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A backcountry food paranoia, I think I’ve developed one. I have, for the last two years, raced the Marathon des Sables. As some of you know, this race lasts seven days and 150 miles, and every drop of food that you consume during that time must come from within the backpack you carry throughout the race. Thus, food lingers for a week in fine balance. Too much food and you’re running around with excess weight on your back. Too little food and you’ll suddenly find yourself withering into a caloric bonk. I suppose, then, it’s easy to grow caloric-ly neurotic because of this race.

I’ve always had a tenuous relationship with food. Well, specifically, the idea and the actuality of a lack of it. I eat often and I eat a lot. I really like to eat, but I also need to eat. I have a fast metabolism to begin with (Thanks, Mom!) and, when stoked by physical activity, it runs even faster. My friend Leslie calls what happens if people like her and I don’t eat every few hours “hanger,” or anger derived from being hungry. Suffice it to say that I find comfort by being in proximity to a lot of food.

Just over a month ago, fine friend Bekah and I took to the spine of the Sierra Nevada Mountains for a three-day fastpacking trip. Our route extended from the Mono Pass trailhead in Yosemite National Park to Red’s Meadow outside of Mammoth Lakes. Bekah charged me with purchasing food for this trip, and I bought a lot of stuff. Too much of it, I presumed, but enough so that we could each choose what would render us sated and happy out in the wilderness. But, when she and I stared at the pile, we each giggled nervously at the thought of leaving any of it behind.

So, every morsel was pushed into our backpacks and lugged across those mountains. We ate, and ate, and, joyfully, ate our way into a three-day food frenzy!

Our brimful bear food storage can

In the twilight of a Thursday evening, we tossed our packs on our backs at the Mono Pass trailhead and jogged it out for 90 minutes or so until we neared 11,000 feet and a nice little above-treeline rocky platform upon which we pitched the tent. We gorged ourselves in the dark on who-knows-what out of our bear food storage can as we watched Perseid meteors streak fiery arcs across the sky.

Bekah enjoys her granola and milk on the morning of Day 2.

Jetboil's French press provides another morning indulgence: coffee!

In the morning, we awoke in an amphitheater of red rock under the warm glow of sunrise, ready to eat again! After putting several hundred (maybe a thousand) calories in our bellies, and saluting the sun with some yoga, we started Day 2’s journey.

Bekah is ready for action on the morning of Day 2.

Earth and sky meet at the 11,100 foot Parker Pass.

It was a hop-skip-jump to Parker Pass and that was just the beginning of the morning’s climbing. After passing a chain of high altitude ponds, we headed up, up, up some more. The following is an accurate description of our upward procession: snack, jog, snack, powerhike, snack, photograph, snack.

Climbing the switchbacks toward Koip Pass, I stand in front of snowfields and 1 glacier.

Koip Pass, somewhere around 12,500 feet, with Mono Lake in the background

Looking south-ish from Koip Pass and into our next destination, the Alger Lakes basin

Koip Pass, the high point of our trip, could have been the moon, devoid of much life except our own human forms. A warm breeze swept through the pass, and we paused for, you guessed it, food. I think I indulged on faux jerky there. And some M&M’s. And a bite or two of brownies.

Refueled, we turned on the afterburners and streaked downhill. The trail was graded into perfect switchbacks and composed of impact-absorbing scree. An eye blink of bounding later, we were back into the land of the living and in a valley carpeted with wildflowers.

From the valley, the sweeping view back toward Koip Pass is just plain ridiculous.

We spent the day just like this. Up, over pass, down hill, and repeat. We stopped on the flank of Gem Lake for lunch, pulled out the Jetboil stove and a backpacking meal, and fixed up some high altitude beans and rice. We splashed around in the lake while we waited for our food to cook, and life simply couldn’t have improved upon that moment.

Eight hours into Day 2, we’d reached our mileage goal for the day, but we hadn’t emptied the fuel out of our energy tanks. If we went down the trail any farther, we’d gobble up tomorrow’s mileage. So, we turned to our left and gazed up the slope toward two red peaks. We exchanged devilish grins and began a bushwhacking climb.

Bekah is happy and hungry in this off-trail meadow.

We climbed and climbed, but the peaks didn’t get any closer. Eventually, we gave up after this good uphill push, sat on some rocks next to a green meadow, and snacked while the shadows grew long. We backed our way downhill until we reached the trail once more. Finding the perfect place to call home for the night, we made camp, jumped into our warm clothes, and settled in for a hot meal and tea.

The sun sets on the World's Best Campsite.

At the World’s Best Campsite, I ate my way into bellyaching oblivion. Ouchie, ouchie, but oh-so-good! The mosquitoes were as hungry as we were, so we zipped ourselves into the tent and watched light fall out of the sky. After an eleven hour day and a huge dinner, sleep was simple and deep.

The sun rises on Mount Ritter as Bekah heats water for coffee on the morning of Day 3.

Mount Ritter meets the sunrise above the ridgeline.

Day 3 was twelve or so lovely trail miles, a morning of running and hiking. Our finish line was Red’s Meadow and a nice dip in the San Joaquin River there. A bit later, our friend Jenna collected us from the trailhead bus and ushered us into an even grander finish line. We spent the rest of this day in a relaxed frenzy of food, beer, music, dancing, and friendship at Bluesapalooza in Mammoth Lakes.

Bekah and Jenna frenzying over a hunk of meat.

Cheers to a weekend well lived!

20 Responses to “A Food Frenzy: Mono Pass to Red’s Meadow Fastpacking Trip Report”

  1. Bryon Powell says:

    Awesome traveling smörgåsbord! Best keep eating up… it’s almost time for winter mountain adventures!

  2. Keith says:

    Chocolate!

  3. Devon says:

    How much is a lot of food? I have never done a fastpacking adventure but after running the high sierra loop on Saturday with Nathan we really want to start planning some. So how much and what kind of food do you carry? Sounds like you had an epic time!

    • Meghan says:

      Devon, you’ll love fastpacking, I’ll bet. There is so many freaking awesome things about getting, and staying, really far out there.

      For breakfasts, I usually do some sort of backpacker’s granola and powder. And coffee! Food while running is typical runner’s food and other snack-type stuff, like gels, blocks, a cookie, a brownie, some Justin’s Nut Butter, dehydrated fruit, crackers, and nuts. I often bring dehydrated soup as a dinner appetizer and a backpacker’s meal (like from Backpacker’s Pantry, for example) that’s somewhere in the 800 calories range, then something sweet for dessert. Oh and a couple tea bags for hanging around camp at night.

      All of that usually totals somewhere in the 3500-calorie range, and is about right if you’re going to be out there and moving for most of the day.

      Have fun, and let me know if you have other questions! I love this sport!

  4. Danni says:

    Sounds awesome. I always bring too much and the wrong food hiking/fastpacking. I always want salty but have tons of gross Lara bars and such. Someday I wil learn.

    • Meghan says:

      Oh noes, you don’t like Lara Bars? We need to go hiking so that, when you decide you don’t like them, I can’t eat ’em! 😉

  5. Gretchen says:

    I think long-distance backpacking gives me the best relationship with food ever. Not only does EVERYTHING taste yummy out there, but food is no longer an indulgence. It’s purely fuel for the fire that runs the furnace. All guilt is vanished, and I am freeeeeeeee!

    (Also, I’ll fight you for Danni’s Lara Bars!)

  6. Ewa says:

    This is such a cool post. We are planning on doing JMT next year (not fastpacking though) and I am into experimenting with dehydrating our own food for the trip (we will need lots of calories and none of the preservatives). It is fun but overwhelming at times.

    • Meghan says:

      Ewa,

      That sounds like a delightful way to spend some time in the summer. I, too have JMT dreams someday as a fastpack. Not ridiculously fast though, slow enough to see the scenery!

      Hope you’re well!
      Meghan

  7. JeffO says:

    I’m not much of an eater on the trail during warmer months, but when the whether turns cold, I start doing some serious eating. I guess that’s because in order to penetrate further into the mountains, I have to spend the night, and can’t enjoy an evening pork-out.
    Awesome photos.
    But may I suggest we all have a contest: World’s Best Campsite? Photos and verbal description (how far from water, etc) of why it’s so Bestest required. Exact locations may not be practical, because some locations are so secret, if we tell people, then we’ll have to kill them. But a general mountain range and region should be required.
    Double-dare.

  8. Nick says:

    That sounds so fun!! I want to do that some day!! Did you see any bear or any other wildlife?? Also did you run most of the way with those heavy packs? How much did they way?? Sounds like you had a great time!!

    Where would I find a fun place to go fastpacking in Park City, utah??

    • Meghan says:

      Nick, it was fun! You would really enjoy fastpacking, I think. We probably ran about 70% of the time, powerhiking the big climbs and when the scenery was too good to run through without enjoying. The packs look big, but they weighed about 15 pounds each.

      While I’ve just moved here and you know the trails way better than me, I’m certain that there’s great terrain everywhere around here. Whenever you have a good, long stretch of trail, maybe 30 miles or so, you could fastpack it.

      See you soon, Nick, and thanks for commenting!

  9. Nick says:

    Meghan,

    Thanks for the info!! Can’t wait to go!! Maybe you and bryon and my mom and I could go on one!! See you soon!!!

    nick

  10. […] do the work to get there–let me share one last story. It was the summer of 2010, and I was on fastpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada with my friend Bekah. Almost all of that trip was perfect: cloudless days and […]

  11. Bruce says:

    Hi Megan,

    Me and my partner have done a few past packing trips since reading your definitive guide to fastpacking on irunfar. Amazing article btw! Loved reading this article and knowing its normal to eat this much when on these types of trips, everything does taste better after a day of running/hiking.

    Do you have a “kit list” anywhere with what you take on these types of trips, like what kind of insulation and waterproofs you take with you? We always seem to struggle with our balance of waterproofness and lightweight when packing a jacket. Do you have any recommendations?

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