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Katherine Donnelly | 11.04.2018

By Laura Lancaster. Original article can be found on the MSR Summit Register.

It's tempting to treat the advent of fall with a sense of loss. The leaves are falling, the days are getting shorter, and the temperatures are decreasing. For some, backpacking season may be winding down in order to prep for snowshoeing or skiing.

But fall can also be a time of intense beauty, especially here in the Pacific Northwest. The mountains are awash in reds and oranges. The larches turn gold. And, hey, you can hike straight up any hill around without breaking a sweat. So don’t put your gear away just yet.

Of course, you’ll want to swap out that 30 degree bag for a 10 degree one. Triple check that you have your rain gear. And, by all means, remember to bring your flask.

Another way to improve your fall hiking experience is to increase the number of hot meals on the menu. It can be tough to get going in sub-zero temperatures if all you’ve got to eat for breakfast is a protein shake and cold-soaked oatmeal.

I was caught in one of the year’s first cold snaps during a recent overnight trip up to Robin Lakes, near Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. After we had completed the steep hike up to Tuck Lake, low-hanging clouds moved in, the temperature dropped, and one by one, we started pulling out our down base layers, then our insulating coats, and finally our sleeping bags. Tea and whiskey helped to extend the evening a little longer, but the temperature flip was real, and we were all in bed before dark.

We emerged from our tents reluctantly the next morning, knowing that we needed to get an early start for the hike up to Robin Lakes. Fortunately, I had planned a breakfast menu that would both warm us up and give us enough energy to make the climb.

We started off with a quick, hot beverage, to keep us warm while the rest of breakfast was cooking.

Coconut Chai (Serves 4-6)


  • 1 packet coconut cream powder
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp loose black tea leaves
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • ¼ tsp powdered ginger
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1 star anise
  • 4 cloves


At home:

  1. Combine the first two ingredients in a plastic baggie.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients to a second, separate baggie.

On the trail:

  1. Add one to two tablespoons of the coconut milk/sugar mixture to each cup in your party. Bring four to six cups of water to a simmer (as long as you’ve filtered your water, it’s not necessary to boil).
  2. Remove the pot from your stove, and add the spice/tea mixture directly to the simmering water. Allow to steep for five minutes.
  3. Using a tea strainer, pour the liquid into the cups. Stir to incorporate.

The first meal of the morning was a backpacker’s take on a southern classic:

Cheddar Cheese Grits with Bacon (Serves 1)


  • ¼ cup instant grits
  • 1 tbsp cheddar cheese powder
  • 2 tbsp instant milk (optional)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup bacon


At home:

  • Thoroughly combine the first four ingredients in a plastic baggie.
  • Cook the bacon the morning of your trip, chop into quarter inch segments, and add to a separate baggie.

On the trail:

  1. Add the cheese grits to your pot along with 1 ¼ cups of water.
  2. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently to avoid burning the bottom, and cook until the grits have absorbed the water and reached your desired consistency.
  3. Stir in the bacon and serve.

That first breakfast was for those who like something savory in the morning. For the members of our party with more of a sweet tooth, I made up a batch of backcountry rice pudding.

Instant rice pudding with blueberries, coconut, and vanilla (Serves 2)


  • 2 cup instant rice
  • 1 packet coconut cream powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup freeze-dried blueberries
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar


At home:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a plastic baggie.

On the trail:

  1. Bring three cups of water to a boil and add the contents of the baggie.
  2. Reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes, or until the rice pudding has reached your desired consistency.

Fed and warm, we were finally ready to break down camp and head up the trail to Robin Lakes. As we hiked, the skies cleared, revealing breathtaking views of Cathedral Peak, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams. The trail was steep and rugged, but numerous cairns made it straight-forward enough to follow.

And the view from the top made all of the cold we had endured the previous day worth it.

Laura Lancaster started backpacking at the age of 12 and hasn't let up since. Currently a freelance writer and editor living in Seattle, she thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014 and the Wonderland Trail in 2015. Laura has been published in Survivor's Edge magazine and has forthcoming work in Backpacker and American Survival Guide.


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