Device of trail coffee

Receding into the distance to the North West was the vista of the Mustang Plateau. We were sitting at the top of the Thurang La pass, at an altitude a few meters over 5400. It had been a long, slow morning, starting predawn to ascend the 490m from Thurang Upper base to a pass. Progress for the morning had been slow as the two Israelis with neither of them having ever walked in snow before and Nira had been petrified of the icy conditions we had to traverse. When their guide abandoned them I felt unable to leave them on their own. The journey has thus far consisted of myself walking ahead stamping footholds in the icy snow which they would then step into, an agonisingly slow staircase to the pass.

And we still had a long way ahead, with another 8.9km with 1750m descent to Muktinath, the next ‘village’ with accommodation.

On many multi day treks, hikers always seem to have an anchor to home life : mine is coffee. On the crest of Thurang La pass was a perfect place to have a cup of coffee!

The enjoyment of coffee on a hike is not merely about the consumption of the beverage, but very much about the preparation. Gazing out at the towering peaks of the Annapurna range, I rhythmically pumped my liquid fuel stove in preparation. The eruption of aroma of a medium roast South American blend as I opened the coffee container was far more evocative than entering a multitude of renowned global coffee houses.

With the stove balanced on a low stone wall of a disused structure, I measured the water into the reservoir of a single shot GSI espresso machine, tampered the coffee down and secured the top on. In the midst of such a majestic panorama coffee never tasted better. Forever I shall cherish that shot of espresso.

But my journey of coffee did not start on the towering peaks of the Himalaya’s, but rather on the Alpine slopes of New Zealand’s South Island. Having completed a 13 day tramp of the Heaphy Track and the Wangapekka Track back to back, I discovered a tube of condensed milk coffee in Queenstown while prepping for my next tramp, a circuit of the Greenstone and Cables Tracks. Looking not unlike a tube of toothpaste, it was a simple procedure of squeezing two teaspoons into a cup of boiling water, stirring and resting against a tree and savouring. A simple way to experiencing a level of comfort after a full day in the rain.

No doubt the flourishing coffee culture of New Zealand sparked a palette for something beyond the scope of instant coffee. While preparing for a hike on the Otter Trail in South Africa’s Garden Route, I discovered the next level up, a Smart Café plunger cup. An insulted mug with an integrated sliding plunger, coffee on the trail notched up a few levels. I recall so vividly the first cup after a swim at the waterfall on the first day. But it was the after dinner cuppa Java in the overnight hut on the fourth day that confirmed that coffee would be an integral part of my hiking future. Pouring the boiled water into the coffee and letting it stand, the entire cabin was infused with the aroma of a Kenyan Dark Roast and sparking a craving for a decent cuppa coffee after four days of dehydrated food.

It was while savouring a cuppachino at Mario’s in Knysna in the Garden Route that I discovered my first Bialetti single cup stove top espresso unit. Armed with a kilo of the best Brazilian blend coffee, the espresso etched memorable moments circumnavigating the Torres Del Paine circuit, savouring the splendour of the Cathedral de Alercer, contemplating the ancient carving skills of the ancestors of Rapa Nui and followed by watching Giant Otters and tracking Jaguars in the Pantenal. All will be etched in my mind for eternity each time I open a coffee container.

For a multi-day hike the single shot espresso or plunger cup are a perfect balance in terms of weight. For a day walk or an overnight trip I am prepared to lug a bit of extra weight. So when I discovered Bialetti’s Muka Espresso with the full capabilities of producing a cuppachino on some remote peak, I was sold. And boy, has this seen some service in the past 5 years! There is hardly a peak, forest path and section of coastline from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town that has not hosted Amanda and myself drinking in the scenery while waiting 90 second before the coffee erupts through the nozzle, froths the milk and produces an excellent cuppachino. Forget plush seats and sterile tables. Sipping coffee with the fragrance of grass or forest on a light breeze is a perfect pairing.

But with gizmo’s there has to always be another one out there. Trawling the web in December I discovered the next level of coffee decadence in nature, the sleek stylish futuristic looking Handpresso Wild Pod. Looking like a high tech cycle pump, this jet black feat of engineering excellence is perfect. My first trip out with it was to the renowned Elephant Walk in the Knysna Forest near Diepvalle. There is a stream that burbles over a scramble of rock which catches the sun for an hour at midmorning. Basking in the sun poaring through the sliver in the forest canopy I prepped the coffee to the accompaniment of a flock of Knysna Tuaraco’s pearched  in a tree overhead, their haunting call breaking the velvet silence, an invite to share the moment with them. Every sense fused to a memorable snapshot with the aroma of coffee drifting through it. And then there was the sunset basking the towering cliffs of the fossil dunes of Sedgefield. Breakfast at the bird hide…. Hmm, now  all that is required is a world map and a passport for the next collection of memories.

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