Tag Archives: camping

Stuck Without a Spork: 10 Workarounds for Eating in the Outdoors

The classic: biner as beer bottle opener. Photo: K. Marine

I was seated on a rock amidst the loosely consolidated dirt of the southern-Utah desert after a long morning of climbing, and I was feeling mighty hangry. The only sustenance I carried in my chalky old pack was a cup of delicious strawberry yogurt. Eagerly, I peeled back the foil lid and reached for a spoon, only to discover there was no spoon! I felt stranded, with no way to stir that fruit-on-the-bottomy goodness or convey it to my pie hole.

How little we appreciate the simple functionality of a spoon until we find ourselves without one! And while foods like sandwiches, fruits, and trail mix yield handily to manual eating techniques, others, like yogurt, soups, and saucy pastas, pose more of a challenge in the absence of proper utensils.

Science has shown that our nearest evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee, is quite deft in the use of tools for accessing and ingesting food items. So, too, have modern climbers and other outdoors people devised ingenious eating implements out of necessity. I, for example, was able to fashion a primitive scoop from the flimsy foil circle I peeled from the top of my yogurt cup, giving me the precious energy needed to finish out the day and perhaps live on to spread my genes.

Following are a 10 clever cutlery workarounds spotted in the wild. What tricky tactics have you employed when caught without a spork?

Sticks - Among the most obvious improvisations, a well-selected stick, de-barked and whittled to varying degrees, can be used to spear and roast foods like hotdogs and marshmallows, scoop messy foods, and even to stir things like cocktails or coffee.

Vadim using toothbrushes as chopsticks

Toothbrushes chopsticks. Photo: Gail Rothschild

Toothbrushes - Most climbers carry old toothbrushes for banishing excess chalk from handholds. The rigid plastic stems can double as chopsticks—particularly handy for noodles or salads.

Rocks - A good sharp rock can serve as a knife, while a slightly scooped stone takes on spoon-like properties. Large, flat ones can even be used as makeshift frying pans or plates. Pro tip: brush off dirt, lichen, or bugs before using.

Carabiners - The quintessential climber bottle opener. There are many ways to pry open your favorite non-twist-off bottle of suds with a biner—just be sure you don’t cause any sizable gauges in the rope-bearing surface, as it could end up snaggletoothing your rope’s sheath.

Shoes - Hard to open without a purpose-made tool, a wine bottle can be made to give up its cork with repeated blows against a wall using a shoe as padding. Behold, this instructional video stands as proof:

Knives - An advanced technique known as “the lip splitter” involves using the blade of your Swiss army knife not only for cutting, but also spearing and scooping food into your mouth. Zen-like focus is required to avoid terrible injury.

Nut tools – Sometimes all you need is a way to shovel stuff out of the container and into your hungry face. A climber’s nut tool, with its flat metal end, can tackle this task quite handily. These tools can even be used to cut or spread soft cheeses or similar.

Tin foil – One friend of mine commented that he has used tin foil to make a cup, bowl, shot glass, and spoon. The origami skills required here are not as advanced as they might sound, depending on the food substance you’re looking to contain or manipulate. Getting peanut butter out of the jar with a foil tool, however, requires a working knowledge of engineering principles.

Here have a tin foil hat.

Tinfoil: you’re using it wrong.

Bread - In Ethiopia, the Middle East, and various other cultures, flatbreads are used to pinch and scoop deliciously messy foods. If you have a slice of rye, crackers, or a tortilla among your rations, you have with you an edible utensil! Pro tip: the under-appreciated heel of the bread loaf here becomes the hero, offering superior scooping power.

Fingers - When all else fails, we return to the original eating implement: our fingers. These marvels of engineering can manipulate a vast array of objects, including those stinky tinned sardines in oil you brought because someone told you they were high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Hopefully you didn’t forget your wet-wipes, too.

10 Gift Ideas for the Prehistoric Outdoorsperson

Ötzi's up for anything!

Ötzi’s up for anything! Photo: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/A. Ochsenreiter

The outdoorsy lifestyle existed before synthetic base layers, REI, or even Fred Beckey. In fact, prehistoric humans spent pretty much all their time in nature, if you can believe that. Case in point: Ötzi, a 45-year-old dude whose preserved body was found in a jerky-like state high in the Alps more than five-thousand years after his death. The bearded, five-foot-two inch tall nature-boy made a habit of running up and down the mountains in what is today the border between Italy and Austria.

No ultimate roadtrip-mobile, Whole Foods, or Mountain Athlete Training for Ötzi. But just like the climbers, hunters, and thru-hikers of today, outdoorspeople of old loved their gear. Ötzi was found surrounded by all kinds of sweet kit for his time in the outdoors: a knife and an axe, a backpack, all-terrain footwear, even a bearskin cap. And since everyone else on the Internet has already compiled holiday buyer’s guides for the contemporary outdoor lifestyle, I thought I’d put one together for Ötzi and his kin.

1. Animal sinew – Shredded tendon fiber is super tough and, bonus, shrinks as it dries. It’s just the thing for binding a flint blade into an ash wood dagger handle. When paired with a bone awl, it’s the ideal way to mend broken seams in a pair of well-worn goat hide leggings.

2. Flint from the Lessini Mountains – For crafting into fresh knife blades or arrowheads, or for getting that fire going on a cold night under the stars, Lessini flint is the finest anywhere.

3. Grass and hay – Long strands of supple grass are good for binding stuff together—the wooden supports of a backpack frame or the ankle of your deerskin boots, for example. Meanwhile, grasses cut and dried into hay make an excellent insulating layer in boots. It’s a good idea to keep several handfuls of dry hay on hand at all times, to re-stuff your boots after a stream crossing or long hike through the high-mountain snows.

4. Copper polish – Sure, that copper axe can fell a yew tree in thirty minutes flat, but it’s also a status symbol worth keeping nice and shiny. For a good polish formula, trade with some low-landers for a grass pouch of citrus fruit, as the acidic juice makes quick work of oxidization. Bonus gift: a tab of beeswax. Applied after cleaning, it helps maintain the polish longer.

5. Animal fat – Like Michael Jackson in the 1980s, practically every piece of Ötzi’s wardrobe was made of animal hide, from hat to his loin cloth, from leggings to shoes. To keep everything supple, animal fat can be used to condition leather and hide.

6. Field horsetail – Any seasoned outdoorsperson wants gear that’s lightweight, easy to use, and versatile. Enter field horsetail: it’s abrasive enough to smooth and polish a yew tree bow, yet it can also be boiled in water to help ward off an assortment of maladies.

7. Shoots of viburnum sapwood – Two words: arrow shafts. Boom!

8. Dolomite marble disk – Any copper-age dude hiking around in the mountains with a bow and arrow is going to need a way to carry all the wildfowl he pots. A tassel of leather nooses is perfect for this purpose, but how to affix them to your person? A fine Dolomite marble disk, carved be the small-fingered youth of the region, is a great accessory. Simply thread a leather strap through the central hole of the disk and secure with a stopper knot. Then pass the disk beneath your leather utility belt and you’re all set. Attractive shape and color add an element of class to any ensemble.

9. Bracket fungi – You can never have too much of this Neolithic panacea. The fruiting body of the birch polypore fungus has long been known for its antibiotic and styptic effects, and the toxic oils it contains can ward off pesky intestinal parasites.

10. iPhone – If you were to give our friend Ötzi a bath and a shave, he’d fit right into twenty-first century society, and nothing says 2013 like an iPhone. GPS for way finding, high-res camera for capturing alpine sunsets, iMessaging to check in with the missus or village elders, and the Google app, to make sure those berries weren’t poisonous.

 

More on Ötzi

The Language of Stars

Boulders and stars, Triassic, UT.

If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years how man would marvel and stare.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

This Friday I turned 34. Other than that fact that the first and second digits are consecutive, it was not a particularly significant birthday. Rather than throw a party in honor of the occasion, Kristin and I packed our trusty Honda Element and headed south and east of Salt Lake City, to a bouldering spot called Triassic, which feels every bit as prehistoric as the name would imply.

Located between the rural town of Elmo (pop. 368) and the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, site of “the densest concentration of Jurassic-aged dinosaur bones ever found,” Triassic is a desert sandstone bouldering area comprised of a few caches of rock in what was once an ancient seabed. The feeling one gets in this desolately beautiful spot is one of timelessness, as if a herd of Allosaurus fragilis might at any moment come lumbering over the crest of a hill.

Triassic: the land that time forgot

Although the environs at first appear lifeless, an attentive eye will pick out the movement of many a creature — little rock-crawling lizards, chipmunks, jack rabbits, and even antelope — all camouflaged in the dusty tones of the landscape. Humans tend to be the least represented creatures in Triassic. Which is half the reason why Kristin and I chose the spot in the first place. We went there to climb, but also to spend the night isolated in a more wild setting, enjoy a celebratory drink in front of a camp fire, and, among my favorite pastimes in nature, stargaze.

That night, the stars were out in their full regalia. By 11pm, the sun was long gone, the moon had not yet crested the horizon, and all the constellations were razor-sharp and twinkling. Through the middle of the sky was a broad swath of diffuse light, the combined glow of billions of stars forming the spiral-armed Milky Way, seen from on edge like a cosmic Frisbee hurtling towards us.

Communing with the campfire

Dinosaur fossils, the pictographs of ancient civilizations, great geologic landscapes like the Grand Canyon or the Himalaya, the open ocean — all of these are magical to behold, but nothing puts a person in his or her tiny, insignificant place quite like a full-blown sky full of stars, viewed on a clear cold desert night.

To each observer, the vast starscape becomes a celestial Rorschach test. What we see in the unfathomable vastness is a testament to what our hearts most want to see. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “How is it they live in such harmony the billions of stars – when most men can barely go a minute without declaring war in their minds about someone they know.” To him, stars were an example from God of how humans can better carry out their lives. Marcus Aurelius saw them as exemplary of a realm above and beyond petty human concerns: “Look round at the courses of the stars, as if thou wert going along with them; and constantly consider the changes of the elements into one another; for such thoughts purge away the filth of the terrene life.” Van Gogh said simply “The sight of the stars makes me dream.”

Basic view of the Milky Way

To me, the stars serve as proof that we’re the center of nothing in particular, and that our actions leave not a scratch on the broad side of the universe. In the Zen tradition, they remind me to take “serious” things more lightly, and “small” things more seriously, and remember that our only legacy is the example we set in this life, and our ultimate return to the elemental star dust of which we’re made.

The next morning when we woke, the stars had once again disappeared behind the blue veil of the sky. We approached the day with no particular goal in mind. Alone, in the desert, with some water and a few crash pads, we set off walking to see what we could see. But the stars had left their faint impression in our minds and, at least for a little while, we would follow their example.