Long before climbers and adventurers could choose from an embarrassment of energy-boosting riches―from dense bars to caffeine-laced gels―they had Kendal Mint Cake.
You may not expect much from a small, rectangular piece of grainy sugar, peppermint oil, and glucose syrup. But Kendal Mint Cake has all the qualities of trekking fuel: It’s calorie-dense, easily digestible, and sufficiently tasty. And back in 1869, when Joseph Wiper of Kendal, England, created the mint cake, delicious chocolates weren’t yet ubiquitous.
Climbers and explorers noticed Wiper’s minty, sugary slabs. Ernest Shackleton packed them in 1914 when he sailed for Antarctica. By 1953, climbing magazines advertised Kendal Mint Cake. That’s how a member of Edmund Hillary’s team came to order 38 pounds of Kendal Mint Cake to fuel their scaling of Mount Everest. (Thirty-eight pounds was the maximum weight a porter could carry.)
Two companies, Romney’s and Quiggins, continue to manufacture the mint cake in Kendal today, and they sell a chocolate-covered version that tastes similar to a York Peppermint Pattie. But adventurers have always given the candy positive reviews.
“It was easily the most popular item of our high altitude ration,” a member of Hillary’s team once said of the candy’s role in their historic first summit of Everest. “Our only criticism was that we did not have enough of it.”