The Epic Bites crew recently took a backpacking trip to Yosemite, it was the chefs first experience in the high country and even though we only made it 15 miles, it was a true back country experience. The sous chef puked his dinner due to altitude sickness at 11,000 feet, we collected wild edibles, and we almost got killed by a bear that came looking for remnants of the homemade veal salami we cooked for dinner. We also saw miles of endless granite peaks, raging rivers, and green meadow vistas straight out of backpacker magazine. All the while wondering about bumping into other Jewish folks vacationing in Yosemite.
I’m a seasoned backpacker, having a full regalia of lightweight gear, maps, and freeze dried barely edible backpacking meal concoctions that are supposed to take up very little space and weigh nothing. Basically, the biggest reason that more Orthodox Jews don’t go backpacking is because of the lack of kosher options for folks who don’t want to rough it a bit. The low point of backpacking for me is always the food. I just eat energy bars, dried fruit, and packs of oatmeal.
This was until I went backpacking with the chef. He badgered me for days about our one night in the woods menu. He really had no idea about how hard it was to hike in high altitude. Unlike most high altitude places, California hikers come from sea level to really high places in a day. We started our hike at close to 9,000 feet above sea level and had driven that morning from sea level. It’s a lot of stress on the body and lungs, I get terrible altitude sickness, but I still suffer through it time and time again.
I noticed the chef stuffing a lot of food into my bear canister (in Yosemite and other busy wilderness areas in the west, a bear canister is needed to prevent bears from getting your food and becoming too reliant on humans for food) He stuffed salami, all sorts of little powders, spices, packets, and randomness into the canister, along with the requisite energy bars.
We hiked from Tuolumne Meadows up through Lyell Canyon towards Donohue pass. After a few miles, we had the trail to ourselves. Although my plan was for a 20 mile loop up some pass to Vogelsang high camp, I knew that was pushing it and I had this strategic plan that took us on a trail that was relatively easy for 8 miles or so. That way, we could still do a 15-20 miles without having to tackle any crazy mountain passes.
At about 8 miles in we decided to camp in this little flat area next to a river. I never make a fire in the woods, but romantic newbies are all about campfires and so we made a fire and roasted our salami, I forgot that one of the cardinal rules of camping in bear country is not to cook near where you’re going to sleep. I realized this while eating steel cut oats with peaches and roasted salami. Possibly the most gourmet kosher meal ever served in Yosemite National Park. I instantly had this fantasy of taking Bay Area Jewish tourists to Yosemite and providing them the local insiders view, while providing them with a real taste of California food and wine, all kosher of course.
I let these kosher food tours of the wild lull me to sleep, but was jolted awake several hours later as the chef called to me and said “did you hear that”, I didn’t want to hear it, but I had heard some grunting and snorting and as my heart pounded more than ever in my life, I realized there was a bear walking around our campsite. I said tehillim and started talking loudly, hoping we were not about to get killed. I wondered if the bear would eat me or the chef first, I was skinnier, but I had eaten more salami at dinner.
Eventually it left us alone, but we were traumatized and I spent the remainder of the night thinking about mountain biking and what kind of non-water I was going to drink if I made it out of the woods alive. I’ve been backpacking for close to 15 years and although I’ve seen my fair share of bears, mountain lions, and rattle snakes in the woods, but never have I felt like something bad was actually going to happen to me.
For our next trip, I’ve scouted out some lower elevation spots, that are likely to be more rural, but less bear active. Possibly Lassen National Park, the Trinity Alps area, or even Hetch Hetchy and Tilltail Valley. Stay tuned for more Epic Bites adventures.
Epic Bites sometimes delivers kosher food to yosemite.