Dispatches from the roof of the world
Dispatch #27 May 5, 2012
The Everest Diet
Andy Bardon
The team gathers for dinner in the mess tent.

Climbing Everest is not backpacking. We’ve yet to have a single dehydrated meal. Quite the contrary, we eat like kings.

Andy Bardon
Making pancakes

Last night at Base Camp the meal began with a steaming hot wash towel, then garlic soup, then pizza and spaghetti and vegetables, then pound cake with frosting, and for those who so desired, a nip of Scotch. Breakfast this morning was fried eggs and toast or pancakes smothered in fresh butter or peanut butter or syrup, or a selection of jams and honeys. Lunch was potatoes with pine nuts, freshly fried bread with cheese, corn, cabbage salad, and sardines. We’re just about to have our mid-afternoon “picata,” which consists of sliced Italian salami and French cheese on crackers, plus tuna or salmon, and a soda.

At Base Camp and Camp 2, Sherpas do all the cooking. At Camp 1 and Camp 3, you cook for yourself, but the food—often fresh dal baht (rice and lentils) or fried potatoes—is still transported in by the Sherpas. It’s really only at Camp 4, on the summit push, for at most two days, where dehydrated food is eaten, or simply ignored. At most camps, snack foods of all kinds—yogurt-covered raisins, almonds, peanuts, cashews, gummy bears, crackers, Pringles chips (everyone’s favorite!), gorp, M&Ms, on and on—are available 24/7. At BC, we have every drink imaginable: coffee, black tea, milk tea, herbal tea, protein powders, electrolyte powders, chocolate powders, milk powders, Coke, Sprite, Fanta, San Miguel beer, and your choice of Scotch: single malt or blended.

It might seem excessive, but the goal is to keep climbers and Sherpas eating and drinking as much as possible for as long as possible. Extreme exercise, bad sleep, and high altitude inevitably tear the body down, and above 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), there’s no possibility for recovery.

A climber simply becomes weaker and weaker. Above 23,000 feet (7,010 meters), many people lose their appetite completely, whereupon the body begins feasting on itself, rapidly consuming both muscle and fat. Call it the Everest Diet: Eat everything in sight, eat as much as you possibly can at all times, and lose at least two pounds a week, every week, for as long as you’re willing to stay at high altitude.

We’ve been on the mountain now a month, and haven’t even reached the highest camp yet, and everyone has already lost weight. Most of us have dropped five to ten pounds, but Dave, our geologist, who was a lean, sturdy, 165-pound, five-foot-eleven man a month ago, is now down to 148 pounds, and dropping.

You want to lose weight? Come to Everest!

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