6 Cold Soak Backcountry Lunches

Continuing my backcountry meal series, I want to talk about lunch. For the most part, I don’t need to bother with the dehydrator for breakfast, but I find it lightens my pack so much to use it on my lunches and suppers. I’ve developed a two-part post for both of these meals. This week I’m talking exclusively about lunches that require a dehydrator, but next week I’ll cover lunch ideas that don’t need one! If you’re new to dehydrating, see my introduction post.

Cold soaking is a bit of a new trend in backpacking, so for those who have never heard of it, it’s basically choosing meals that can be re-hydrated over the span of a few hours with just cold water, no cooking involved. While cold soaking requires the same amount of work as hot meals when it comes to the prep, the practice of cold soaking is something that has completely changed my backpacking experience.

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I’ve never done hot meals for lunch. I don’t like the extra time and fuel required to cook a meal in the middle of the day and hate being stuck with dirty dishes, so before I discovered cold soaking, I always brought ready to eat items for lunch. While this makes for an easy lunch, it’s a lot heavier to carry a salami stick for multiple days and food safety can get dicey when it’s hot.

Any dehydrated food can be made edible again by soaking it for a few hours in cold water, though many are not as tasty to eat cold as they are hot. By focusing on foods that are still yummy cold, you can add water to your sealable lunch container at breakfast and by lunchtime, all you have to do is take out your fork and start eating. All my cold soak lunches involve dehydrating, but are built around things I don’t mind eating cold. Here’s some of my favourites:

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1. Pasta and Soybean Salad

Lots of salads are meant to be eaten cold, so that’s a great place to start. I originally found this recipe in a Betty Crocker cookbook and made it regularly for BBQ’s. Turns out, if you leave the dressing off, it works great for cold soaking! I don’t have a specific recipe, but google any pasta salad that sounds good to you and leave off the dressing. In mine, I use macaroni and then add diced bell pepper, grated carrot, and diced tomato, but you could add any vegetable you like (avoid lettuce). Then I add chickpeas and edamame for protein. Once done, I pop the entire thing in the dehydrator for 8 hours and once I’ve re-hydrate it in the field, I add freeze dried cheese (such as whisps) and a little bit of salad dressing (zesty italian is my preference). It’s a bit annoying to carry the salad dressing, but the rest of the meal is so light.

2. Taco Salad

Taco Salad is a newer recipe for me, but I think it’s my favourite cold soak lunch to date. Most of my hiking companions are vegetarian or have dairy sensitivities, so all of my meals are vegetarian (and often vegan) except for this one (though you can easily sub soymeat!). Similar to the pasta salad, I don’t have a specific recipe, I just cook some ground beef (lean) in taco seasoning and add whatever I want to it. Usually that includes diced onion, tomato, and pepper, as well as salsa, corn, grated carrot and sometimes spinach. My only tips are to skip avocado (too fatty to dehydrate) and use grated carrot instead of diced as it re-hydrates much easier! Once satisfied, I pop the whole thing in my dehydrator for 8 hours and then after I re-hydrate it, I add crunched up tortilla chips. Carolyn actually brings full taco shells with her, but I like the chips because it doesn’t matter if they get smashed in your bag.

3. Peanut Butter Pasta Salad or Coleslaw

Since most of my recipes are vegetarian, finding a good source of protein is always important, as well as something that dehydrates well (if you’re new to dehydrating, avoid chicken). I started following HealthyGirlKitchen on instagram and she shares a lot of recipes for healthy salads and pastas. She shared a few that are made with a soy peanut butter dressing that translate great to the backcountry! A lot of dressings involve oil, which doesn’t dehydrate, so I decided to try out the PB dressing, and it dehydrates really well. I ended up making one PB pasta using macaroni, with soybean and chickpeas for protein, and then a coleslaw using a pre-shredded cabbage mix (make sure no lettuce). Both are a variation on this rainbow pasta recipe, where I add the veggies I like. The coleslaw isn’t as filling as the pasta, so you could also add some rice to it. Once you’re happy with the taste, throw the whole thing in the dehydrator for 8 hours! My only recommendation is that the peanut butter flavour isn’t as strong once dehydrated, so I also add some PB2 powder to the dried mix for extra flavour.

4. Mexican Rice

To be honest, this is pretty similar to my taco salad recipe, with rice instead of tortilla chips, but the end result seems different somehow. The key change is that I use black beans instead of ground beef, otherwise I use all the same veggies and a salsa or tomato sauce for the base. If you want to save some time dehydrating, you can just fry all the veggies to make the sauce and leave the rice out. Instant rice will re-hydrate with cold water, so it’s not necessary to cook it and then dehydrate it again, though this is my preference because then the rice imbibes the flavour better. Note that only instant rice can be rehydrated with cold water – normal rice will need to be cooked with hot water and can’t be used for cold soaking. Either way, dehydrate with or without cooked rice for 8 hours. I usually add whisps cheese to this one in the field. It’s also great heated for supper, but I don’t mind eating it cold for lunch.

5. Quinoa Salad

There are lots of quinoa and couscous salad recipes that also translate well to dehydrating. One that I’ve adapted is a Mediterranean salad – I use chickpeas for my protein and then add a bunch of veggies (bell pepper, tomato, red onion, tomato, carrot, olives, cucumber, etc). Here’s a recipe you can use as a base – again, most of these recipes call for olive oil, but this one has a lemon oregano base, so I add both of those ingredients to the salad and leave out the olive oil. It’s a bit drier than I’d like at home, but it hits the spot well enough in the backcountry, though it’s not a big deal to bring a small thing of oil if you really want it! Sometimes I’ll add a bit of maple syrup to give it some extra flavour, and take craisins and nuts/seeds with me to add to the final product (don’t dehydrate or soak the craisins and nuts, just add right before you eat).

6. Pasta Bolognese

This recipe is basically your classic tomato based spaghetti, but with a smaller pasta like macaroni or penne, which is easier to dehydrate. I like to use soymeat as the protein for this meal, but you could also use ground beef or beans. I fry up the soymeat with tomato sauce and add onion, pepper, and grated carrot. If you want to cold soak it, you have to also cook and dehydrate the pasta, but if you plan to eat it hot, you could just dehydrate the sauce and cook the pasta at camp. I like to add cheese whisps to this one for more flavour!

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The Waterfalls of Strathcona Park

This has turned into quite the series about Strathcona Park, with my backpacking trips to Landslide Lake and Bedwell Bay being some of the highlights. But I want to spend a bit of time talking about waterfalls because there are so many to explore in the park and most of them are extremely easy to get to!

First up is Lady Falls. It’s located in the North end of the park along Highway 28 (as opposed to the road along Buttle Lake). If you’re going to Landslide Lake or Gold River, it’s a good stop along the way. There’s a small parking lot and it’s 500 metres each way (and 50m elevation gain) to get to the waterfall. There’s a platform from which to watch the falls thundering down into the ravine and you even catch some of the spray. Of the short waterfall hikes, Lady Falls is the easiest to get to and more impressive than Lupin Falls.

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If you’re heading down Western Mines Road to the south end of the park, make sure to stop at Lupin Falls on the way there. It wasn’t as impressive as Lady Falls when we visited, but that’s because it was early September and extremely dry – I suspect it has a much higher flow in the Spring. It’s flat and less than 1km as a round trip hike through the woods. The waterfall was more of a trickle when we visited, but there are some beautiful tall trees to enjoy along the way.

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Continuing on Western Mines Road, you’ll hit the parking lot for Lower Myra Falls at the south end of the lake, after the road for Bedwell Lakes. It’s a further drive than Lady Falls and Lupin Falls, but in my opinion, Lower Myra Falls is the best waterfall in the park (except for Della Falls). It starts with a steep hike down towards the lake, about 500 metres, but with 100m in elevation loss. There are two options for viewing – you can take the first left and see the upper falls and pool at the viewpoint – and then you can continue down to the middle falls where there’s another pool and you can explore around the rocks. You can walk along the edge of the falls as it cascades down towards the lake.

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Our first trip was in the early morning, so it was too cold to swim and we decided to come back later in the afternoon. On the second visit, we went for a dip in the middle pool before climbing down over the rocks to the lake – “climbing” being the key word. There are various paths cutting through the woods, but none of them are official, so we just found the least dangerous route down to the lake where there was a large sandbar. I’m not sure if the sandbar is there year round though (lake level was very low when we visited), so exercise caution around the rocks as it would be easy to slip and fall.

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We loved swimming in the lake. The waterfall pool was freezing cold, but the lake was a very balmy temperature and we enjoyed a proper swim before climbing back up to the parking lot. There’s a dam on the lake, so there are still all kinds of large tree stumps in the water from when they impounded the reservoir. It’s fun to swim out and stand on them, but be careful because they are slippery and have lots of sharp edges.

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Our last waterfall was Upper Myra Falls. At 8km round trip, this is the longest waterfall hike in the park (that we did). If I we’re to rank them all, I would put Upper Myra Falls below Lower Myra Falls and Lady Falls, but above Lupin Falls. It’s a very high, narrow waterfall that comes out through the trees and cascades down to the forest floor. There’s no accessible pool, but there is a platform from which you can view it. It took us about an hour to hike the 4km to the platform and we hung around for a half hour and had lunch before heading back again. There’s only about 80m of elevation gain along the whole trail, so it’s not very difficult.

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While it wasn’t my favourite waterfall, it still made for a nice little adventure. You have to drive through the active Westin Mine to get to the trailhead, which is an experience in itself, and the forest on the way to the falls is amazing! This trail is through old-growth forest, which is pretty rare in BC these days, so I enjoyed the tall, wide trees, and the chaos that makes up the undergrowth of an old growth forest.

And those are the waterfalls of Strathcona Park! There are more waterfalls that are accessible through other park entrances, the most notable of which is Della Falls and is only accessible by boat, but we only had time for the core area of the park on this trip. Overall I had a blast and would highly recommend this park, which is so large it feels more like a National Park!

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Bedwell Lake Backpacking Trip

One backpacking trip wasn’t enough for Brandon and I when we went to Strathcona Provincial Park and we ended the visit with a second trip to Bedwell Lake. Like Landslide Lake, it seems that Bedwell Lake is another popular hike. The trail to Bedwell Lake is located in the center of the park, at the far south end of Buttle Lake, so it’s a longer drive to get to. Once you get to the toe of the lake, there’s a side road that goes up into the mountains towards the trailhead. There are warnings that you need 4WD to get to the trailhead, but it really depends on the time of year and when the road was last graded. It’s a gravel road, but it was in pretty good condition when we visited and 4WD definitely wasn’t required, but I’d want to have a bit of clearance (i.e., an SUV over a little car).

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Get your permit online in advance or bring cash for the self-pay permit box. I don’t usually avail of self-pay, but we didn’t pre-plan this trip and there was no service in the park, so we used cash to get our passes. The trail is pretty flat for the first kilometre, but it’s a steady uphill after that. The trail isn’t very technical, but it gets steeper as you go and there are several metal stair and chain sections closer to the top. It’s roughly 4.5km to Baby Bedwell Lake, which is just before Bedwell Lake and where the first campsite is located. From there, it’s another 2km to the back of Bedwell Lake, which is where the main campsite is. The section between Baby Bedwell and the main lake is the most challenging because you go over the headland between the lakes and it’s mostly stairs and ladders.

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From the main campsite, you can climb up over the saddle and continue to Cream Lake, which is about 5km further. It’s supposedly very scenic up on the ridge, but it started to get foggy the closer we got to Bedwell Lake. There wasn’t any rain in the forecast, but the weather can do weird things in the mountains and on the day we visited, the clouds got caught up around the mountain peaks. The visibility deteriorated the higher we got and we were pretty cold climbing up to the lake.

We got there around 12:30pm and stopped for lunch, but at the same time I turned on my inreach and got a flood of messages from Seth at home. It turns out someone had stolen the catalytic converter from our car and Seth was having a really hard time making a claim since the car is in my name. So I spent the better part of an hour messaging with him to help get things sorted and then we had to decide what to do about the rest of the hike.

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It was really cold sitting by lake in the fog, so we knew we had to keep hiking to stay warm and kill some time, but neither of us were feeling up to lugging our backpacks uphill to Cream Lake. I was feeling anxious about Seth and I didn’t really see the point of hiking uphill in the fog for no view. So we decided to set up camp at Bedwell and go for a day hike up to Little Jim Lake, which is the halfway point between Bedwell and Cream Lakes. In retrospect, I kind of regret not going the whole way to Cream Lake. The fog was like soup up there, so we definitely wouldn’t have seen anything, but it did start to clear a bit the next day, so we may have gotten lucky on the return trip. But it’s hard to say either way and I think we made the best decision we could based on how we felt at the time. I had a great trip to Strathcona with Brandon, but I had hiked 130km on the SCT just a week previous and this was the last thing we were doing in Strathcona, so I admit I was a little fatigued and ready to go home by this point.

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In any case, we made the best of it and hiked up over the ridge to Little Jim Lake. It was still an entertaining experience walking around in the fog. It was so thick we could barely see in front of us and it made for a bit of a spooky experience around the lake. Sound travels really well over the water, so we could hear other hikers on their return trip, but it seemed to be forever before they would actually materialize out of the fog, even though we’d been listening to the din of their voices across the water for many minutes before. We had a snack by the lake and then turned around in time to go back to Bedwell Lake for supper.

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At this point it hadn’t yet rained, but it was getting a bit misty at the lake when we returned, so we quickly starting on our evening chores and ate supper before it truly rained. We made friends with 2 dads, one of whom was bemoaning the fact that his son-in-law had misplaced part of his tent without telling him and now he’d been left without a fly for the weekend. So the two were whining that they would have to share a 1 person tent overnight, which we found a lot funnier than they did. So PSA, always check your gear after loaning it out! (or as I’ve learned from girl guides, any time you’re going on a trip)

Eventually it started to properly rain, so we went to bed early and I spent the evening reading in the tent while Brandon stared at the ceiling. The poor guy had broken his phone earlier in the trip, mistakenly thinking it was waterproof, and he had absolutely nothing to do, so eventually I took pity on him and gave him my phone to play some games until we finally retired for the night.

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It drizzled most of the night, but fortunately it had stopped by the time we got up in the morning. It was still very cold and foggy, but we were optimistic that the clouds were starting to break up, so we made a hot breakfast to warm up before packing all our gear. The clouds never fully cleared, but they lifted the longer we hung around and we finally got a glimpse of the lake and terrain as we started our return trip. The climb over the headland felt a lot less intimidating without the fog and we ended up stopping at the top for about half an hour to explore and photograph some of the smaller viewpoints.

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Likewise, it was a much faster journey back to the car than on the way in since it’s a steady downhill. Overall it wasn’t my favourite hike, but I’m glad we at least got a glimpse of the area on the way down. It’s always disappointing to hike somewhere and not get a view, especially when it’s somewhere remote and it’s unlikely you’ll get the opportunity to come back soon. But mentally I just wasn’t really prepared for this hike. I was ready to go home. We’d planned to stay one night in Courtney before catching the ferry, but we ended up driving straight out of the park and all the way to the ferry after finishing this hike. So not every hike is a home run, but it was still a special experience and I’m definitely keen to go back in the future and hike all the way to Cream Lake. I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of Strathcona Provincial Park after this trip!

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