Tuesday, September 19, 2006

fine dining at 11,162 feet (approximately)

Sorry for not posting anything in the last few weeks, but I've been busy planning a trip into the Sierras to see big mountains and wildflowers like these, and do some fishing. Of course, I planned on bringing some sourdough starter, so I also had to do some experimental baking before taking off for the high country.

Pictured here is my "backpacker's oven" in the fancy granite kitchen of camp (without the fiberglass and asbestos cover, as my experiments at home didn't warrant the use of it.) Under the pan, hidden by the windscreen is a pepsi-can alcohol stove, fashioned at home before the trip. Nothing too fancy, but an art nonetheless in getting the results you want. As the finest cooks will tell you, practice, practice, practice.

I hiked out of the North Lake trailhead (near Bishop) with the intention of going up over Piute pass and into Humphreys basin with a destination of Desolation lake. Being as though the average elevation of the basin is about 11,000 feet, I knew it was going to be cold and I would want to cook some hearty food to nosh on (when the weather would cooperate that is.) I had been told that the fishing was great in the area, so naturally some fresh trout would be on the menu.

Talking to other backpackers on their way down, I heard reports that Tomahawk lake had plenty of brookies and a few goldens. Considering the weather, I aimed away from the barren realm of Desolation and found a place to hunker down at Tomahawk. That afternoon, I tried fishing, but my line was freezing up as it came out of the water and was forming icicles on the first eyelet of the pole. Not exactly fun fishing weather. I made some tea, ate a Lara bar and chocolate for dinner and decided to try my luck tomorrow.

The next morning after some hearty oatmeal and STRONG coffee, I got to fishin'. I let the first three go, and then after an hour or so of no luck, I vowed to keep the next one I caught. Luckily I hooked up with a nearly 14 incher. Before the fish became lunch it looked like this:

After being beheaded and cleaned, rubbed with chili, onion and garlic powder, as well as salt and pepper, and fried up in a pan, it looked something like this (I had already eaten the tail section before snapping the photo, so the fish did actually fill up more of the pan.)

Mmmmm........blackened brook trout. Now that IS tasty. So, that was lunch, what about dinner?

I had fed the starter I brought with me on the previous day, but the cold temperatures and hellacious wind had frozen it near solid during the night (ambient air temp was in the mid 20's when I got into the tent at 6:30 pm, with the windchill factored in, it was single digits!) After the delectable lunch, when things were nice and warm (we're talkin' 11,000 feet remember, so this means 60's) I kneaded some dough and placed it inside the tent on the black nylon of my sleeping bag to rise, with the door flap open and a shaft of sunlight striking the pan directly. This blocked what tiny breeze there was, and proved to be the warmest place around, so after a few hours my dough had risen at least 50% and was ready for some toppings.

That's half whole wheat dough with italian seasoning, as well as onion and garlic powder mixed in. One bag contained grated gruyere and parmesan (done with the world's smallest grater,) and the other pine nuts. The plastic cup holds a mix of reconstituted sundried tomatoes and wild mushrooms.

Baked, it was most excellent. In fact considering the view, and my appetite, it was one of the finest pizzas I have ever had.

It was such a nice day in the Sierra, I held up a slice, and toasted to the Glacier Divide to the South (that's Muriel Peak and Mt. Goethe for those who care,) vowing to recreate this pizza for whoever is brave enough (or is that CRAZY enough) to come on my next fine dining trip above timberline.

Thank you mountain gods, for allowing me to experience one of the nicest days of this fall in our heavenly Sierras.......

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