Sources of information:
We found comprehensive information on generic expedition catering in the RGS Expedition Handbook. Further information was gained from past expedition reports on the BMC website, particularly the few available from expeditions in Kyrgyzstan, some of which gave details of food availability in the country, but also those from expeditions around the world. We also used personal contacts to gain further valuable information on food availability in Kyrgyzstan.
We decided to take 4000kCal per person per day (pppd). The RGS Handbook recommended 5000kCal pppd, but this figure is based on an expedition where everything is moved every day, whereas we would have relatively light packs and regular rest days, although our mountain days would be relatively long. We decided to allocate 4000kCal for every day, as, although rest days would naturally be less strenuous, we would still need plenty of calories in order to recover as much as possible in the short time available. This allowance did turn out to be somewhat excessive, though (see below).
Weight to be carried in to Base Camp:
It soon became clear that we would be unable to carry all of our food, fuel and kit into camp in one load, so we worked on the basis of each team member carrying two loads of no more than 25kg, ( i.e. a total of 400kg), into Base Camp, using a relay system. Having subtracted the weight of all other kit (~225kg) and fuel (see below, 10kg), a maximum of 165kg for food remained, equal to ~21kg per person, or 1.2kg pppd.
Personal preferences / tastiness:
We were aware that having sufficient food would be useless if people didn’t want to eat it, and unappetising food could become a source of discontent and depression among the team, so ensuring that food tasted (relatively) good to all team members was vital. A ‘Food Quiz’ was carried out to gauge people’s preferences, although many major decisions on what to take were actually determined by other factors. Vegetables are very poor in terms of calorie : weight ratio, but significantly improve the taste of dinners, so we decided to take 100g pppd.
Maintaining sufficient vitamin and mineral intake, in order to stay healthy, was a consideration, but given the relatively short length of our expedition was not a major concern. Vegetables and dried fruit were our main source of vitamins and minerals.
Food availability in Bishkek and weight allowance on flight:
Based on information from various sources (see above) and the weight of other kit to be carried from the UK, we decided to take ~40kg of food from the UK. These were mainly wraps (3 week use-by date), full-fat milk powder (Nestle Nido, 400g canisters), oat cakes, and tomato powder (Healthy Foods).
Food availability in Bishkek
From Osh Bazaar (large quantities of everything easily available): rice, dried noodles, pasta (extremely starchy – better to stick to rice and noodles), “couscous” (avoid this – takes hours to cook and doesn’t taste good), oats, vegetables, dried fruit, nuts (peanuts (non-salted), walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios), hard cheese (around 7kg blocks can be taken sealed or cut to size), jam, honey, nutella, biscuits (aka ‘sawdust’…), sweets, spices, tea, coffee. Items at the Bazaar were all priced, and there was little haggling. The prices were very reasonable.
From Beta Stores (medium sized supermarket, stock levels variable, several other small supermarkets also Bishkek): chocolate, Pringles, Mars Bars (and equivalents), hot chocolate powder (not available in tubs, only sachets), muesli, cake (only sponge available, very crushable)
The only items which we hoped to find in Bishkek but couldn’t (though we naturally didn’t look everywhere) were peanut butter and cereal bars. None of the items which we brought from the UK turned out to be available in Bishkek.
We opted to use gas rather than multi-fuel stoves as the fuel weight would have been similar, gas stoves are lighter, we had the necessary stoves already (so no additional expenditure was required), and our previous experience of using them meant we stood a reasonably high chance of resolving any problems.
We pre-ordered gas canisters from our logistics company, ITMC. The only size canisters available were 230g (350g including the weight of the canister itself).
Monitoring Food Usage
We had most food which we bought from Osh Bazaar weighed out and bagged directly into ziplock bags which we provided (mainly dried fruit, nuts, oats), or carrier bags (pasta, rice, couscous), with one bag per day / two days, as necessary according to the food plan. Had we needed to ration food stringently, this would have worked well and been a good way of ensuring the correct amount of food was consumed each day.
On the expedition we planned certain quantities of each food per day. For ‘high-demand / low quantity’ foods this was applied fairly stringently, (e.g. cheese, powder puddings), but for many foods Doug (catering manager) simply ensured that we weren’t generally over-using as the expedition progressed, (e.g. chocolate, hot chocolate), and for several foods it soon became clear that we had an excess so there was no need to ration at all, (e.g. dried fruit, nuts, biscuits).
Successes, problems and lessons learnt:
Overall Quantity of Food
In retrospect 4000kCal pppd was excessive, and 3500kCal would have been sufficient. However, our food intake did increase noticeably over the course of the expedition, and during the last few days we were eating nearly our full allowance each day.
The amount we ate in the evenings depended significantly on the tastiness of the food. Rice and noodles were much tastier than pasta and couscous. The tomato powder was very good for adding flavour to meals, but we massively underestimated its potency, and used only 1500g for the whole expedition, of the 6,000g taken. By trial and error, we found that thin, watery sauces were much more appetising than thick sauces, which were, on the whole, overpoweringly tomato-flavoured. We were lucky to have a good chef in the team, and his knowledge of spices played a major role in making many meals not only edible, but actually quite tasty. Powder puddings were generally very edible, and we could have eaten significantly more than the 25g pppd of powder allowed.
Lunches / Snacks
The wraps were generally very successful and lasted reasonably well for the whole expedition. 75g pppd of cheese was sufficient but not plentiful, and cheese wraps were significantly improved by mayonnaise (15g pppd). The oat cakes were also successful, though had to be packaged well in order to survive the journey relatively unscathed. The dried fruit was quite tasty, but several team members elected to eat very little due to the risk of becoming unwell from the unidentified bits on some pieces. Salty foods were particularly popular (pistachios, almonds, pringles), walnuts and peanuts less so. Virtually all other lunch and snack food taken on the expedition was eaten.
Breakfasts: Having muesli on mountain days and porridge on rest days worked very well, indeed, copious amounts of porridge with sultanas, honey, jam (particularly tasty), nutella and cinnamon was a highlight of these days. However, as with most food, slightly less would have been sufficient.
Hot chocolate was particularly popular and we could have used more than the 75 sachets obtained when we bought Beta Stores out of stock. We had an excess of coffee due to confusion between instant and filter coffee. In general, 3- 4 hot drinks (of ~300ml) pppd seemed about right.