We all have heroes in our lives and my friend Bryce Jones is one of mine. You can bet if I’ve been wondering into the back country I’ve been most confident doing so the times Jones has been at my side. He is super human fit, strong like a gondola cable and he knows more about Alberta’s back country terrain (in any season) than anyone I know. Here’s a little story and recipe from my family’s most recent adventures with our dear “Jonesy”.
You probably think I’m exaggerating about Jones being super human fit and strong like a cable but here’s the proof. He once pulled me from a deep snow pocket that I fell into up to my arm pits with full cross-country ski gear on. I hadn’t realized that veering slightly from the packed trail would lead to such a deeply fluffy fate. It felt like I was rapidly sinking in quick sand – not a good feeling – but Bryce just yanked me out. I’m not light. He’s very strong.
Another time I was struggling down a steep pitch of shale in heavy freezing cold rain with Mother Nature (being a bit of a drama queen) adding in thunder and lightning for good measure. Jones had taken a different route and was already safely at the bottom but when he saw that I was in a bit of a pickle he quickly marched straight up to where I was. He took my pack and poles, and walked me straight down like we were one marionette puppet taking exaggerated foot steps. I would have gotten down eventually (likely sliding on my butt) as I’m not prone to panic but to say I was relieved to see him coming to fetch me is a mountainous understatement. My own sweet husband was also at my side for moral support but the more mountain savvy Jones knew exactly the technique that got us down swiftly and safely before we became mountainside barbecued tidbits courtesy of the precariously close lightning.
As you see, I put great faith in my friend and he has never let me down. He has been a national park guide and naturalist and has hiked or skied most of Alberta’s back country. He’s also an engineer and I think he’s the modern day MacGyver.
So, when Jones asked if my husband and son would like to accompany him and his two sons for a 3 day hike out of Mt. Assiniboine, we all quickly agreed it would be an amazing opportunity. I had to return to the city for work but they were able to take this time to savour life in Canada’s wilderness with our knowledgeable friend.
It is great to have a mentor and guide when you are green in your back country experience. We are great “car campers”. We’ve taken equipment in by bus to some back country campgrounds. We’ve cross-country skied to huts with fully equipped kitchens. We’ve even backpacked in the Grand Canyon with a guide for 5 days. But, our family has limited back country experience where you have to plan out and carry everything needed for food and shelter. We feel blessed to have a friend with the all-important savoir-faire to accomplish a 65 kilometre, many mountain pass, meal-planning, cooking and orienteering adventure.
I’ll skip to the ending: They didn’t see another soul for two days and came out the other end exhausted but fulfilled. They had enough food, ate well and were deeply satisfied with their adventure together.
My husband told me he had at times felt at the edge of his endurance. He is proud of our son and feels that the bond he has always shared with our son has deepened. I, of course, asked them about the food. Did they have enough and what was the best meal of the trip? They all told me Jones’s “Manly Man’s Couscous” was simply amazing. Here’s an email from the man himself explaining how he made it.
The meals on our hike were pretty basic. I took inspiration from the web site One Pan Wonders which has many great ideas including Manly Man Orzo. I changed this to couscous. Couscous is a favourite of mine backpacking because it takes so little fuel to cook.
I upped the serving sizes to account for three hungry 15-year-old boys.
Manly Man Couscous
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2 ½ cups whole wheat couscous
1 cup freeze-dried peas and onions
½ cup dried assorted mushrooms (crushed/chopped)
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes (pre-chopped)
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1/3 cup shelf stable Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup skim milk powder
1 tsp powdered butter flavouring
Bring five cups of water to a boil. Add in the contents of the large bag. Simmer as best you can on a camp stove for 8 minutes. Fluff with a suitable utensil (Spork). Remove from heat and fold in contents of the small bag. Let stand another two minutes or however long you can hold off the hungry horde.
Notes: Originally this was to include chopped dry beer sausage in the mix (for manliness) but, I wasn’t getting much cooperation finding these in our packs and rain intervened to make this a vegetarian meal. Consequently, this meal ended up being “not very manly vegetarian couscous”.
Don’t you love it? Its genius lies in simplicity and depth of flavour from carefully chosen ingredients. Those sun-dried tomatoes would have had crucial umami and helped them feel truly satisfied.
Another meal the men loved consisted of powdered eggs, milk, pre-cooked bacon with dried chives cooked and wrapped in tortillas for breakfast. And Jones says he loves Starbuck’s Via pouches for delicious instant coffee in the morning. The boys drank several mugs of herbal tea with each meal.
Kudos to Teresa “DiCentra” Black for her One Pan Wonders book and website. She is helping a lot of people have food to savour in the back country when a mealtime could otherwise be full of drudgery and little joy. With her ideas you can have it all – the joy of backpacking in pristine wilderness and the joy of life-sustaining nourishment.
Thanks to Bryce Jones for being a great guide, leader, friend and especially for taking such good care of my two men on their first big backpacking experience in Canada’s National Park wilderness. If you would like to learn more about Alberta’s back country lodges and camping check out this blog post.