porridge with butter, soup with butter, a flapjack with butter
November 28, 2018 4:19 PM   Subscribe

How to Fuel for a Solo, Unassisted Antarctic Crossing: Colin O’Brady thinks it’s possible—but just barely—to haul enough calories to traverse the continent.

"While there is plenty of accumulated lore about how to maximize your range on polar man-hauling expeditions, O’Brady is taking a dramatically different approach compared to those who have gone before him. He’s been working closely with a “whole food supplement” company called Standard Process, regularly visiting their Nutrition Innovation Center in North Carolina for batteries of tests to figure out exactly what combination of foods will fuel him most efficiently. The result: a bespoke 1,150-calorie creation, tailored to his unique metabolic and physiological needs, known as the Colin Bar, that will supply more than half of his 8,000 daily calories. It’s the size and shape of a gold brick, and it comes in one flavor (a subtle hint of chocolate, which the scientists have kept as neutral as possible so that he hopefully won’t hate chocolate bars for the rest of his life). O’Brady started his trip with 280 of them lashed to his sled: four a day for 70 days.

[...] There are innumerable details that could have been improved on Scott’s expedition, but the fundamental problem was that they were woefully short on calories. Scott’s rations added up to between 4,200 and 4,600 calories per day. No one really knew how many calories a polar expedition like this burns until Mike Stroud—one of the authors of the 2012 paper—and Ranulph Fiennes made a two-person unsupported 1,600-mile crossing of Antarctica in 1992 and 1993. Careful measurements of energy consumption using isotope-labeled water showed that they were burning an astounding 7,000 calories a day for 96 days. During one ten-day period while they ascended the plateau, they averaged 11,000 calories a day. Even though they were eating 5,000 calories a day, they lost 48 and 54 pounds respectively during the trip.

The solution—take more calories—seems obvious, but the problem once again is the weight of additional food. Stroud and Fiennes tried to maximize the amount they could carry by relying on calorically dense fat. Stroud’s description of their diet: “porridge fortified with butter in the morning, soup with added butter during two brief stops in the day, a flapjack with butter after stopping in the tent, and a freeze-dried meal with butter in the evening.” It still wasn’t enough."

Track O’Brady’s trip live. Follow Louis Rudd's ongoing solo Antarctica trip here. More on Henry Worlsey's death here.

Scott expedition previously, previously.
posted by not_the_water (44 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
I read about a mountaineering expedition in Alaska where they had a food cache at the bottom of the mountain. The climbers were up much longer than expected, running out of the food they brought up the mountain, and thus completely ravenous when they returned to the cache. Apparently under those circumstances, it’s quite satisfying to consume a stick of butter directly.
posted by exogenous at 4:41 PM on November 28, 2018 [8 favorites]


They don't mention if he'll pre-load calories in the form of fat, on his body. At ~4000kcal per pound, he can carry quite a few days worth without becoming awkwardly large. I'm sure there's some calculus of this involved: more body mass is going to be harder to carry, but will it be harder to carry than more dead weight on the sled? This seems like almost a critical point that the article should have focussed on for planning. They certainly mentioned weight lost by others heading out without enough food...
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:42 PM on November 28, 2018 [8 favorites]


Hah, my first thought was, maybe in 10-20 years this will be even easier. The Green brothers were just opining on their recent podcast that sea-level rising means that people who climbed Mount Everest 50 years ago climbed higher than people can today, and that trend is definitely going to continue.

Don't mean to derail tho, this is really cool.
posted by es_de_bah at 4:48 PM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


Could he perhaps make his sled(ge) out of hard cheese and gradually eat it as the journey continues? It's not going to melt or go off because of the temperatures, and it'll be pleasantly light in the latter part of the journey. Also, cheese.
posted by Wordshore at 4:50 PM on November 28, 2018 [43 favorites]


I mean I know the odds of this are low but uhh please, everyone reading this, please don't go on a solo trek across antarctica. it's a terrible idea. don't do it. not even once.

> Apparently under those circumstances, it’s quite satisfying to consume a stick of butter directly.

yes because the only reason you'd eat butter straight-up is if you had just climbed a mountain. hah! hah! no one has done such a thing in any other circumstance! no sirree! why would anyone do that? except in a mountain-climbing situation I mean! hah!
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:50 PM on November 28, 2018 [26 favorites]


more body mass is going to be harder to carry, but will it be harder to carry than more dead weight on the sled? This seems like almost a critical point that the article should have focussed on for planning. They certainly mentioned weight lost by others heading out without enough food...

I know hikers commonly throw around that 1lb of boot weight is worth 5lbs (or more) of pack weight in energy consumed. I've hiked a fair bit and I don't disagree. I'd also think that cold weather sled hauling is probably much more efficient on the physiological efficiency side than a backpack. Otherwise why would they do that instead of a backpack? The math for the sled stuff I can more easily visualize as a solvable problem while the pound of fat vs food of equal caloric value in the sled is probably a bit more difficult to solve in a defensible/authoritative manner.

Very interesting stuff all the same.

Apparently under those circumstances, it’s quite satisfying to consume a stick of butter directly.

All food is better when in the outdoors and exerting oneself, well actually I hear high altitude stuff like Everest and the like does odd stuff to appetite so I shouldn't be so definitive I suppose, so I don't doubt that it is *better*. But, sheesh, I'll stick with ramen, ez mac, and cupanoodles methinks.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:56 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


On his instagram the other day he talked about pitching camp in high wind and worrying that his tent would blow away before he got it up. I simply cannot imagine that level of danger.
posted by srboisvert at 5:02 PM on November 28, 2018


"... this will be even easier."

Um. What?

I've done a few winter bike races (130 to 160 kms) and I'm likely going to try a 200 km race/route in February 2019. Even if you prepare better and finish feeling like your upgrades were worth it, you will never feel like it was easier. Never. Just that you did it better, and stayed farther away from doing it stupid.

btw. A pound of butter or 2 cups (500 ml) of peanut butter are about the same calorie-wise, and worth about 3000 cals in case of emergency. (I'd like to taste a Colin bar. I can't imagine he won't end up hating them by the end of it.)
posted by kneecapped at 5:04 PM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'd like to have the tests he got to find out what foods triggered inflammation in his body! (The Colin bars are coconut oil based, as his body doesn't do well with dairy)
posted by batter_my_heart at 5:11 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


I mean I know the odds of this are low but uhh please, everyone reading this, please don't go on a solo trek across antarctica. it's a terrible idea. don't do it. not even once.

Alright, you talked me out of it.
posted by octothorpe at 5:12 PM on November 28, 2018 [29 favorites]


> I mean I know the odds of this are low but uhh please, everyone reading this, please don't go on a solo trek across antarctica. it's a terrible idea. don't do it. not even once.

*looks disappointed, sets down sleigh and slowly stops chewing stick of butter*
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:16 PM on November 28, 2018 [35 favorites]


This guy is a chump. I read the entire article, looked at his blog, and I don't see anything about his plan to deal with the giant penguins and the shoggoths.

Maybe there's something on his instagram though. I didn't check that.
posted by glonous keming at 5:30 PM on November 28, 2018 [7 favorites]


Agreed about the food tasting better on a hike! I recall a multi-day ultra-light hike through Domeland Wilderness in California — represent! — over the mountains and into Manter’s Meadow, when we finally stopped for a crust of smooshed stale bread, some hard cheese, and a half of a summer sausage, washed down with water from the brook, filtered & treated with iodine. That earned a place as one of the top three meals I’ve ever eaten in my life.


Could he perhaps make his sled(ge) out of hard cheese and gradually eat it as the journey continues?


Ooh! And he could make pack and sled straps out of Twizzlers!


Ugh, I just had a thought about edible underwear, but...no. Maybe edible food containers? Perhaps a puffy stuffed with cotton candy? I feel that this is an untapped vein for both comedy and practical hiking tips.
posted by darkstar at 5:33 PM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


Does he even need food containers? It's not like anything is going to melt.. or grow mold. The whole place is a freezer.
posted by meowzilla at 5:50 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


he needs to be accompanied by a homunculus made of beef jerky and fruit leather
posted by poffin boffin at 5:56 PM on November 28, 2018 [10 favorites]


Ranulph Fiennes

That's Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet OBE to you! (he's Ralph Fiennes' cousin)
posted by BungaDunga at 5:58 PM on November 28, 2018 [8 favorites]


Could he perhaps make his sled(ge) out of hard cheese

How did I know that was a Wordshore post before I even saw his name underneath? ;)
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:04 PM on November 28, 2018 [5 favorites]


"He’s been working closely with a “whole food supplement” company."
Sounds legit.

Also.
Look, you know the rules. (what-if.xkcd)
posted by Horkus at 6:04 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


I can't decide if this kind of thing represents a commitment to honoring the great exploring era of the past and extending that spirit forward, or if it's an indulgence in ego saturated idiotic-toxic masculinity, or both.

"He’s been working closely with a “whole food supplement” company."

there is precedent
posted by thelonius at 6:11 PM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


I look forward to the hip new exercise fad being "super-refrigerated workout rooms where you haul a sled up a steeply inclined treadmill and then treat yourself to a stick of butter."
posted by emjaybee at 6:23 PM on November 28, 2018 [13 favorites]


Needs the story from the infamous British climber Don Whillans:

"During the approach march of one expedition [to Mt Everest] an Indian boy asked if the group were mountain climbers. 'Aye', said Don to the boy who carefully studied Whillans. 'But are you not too fat to be a mountain climber?' the boy said. Don turned his head and stared icily at the boy. 'Perhaps I am too fat, but by the end of this expedition, I'll be skinny, and they'll be non-existent!'"
posted by other barry at 6:39 PM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


That's Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet OBE to you! (he's Ralph Fiennes' cousin)

I read Ralph in the OP and it took me until this point in the thread to figure out why no one had made a single joke about Voldemort.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 7:01 PM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Very cool how much work they're putting into his trip, and based on my limited, non-Antarctic conditions research it makes so much sense why. So last summer I backpacked all 850 miles of the portion of the Continental Divide Trail that runs through Colorado, in addition to some detours due to wildfire and some parts of the CDT in Wyoming and New Mexico, so it added up to ~910 miles. Not that far off, mileage wise, of his trek, but certainly not in the temperature extremes of Antarctica. And while not a true thru-hike in the purest sense, which would be thousands of miles (I bow before them), it was still a big enough trek that I did lots of research, and the biggest and most labor intensive part of prep for the whole trip by far was the food.

The average elevation of the entire trip was over 10,500 feet, and I spent considerable time at or above 11,500 to 12,000 feet, which means I had approximately 40% less oxygen per breath for considerable time: I had a lot less oxygen to convert food into energy and not use all of the calories I took in. In addition, I forget how many total Everests of ascent and descent it was (I want to say 5 or 6?) but I averaged around 3000 feet a day for most of the trip, and in one part had around 5000-6000 feet, all while averaging around 18-25 miles a day until the last two weeks. So I needed A LOT of calories. Which meant a lot of food weight.

Very quickly I realized that the most important part was not just the number of calories I got each day, but how many calories per ounce of food weight. The best foods turned out to be around 135-150 calories/oz. So things like instant mashed potatoes, a normal backpacking staple for me, was out, because it was only 70. I had spreadsheets and spreadsheets, with discoveries like fun sized Snickers bars were better than normal Snickers bars, per ounce, and powdered coconut milk is amazing, and, wow, hemp seeds! They're great, too.

It seemed really important that I do this, only because a) I knew I was doing it during monsoon season, and the possibility of having really low mileage days due to thunderstorms at treeline stopping me meant I wanted to carry extra food, and b) I have bad knees, so limiting my weight was super important. If I was going to the point of cutting off part of my toothbrush to cut weight than every ounce of my food should be very carefully considered, yeah? And it totally changed my perspective on lite weight backpacking! To the point where I just could not understand how I'd run into these ultra-light backpackers whose food philosophy was buy whatever they wanted at the next town, and carry it, packaging and all, bragging about how many calories their ramen and potato combos were when they were carrying an astounding amount of weight for less benefit. (And there's significant cost savings, too, for preplanning ahead of time, but that's a different thing.) I was not surprised at the dropout numbers, and where people dropped out, and how often many of them said they felt tired all the time.

So naturally, looking over this article, I'm super surprised that's not mentioned as a real variable. Like, he mentions taking along Alpenaire meals, but a lot of them only add up to about 120 calories/oz. They've got to be considering it, because so much of the food is fat and carbs, but still, it is an important consideration. I got my oatmeal breakfasts, with additions of cocoa nibs, hemp, coconut milk, and dried raspberries up to 700-800 calories at around 150/oz, and it made a significant difference by pounds in the amount of food I was carrying, and I was NOT hauling a sled in freezing temperatures without any resupply.

Oh, that butter: I myself carried a small bottle of olive oil, which I refilled from time to time. And by the middle of the trip, there were a few days when I started fantasizing about just. . . drinking. . . the entire bottle. Despite my high fat diet, I was craving fat like crazy, mostly because at high altitude it's hard to metabolize due to it needing more oxygen. It was weird.

But also, before I left, I trained for almost a year on a combo running/diet plan that is supposed to teach your body to use and rely on body fat (a plan I was introduced to by the author of this article, no less). It was an experiment, mostly for curiosity and fun, because goodness I had plenty of body fat to work with, and according to the fanciest measuring devices I could afford at the gym and at home I feel like it worked as my body fat went down considerably during training and the trip with no loss of muscle. . . Until the last leg of the trip, which was just too high with too low mileage/per day, at which point, despite consuming 3000-4000 calories a day, maybe I started to starve a little. I think it's because I had actually used up so much of my "fat reserves" and couldn't metabolize enough to keep up, although I don't really know for sure. All I know is that my energy just suddenly plummeted, and I had to descend a few times just to eat. Long story, that part.

Anyway. At his speeds, based on my entire limited experience and what little I know from reading a lot (so take at a whole shakerful of salt) I would not be surprised if there's a few scientists out there willing to theorize that with the right training and the right kind of caloric intake that it would be possible to use quite a bit of body fat instead of carrying. An experiment like that would be cool, for sure.

For those of you interested in figuring out how many calories you might burn hiking/backpacking, the same writer of this (who used to run the Sweat Science column at Runners World before he moved to Outside, and I adore him - his books are excellent, too!) has a nifty little online calculator here. He goes into the science behind it, too.
posted by barchan at 7:21 PM on November 28, 2018 [54 favorites]


Sounds to me kind of like the people he's working with have got things backward:
One of first things the scientists at Standard Process did was run a series of tests on O’Brady’s blood samples to determine his response to various foods, looking not for overt allergies but for subtle variations in the inflammatory response they triggered in him. They came up with a list of about 20 foods to avoid, with the most significant being ginger, tuna, beef, oranges, peanuts, and flax seeds. “If he’s going to be really stressed out there, it’s going to be because he’s hyper-inflamed and couldn’t recover from it,” says Troup. “More simply stated, it’s a reflection of immune response.” Since butter and other dairy foods are also among O’Brady’s triggers, the Colin Bar is laden with coconut oil and filled out with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and other whole-food ingredients that his system responds well to.
Because just the paragraph before:
Beyond quantity, the type of calories also matters. After all, Henry Worsley still had plenty of food when he finally called for help, leaving some uncertainty about what killed him. In a general sense, he’d pushed himself beyond the limits of his endurance. In a specific sense, the cause of death was massive organ failure secondary to a bacterial infection in his abdominal lining. What sequence of steps connects those two facts? “We think it was a poor immune system response that affected his gut function,” says John Troup, vice president of clinical science for Standard Process, the company behind the Colin Bars, “so that’s part of what we’re trying to stabilize with Colin.
we find out that the most recent death in this endeavor was due to an out of control bacterial infection, which would make a lot of sense in an extremely cold environment since brown fat, the only tissue in the body the primary function of which is to produce heat, is activated by adrenaline, which is an antiinflammory immunosuppressant as is cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal glands at the same time as adrenaline.

In other words, I think it's much more likely that all the adrenaline and cortisol produced to keep Worsley warm by activating his brown fat suppressed his immune system and allowed the bacteria to get out of control, killing him essentially by a version of septic shock, than it is that an exaggerated inflammatory response of uncertain cause to a bacterial infection also of uncertain cause, produced the organ failure which killed him, as the scientists at Standard Process seem to believe.
posted by jamjam at 7:27 PM on November 28, 2018 [13 favorites]


I realize this is almost wholly unrelated but the above discussion of stress hormones reminded me of this interesting article I read on whale earwax yesterday.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:34 PM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh, that butter: I myself carried a small bottle of olive oil, which I refilled from time to time. And by the middle of the trip, there were a few days when I started fantasizing about just. . . drinking. . . the entire bottle. Despite my high fat diet, I was craving fat like crazy, mostly because at high altitude it's hard to metabolize due to it needing more oxygen. It was weird.

I did the Colorado Trail last year, and...

I may have had a few pulls off the bottle of olive oil. Omg, so delicious.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:47 PM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


there were a few days when I started fantasizing about just. . . drinking. . . the entire bottle [of olive oil].

Hell, I don't hike at all but a good extra-virgin olive oil gets me thinking like that too.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:55 PM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


ginger, tuna, beef, oranges, peanuts, and flax seeds

Add some veggies and garlic, a little soy sauce, and a good broth and it sounds like a fantastic soup...
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:55 PM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


(and because I simply can't resist)

Metafilter: Reminds me of this interesting article I read on whale earwax yesterday.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:56 PM on November 28, 2018 [15 favorites]


Porridge with butter is awesome, and it's dull and tasteless without it
posted by scruss at 8:04 PM on November 28, 2018


Hell, I don't hike at all but a good extra-virgin olive oil gets me thinking like that too.

When one is using olive oil primarily as a source of calories I doubt one is going to shell out for the fancy extra virgin olive oil.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:11 PM on November 28, 2018


The mention of a sled made of cheese brings to mind the curious fact that in the absence of wood it was not uncommon for Inuit people to make their dog sleds partially out of frozen fish.
posted by Rumple at 8:38 PM on November 28, 2018 [6 favorites]


When one is using olive oil primarily as a source of calories I doubt one is going to shell out for the fancy extra virgin olive oil.

Clearly you don't know me very well.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:40 PM on November 28, 2018 [7 favorites]


I just want to say that I find all of this fascinating, and I wish to encourage all (all!) of you to break your bodies (and minds!) in extreme sports situations so that I can optimize my micro-food dosing regimen at work.
posted by aramaic at 10:07 PM on November 28, 2018 [5 favorites]


Now I’m beginning to see that every one of those hikes where I didn’t drink olive oil was rather a missed opportunity.
posted by darkstar at 11:12 PM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


"Yvon Chouinard told me that at the end of a very long day in the Antarctic climbing Mount Vinson, he couldn't get warm by eating carbohydrates. So he tossed back a shot glass of olive oil. Within 20 minutes he began to feel warm..."
posted by exogenous at 4:13 AM on November 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


24 hour sun this time of year? Good thing it's not Ramadan right now. Also, because he is at the south pole, when it comes to one of his five daily prayers, how does he know where he is in relation to Mecca? And does time really matter there at the south pole?

/man, this butter is *really* good? tastes a little skunky though. have you ever really looked at your hands?
posted by NoMich at 5:04 AM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Here's the link to an astounding New Yorker article about Worsley by legendary writer David Grann: The White Darkness: A solitary journey across Antarctica. Although the article is very long, it's only an excerpt from the book of the same title.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:47 AM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Interesting article and interesting science. Thanks!

My own calorie-dense food story: I had a snowy backpacking trip go fairly bad once when our exit plan failed spectacularly. We were well-prepared but the end of that trip still ranks as the hardest pair of days I've ever hiked.

The saving food in our cache was sweetened condensed milk + a dark chocolate bar; warm the milk over the stove, drop in the chocolate to melt, and drink it like the world's heaviest chocolate milk. Tell yourself you should add some boiled snow to thin it but never get around to it.

It seems disgusting in concept but at the time was SO GOOD. Almost 2000 cal and your daily US RDA of fat in one drink!

(Did you know that condensed milk will actually freeze? Apparently -20 C overnight is good enough for the generic brand we had!)
posted by introp at 9:11 AM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


We packed dehydrated food for our two week trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains. We brought all of our food for the trip. We ended up giving away a lot of extra meals as we finished in 11 days, having brought enough for two weeks on the off-chance we got stuck somewhere. We brought ghee (clarified butter), dried meats, shelf-stable cheese, and added them to pre-made bags full of dehydrated veggies, cheese powder, and spices. We ate pretty well on the trail. A four-ounce bag of dehydrated red beans and rice plus a packet of ghee and a diced summer sausage (think hickory farms gift basket size) make an enormous meal for two. We had split pea soup, cheddar broccoli soup, black bean tacos, and loaded potatoes. Those little packets of real bacon bits are amazing to add to anything and weigh in at a decent 100 calories per ounce.

I'm looking forward to through hiking the AT one day. I'm definitely packing my food and mailing resupplies. Convenience store food just doesn't cut it.
posted by domo at 2:26 PM on November 29, 2018


Very sad story

TRIGGER WARNING

On the way out, the sled dogs carry the food. On the way home, travelers eat the dogs and abandon the empty sleds.

As Robert E. Peary stated in his journal of the discovery of the North Pole in 1906, "My food and fuel supplies were ample for 40 days and by the gradual utilization of the dogs themselves for reserve food, might be made to last 50 days if it came to a pinch."
posted by ohshenandoah at 6:46 PM on November 29, 2018


meowzilla: "Does he even need food containers? It's not like anything is going to melt.. or grow mold. The whole place is a freezer."

This is the thing that struck me. The picture shows each Colin Bar wrapped in a fairly heavy weight plastic. Times 280 bars it would seem to be significant if instead they could be separated by wax paper and stacked in a non vacuum seal (IE: thin) plastic bag.

poffin boffin: "I realize this is almost wholly unrelated but the above discussion of stress hormones reminded me of this interesting article I read on whale earwax yesterday."

We're talking about it here.
posted by Mitheral at 10:33 PM on November 30, 2018


Just thought I should leave a note in here before the thread closes: he made it.
posted by ragtag at 4:58 PM on December 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


guardian report here

His expression in that picture is fascinating, melancholy and piercing, like the 'long grey beard and glittering eye' of the ancient mariner.
posted by leibniz at 6:53 PM on December 26, 2018


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