After 12 grueling days alone on El Capitan, Yosemite, Meghan Curry topped out 26-pitch Mescalito (5.7, A3). But instead of a big wall climb powered by Clif Bars and Tasty Bites, Curry survived on bugs—edible insect products such as Exo Cricket Bars, cricket granola, and mealworm chili. Curry dubbed her solo aid-climb the “BugWall” to promote entomophagy—the practice of eating insects—as a sustainable and nutritious food source.
Proper nutrition during multi-day wall endeavors is a vital component to success, yet it can be easily lost among the extensive rack and complicated logistics that come with any big wall climb. Curry is no stranger to big wall soloing, but she hasn’t always relied on crickets for fuel.
“While climbing Zodiac, my first serious big wall solo,” says Curry, “I was so overwhelmed with climbing and weather conditions each day that I lost my appetite and topped out with an extra six pounds of food and deep ridges in my fingernails from the starvation my body experienced.”
This hard learned lesson was one Curry would not forget. Prior to the BugWall, she worked with Brian Rigby of Climbing Nutrition to budget a healthy breakdown of fat, carbs, protein, and calories using insect-based foods. Edible insects are naturally rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and trace minerals, and are also efficient to produce. They require less water, feed, and land for production compared to larger livestock and contain more protein per serving than beef, chicken, or eggs. Although Curry’s intake fell short of what she budgeted, she still consumed roughly two times as many calories compared to past walls.
“I felt like a beat dog after this route, but still way better off than when I topped out Zodiac,” Curry says.
Her menu consisted of C-Fu Mealworm Chili and Bugeater Foods Cricket Rice, in addition to bars and granola donated by other edible insect companies. Curry also brought homemade Mixed Berry Cricket Leather, which is protein rich, lightweight, and packed with Vitamin C.
Prior to the BugWall, it had been four years since Curry's last big wall climb. Over the first few days, she had to dust off the cobwebs and teach herself a 2:1 ratchet hauling method to drag her heavy haulbags along, and to dial in the techniques for solo aid-climbing traversing terrain.
“If you had asked me how everything was going on day two or three, I would have expressed a ton of uncertainty and doubt about topping out and my own skill,” Curry says. “By day four to five I fell into the slow swing of solo [aid] climbing, feeling more optimistic.”
Although Curry faced a handful of challenges along the way, such as learning to place heads and dealing with foul weather, eating insects during her climb didn’t prove to be one of them. Throughout Curry’s 12-day climb she maintained her appetite for bugs.
“Being isolated in a rough environment has a lovely way of distilling values and trimming the fat from life,” says Curry. “The experience of forming a tighter ideological bond with food in a very reductionist environment affected my mind and stomach in a way I’m still working to understand.”
It didn’t take long for word to spread about BugWall in the Valley and the climbing community at large. Curry received an outpouring of support from nearly everyone with whom she discussed the project. Curry believes that climbers, outdoor enthusiasts in general, are a great demographic for the entomophagy movement because of their open mindedness and concern for the environment. She hopes the BugWall will help instill the idea that bugs are indeed food.
“This industry has exploded in the past two years,” says Curry. “Adding bugs to your diet is now a real option. Insects are a whole new group of animals we can add to our plates with an awesome range of flavors and textures we’re only beginning to explore in the West.”
For more information regarding edible insects, a trip report of the Bug Wall, and edible insect recipes, visit Meghan Curry’s website at bugvivant.com.