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A Tribute to Climbing Cuisine

Bizarre foods have always had place, neigh, been necessitated in association with alpine adventures, the strange shapes and forms in which these foods present themselves mostly being dictated either by how conveniently they can be packed or where they are found. Of course, the fact that the food itself is unusual or has been transformed in the course of the journey says nothing of its palatability. After spending a couple hours more than planned on an ice climb and descending in the dark, I can recall one of my most satisfying meals being found beneath the passenger’s seat of our waiting Range Rover–a missing order of McDonald’s french fries that we proceeded to drown in a bbq sauce packet and consume on the spot, indifferent to the minor lacerations sustained to the roofs of our mouths from the ice cold fry tips. Despite the fondness of this memory, I cannot ever recall a McDonald’s promotion advertising this potential experience. During these recent Olympics games, I saw the same advertisement over and over featuring boxers and runners touting chicken sandwiches, but what about the alpinists’ testimony? ‘They taste good even when they’re covered in fibers from your floor mat’.

The point I am coming around to here is that there seems to be a lack of recognition for all of the deformed and, as termed by some gourmand snobs, “disgusting” foods which have sustained climbers for so long. They may not be glamorous, but often, the same can be said of alpinism. Sure, I’ve had a Red Bull before an ascent or eaten a Powerbar on a wall, but even more so I have consumed cans of mystery meat at the campsite, relishing every bite, or dip, or whatever. It is only the big names, however, that are offered the privilege of having their logo flashing at various climbing events. It is a shame that we as climbers have let the little guys who give so much be left in the dust. Needless to say, it is time to open our arms and embrace these products.

Start with King Oscar. Here is a fine canned sardine producer which even features on its label a man who is only one rope-over-the-shoulder away from resembling mountaineering’s rugged pioneers. Always this brand has held its customers in mind, giving us options which afford what little menu we have on distant peaks: mustard sauce or the far less conventional red sauce. What about Vienna sausages, those tasty and fluffier second cousins to hot dogs? Not only do they satisfy, but they even have a name which gave back a little of the integrity we lost when agreeing to pay for and eat pig noses. The most shining example of mountaineering food, however, can go to none other than Potted Meat Food Product. Potted Meat Food Product comes in a can smaller than that of tuna fish, lending to a sense of buying something gourmet, such as caviar or expensive olive spread. Don’t bother picking up the can in an attempt to determine what’s inside, as you will find that those responsible for producing this substance don’t know either (rather than listing the ingredients, the label instead offers a vague account of what the people on the meatpacking floor saw falling into the grinder–“partially defatted cooked pork fatty tissue”). Not only is it spreadable, but it is completely unpretentious. With its simple blue packaging, it unapologetically offers its true self and promises nothing more than that it is okay to eat.

In a spirit of appreciation, I am calling on us as a climbing community to reach out a hand to these products which we have largely neglected. Let us solicit their support, rather than that of the big name money machines. Perhaps, in time, the Red Bull-sponsored “Silo Summit” will make way for the far more practical Potted Meat Food Product-sponsored “Iowa Artificial Ice Climbing Event.”