just taken a trail that wasn't on the map.

  • Same as above

Day 4: Moccasin Lake to Glacier Pass to 6-Mile Meadow (9.2 miles) 

It somehow donned on us this morning that we had actually taken the cut-off trail and circled around the opposite way than we thought we were hiking. So in order to correct the fact that we hadn't seen half of the trail we'd planned to see, we did the loop in reverse to complete our figure-8. Going over Glacier Pass and dropping down on Glacier Lake was one of the most beautiful parts of the trip. Sparkling aquamarine (or was it aquaalpine?? Sorry I know it's bad but I couldn't resist!) water flowing out into a rushing alpine stream. As we hiked down the valley alongside the river we ran into masses of tiny frogs! The size of a fingernail! We had to hike pretty carefully to make sure not to squash any.

  • Sausage Scramble (w/ added dehydrated zucchini & summer squash)
  • Same as above
  • Beefed-Up Pasta Sauce with Butternut Squash "Noodles" (forgot the collagen tonight :( )
  • Theo Salted Dark Chocolate

Day 5: 6-Mile Meadow to Wallowa River Trailhead (6.4 miles) 

We woke up super early this morning to hike out and do the 8 hour drive back to Eugene. As we hiked out along the Wallowa River, we could really feel the change in season. All the cottonwoods and vine maples were turning color and the entire river valley was painted with fall colors. A big contrast to the heat and greenery we hiked in on. It felt like an appropriate way to welcome the new season!

  • Same as above
  • Mexican food at a restaurant while driving back

Easy Salmon Coconut Curry

This is a different version of curry from my other recipe for Smoked Salmon Coconut Curry that uses all fresh vegetables and is more suitable for car camping or short overnights where weight isn't an issue. This takes more at-home prep for dehydrating the vegetables and makes a perfect backcountry dinner. A couple things I learned while making this meal: celery and bamboo shoots are both so watery that they dehydrate down to almost nothing. That doesn't mean you shouldn't use them! They do add really great depth and flavor, you just have to dehydrate them in bigger pieces. For example, I chopped up the bamboo shoots really tiny, but next time I would just put them on the dehydrator trays straight out of the can. To make this meal even lighter weight, you could use dehydrated coconut milk. I've tried one type of dehydrated coconut milk straight before and it wasn't my favorite thing, but mixed in a meal it might be pretty good. 

For 2 people

For Dehydrating:
2 carrots, thinly sliced in half-moons
2 stalks celery, chopped large
1/2 onion, chopped small
1 green bell pepper, chopped small
1 can bamboo shoots
1/2 bag of frozen peas, thawed
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1 5-oz. can of salmon

Additional Ingredients:
1 carton Aroy-D coconut milk
2 TB curry paste
1-2 TB grass-fed collagen (optional)

Spread all vegetables and salmon on dehydrator trays and dry until no longer moist, about 8-10 hours. That's an approximate time, since they will all dry at different rates. For example, peas will take longer than the spinach. There's not really a problem with leaving them in longer if you need to.

To cook in the backcountry:

Soak the vegetables and salmon mixture in a pot with just enough water to cover for as long as possible once you get into camp. The longer the better, but you can also skip this step if super hungry. When ready to cook, add coconut milk, curry paste, and collagen (if using) and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring for about 5 minutes. Feel free to add any wild goodies you find, like these nettles! Turn off heat, cover pot with lid and let sit another 5-10 minutes. Open and enjoy!

Beefy Spaghetti Squash 'n' Sauce

This is a great short-cut to awesome pasta sauce in the backcountry. We used jars of store-bought sauce (although if you have a favorite recipe, you can use your own!), threw them into a pot with some ground beef to cook and then dehydrated that. We also dehydrated some extra add-on vegetables (spinach, mushrooms, peas, and onions) to make it more interesting! Super easy prep at home and in the backcountry. The first time I made this I served it with Butternut Squash "Noodles." Basically I just grated raw butternut squash and dehydrated that, then rehydrated it plain by itself to serve the sauce over. Not recommended. The second time, we cooked a spaghetti squash in the oven, scraped it out when it was done, and mixed it with the sauce before dehydrating. Much better! There are also kelp noodles you can find that might work well with this, but I haven't tried those yet. 
Don't those butternut squash noodles look appetizing?

For 2 people

1 jar pasta sauce
3/4 lb. grass-fed ground beef

2 cups baby spinach
8 large mushrooms, sliced
1/2 bag frozen peas, thawed
1/2 onion, chopped small

1/2 a large spaghetti squash, seeded

Put cut spaghetti squash face down on an oiled baking pan. Put in the oven at 350 F for about 45 minutes, or until a fork pierces it easily. Remove from the oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the spaghetti guts to mix in with the sauce and meat when it is finished.

Combine ground beef and pasta sauce in a sauce pan over medium heat on the stove. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is done. Stir in spaghetti squash. Spread sauce mixture on dehydrator trays and dry for 8-12 hours at 155 F.

Spread the spinach, sliced mushrooms, thawed peas, and chopped onions on dehydrator trays and dry 8-10 hours. The normal vegetable setting is about 135 F, but if you want to save time you can do it with the pasta sauce at 155, or do the pasta sauce at 135 (it will just take longer for the meat).

To rehydrate:

Throw it all in a pot, add water until just covered, and let it soak for as long as you have. When ready to cook, bring to a boil (you might have to add more water after soaking) and cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes. Turn off heat, cover pot with lid and let sit for another 5-10 minutes. Open and enjoy!