Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Your Food Vs. Alpine Animals


Picture this. You are on the second day of your trip up into the mountains. It’s hot. You’re hungry. The bag of potato chips you have stashed in your tent is sounding mouth-wateringly good right about now. You’re just coming off the Deming Glacier, practically dragging your ice axe as you stumble, mind in a haze, towards the alluring potato chips ­– your post summit prize food. You unzip your tent, fingers trembling, and find to your horror a pile of confetti in the corner next to a scraggily looking hole, sunshine filtering through the tatters of your tent.

Do not, dear reader, become this sad climber.

Marmots, mice, and ravens are a real hazard when it comes to food in the backcountry and I wager, have had years more experience thieving than you have likely had in protecting your food from their greedy little mouths.  I myself woke up recently to not one, but two mice in my tent having a nice little feast on my food bars, which I had set aside for the summit the next day. One even had the audacity to run over my face. This was not fun. 

That being said, here are some things to do and some things not to do with your food in the alpine.

-       Do not hang your food from rocks in an attempt to mimic food protection from bears in lower country. This seems to be a common recommendation on the Internet at the moment. However, I personally see a few flaws in the system. Firstly, marmots can climb rocks and so a small boulder simply wouldn’t do. This means you would need to hang your food over a cliff and a) that sounds like a lot of effort/potentially sketchy and b) ravens, being birds, can in fact fly and they will get it even if the rodents don’t. So, nix the “marmot bag” option.

-       The best option I know of is to store your food inside your tent. You might be wondering why I would suggest such a thing when we have already learned about the confetti threat but there are ways to store it properly and ways to store it improperly. For starters don’t leave your food along the walls of your tent. You would be significantly increasing the risk of an animal chewing its way inside. What you can do though is put your food in your sleeping bag (which reduces smells) and place the sleeping bag as centrally in the tent as possible. So far, I have not had any issues while employing this technique and it is one that seems popular among the crowds that frequent the mountain slopes.

Note: at night you still should try to keep your food away from your tent walls and zip the door closed at the bottom.

-       You can also dig a cash in the snow and burry your food there if you are concerned with the possibility of animals chewing into your tent. This is a perfectly reasonable option when there is snow at the camp. However, if you employ this technique be sure that you dig down fairly deep. A foot simply doesn’t cut it. Three feet would be a minimum depth for proper storage, but even that might be too shallow. Four to six feet is best. Don’t forget to mark the location of your cash. Losing your food would be just about as bad as it being eaten.

Good luck with the food ventures! Remember, don’t be the sad climber with out his potato chips. 

Yellow Bellied Marmot
Photo Credit: Alasdair Turner AAI Instructor and Guide

--Jess Lewis, Instructor and Guide

1 comment:

Ben Roberts said...

Odorproof OPSak bags are worth considering if you're going to store food in a tent or sleeping bag, to help prevent those hard-to-wash items in turn from smelling like food.

A safer though burlier option is to buy some of those cheap plastic storage containers from a big box store, essentially a lighter/cheaper version of a BearVault. It wouldn't deter a bear, but put a rock or two on top and no small alpine animal is going to get in there. I used this method with success in Patagonia a couple years ago, employing two 6 qt tubs. If you buy multiples of the same size, they can stack together and will take up less pack volume.

But generally, for short trips into the Cascades I just stick to a rule of always carrying all of my food with me during the day. Overnight hasn't been a big deal on climbing trips because of limited time of exposure; I'm getting up at midnight or so.