Monday, August 25, 2008

lake italy pizza (high sierra sourdough loop part 2)

There is something very soothing about making dough up in the thin mountain air. Kneading, pulling, folding and breathing slowly and deeply all the while. Up here the cadence really fits the view.
Yeah, its gotta be the view.

Then again maybe it was starting off the day by catching my first fish of the trip, then losing it trying to take a picture.
My first pure Golden! What a beautiful fish, I gotta get a picture!
Then reaching for the camera, the fish starts flipping about and is gone........Nothing like a good hearty laugh at yourself before that morning cup of joe.

This is the view looking down at the ingredients and supplies. Plain indeed as far a scenery, but you know, mise en place counts for something at 10,800+ and it is imperative we start at the beginning. From left to right, starting at the top I have: active starter in my 2 quart plastic dough can, BFM olive oil resting on a bagged mix of 3 parts bread flour to 1 part whole wheat, my water bottle, and the screw-on top for my dough can. Then in the non-stick we have a container of salt, one with a mix of dried garden herbs, and a borrowed wooden spoon.

After putting a cup or so of water in with the starter I added a few handfuls of flour and mixed it with the wooden spoon until it started clumping up. I flopped this out onto the pan and kneaded it for about five minutes while enjoying the morning sun on my mosquito bitten face. I covered the pan, then let the dough rest while I went and pumped some water for our accent of the pass. Coming back to the dough I added a few teaspoons of salt and about a tablespoon of herbs and then continued kneading for another 2-3 minutes. I oiled up the dough can and placed my herbed lump in.

Well above Upper Mills creek lake I had a peek at the dough while grabbing some more jerky from my pack. It was looking good and smelling even better. Had there been more humidity in the air I might have noticed the salivating. We were nearing 12,000 feet and I had just finished a dumb traverse. I was too high up a talus slope and needed to drop a bit to meet the "trail." Some day-hikers coming down from the pass indicated that it was easy, just make sure to "stay in the gut and head right up" which sounded easy enough. I wound back down to the bottom of the canyon and plotted my course.

The bouldering in the bottom of the route to the pass was straight forward. From pebbles to house size blocks, it was a doable maze indeed; pretty straight, with occasional jogs to the sides to avoid climbing something on all fours. At what seemed like the last flat area before a final pitch to the pass, we took another breather. Another check of the dough confirmed it's happiness. It was poofy and in need of a beating down. Based on this, I was guessing it must have been around 70-ish in my pack. Combined with the lower barometric pressure at this altitude not pushing down as much, the dough was rising even faster than it would at home. I was overcome with joy and the prospect of fluffy pizza dough tonight. I wanted a high altitude portrait.

With everyone caught up and resting it was time to assess our final climb for the day. I took my first real look at what lay ahead. I remember thinking those guys also said it wasn't too bad going up the final bit, that it even had a nice marked path, and the other side of the pass was easy! Like, cheaaaww! Pfffst! Right!

You have got to be fucking kidding! kept running through my mind as we stared up. Then two brave souls forged ahead as I stood and stared some more. After a few minutes they yelled that there were some cairns and a worn trail. They even said it wasn't too steep. I took another look and stared again in disbelief. I fished out my camera and took this picture to look at again later. Like maybe when I wasn't contemplating my sanity. You know what? You see that little black speck in the middle? It is not a hunk of basalt in an otherwise granitic landscape, no way. Nor is it a blackened tree trunk somehow way above timberline. Nope. It is a person, of sound mind and body heading uphill. Taking another look now it still looks daunting. However, should you go this way yourself, in August or later when the snow is all gone, and you have any experience going cross-country at such altitudes, you do indeed have a tame final bit on the North side of Gabbot pass.

The top was very flat and spilled over to the South in the beginnings of a green carpet set amongst stones. This soft green mat seemed to run at least halfway downslope in the direction we were going and my heart went a flutter. We easily had over a mile and a half to go to camp but it looked like we'd be there within the hour. Going a bit fast for my wobbly legs and big pack I only nearly ate it once. Well, okay maybe twice but tht's why they make walking sticks right?

Safely on the level near the East end of Lake Italy we set up camp. I checked the dough one more time and gave it another punch, then started working on the toppings. Using my backpackers cheese grater I shredded some dry jack. We boiled some water and I rehydrated some peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes that I dried for the trip. Remembering we didn't use all of our pesto tube from two nights ago, my SIL offered the rest. The pizza was starting to sound, well, Italian at the very least. Salt encrusted and getting chewed on by a few mosquitos, I started constructing our first of two pizzas.

I didn't expect it to last long so I got a pre-baked picture right before tossing it in the "oven." The first one was a touch soft on the top but considering the location, this is easily forgiven. I have used this set up several times now and am most pleased with the results. I liken the results to: at home this pizza would be considered not crispy enough, but out here, it tastes like the best pizza ever.

Want some?

It was getting dark by the time number two was done. It came out more fully baked. My BIL got out the high country version of the ove glove and started cutting. Finishing off the last pieces coincided with the mosquitos calming down and the bats coming out. It was time for bed. It was also time for some tunes as I had a horrible Christopher Cross song in my head, doing that endless annoying loop thing since coming down from the pass. I had purchased my first iPod thingy before the trip and right now I felt like the smartest man alive to have it with me.

Climbing into my bag I funked out for a while with 8-string master guitarist Charlie Hunter now in my head. Somewhere in the smooth jazzy sounds I could make out squeeky little clicks and ticks of the bats flitting about only inches above my tent. It sounded like I was listening to music on vinyl instead of pure digital. I had another good hearty laugh, turned off the tunes and promptly fell asleep.

A few audible rock falls and subsequent sliding talus sounds during the night called me from a deep slumber. Looking out I realized I was deep in the moon shadow of one mountain, while looking out on the moonlit peaks all around. I looked around for the pass the dough came over and then drifted back out, happy I came along for the ride.

1 comment:

K and S said...

that shot up the boulders reminded me of climbing Mt Fuji. glad that pizza came out, looks great!