Toubkal, Morocco

After sleeping night on the airport floor, I was awoken by George at about 4.30 ready for the flight. After a short while packing up we were all ready and waiting in the Ryan Air queue. For once we were luckily enough all sat in the emergency exits and had ample leg room which was very comfortable for the 3.40 hour flight!

On arrival in Marrakesh the rigmarole of airport arrivals prevailed, we had a little trouble trying to explain that our accommodation was on a mountain. Once this was overcome we found our driver and made our way to Imil. George was the organiser and had booked the whole trip, and the guide he had used in the summer. This meant that all the logistics was taken care of, so a welcome change of pace to the normal trips I book.

We arrived in Imil after a lovely drive through the Moroccan countryside and headed straight to a roof top bar with a great view to boot! Although Toubkal was not visible there was a good view of the surrounding mountains, however it would have been nice to see the mountain we were here to climb.

After what can only be described as a great opening meal of meat, vegetables and potatoes called ‘Tagine’ with bread, this was accompanied by a delicious sweet mint tea, which we later found to be berber tea/whisky. After this fantastic culinary introduction we strolled up the valley to the gite owned by the guide mohammed, and this gave us a great view through the valley and across the mountains from the balcony! We had an early morning ahead of us, so spent the latter half of the day relaxing, reading, drinking tea and eating in front of the fire.

After what was a markedly better sleep than the airport floor we woke and had breakfast in the main room.It seemed that breads and spreads was the choice of breakfasts to come from here on in. If we were lucky there might be a some fruit or a yoghurt from here on in!

A mule a bloody mule! Such luxury is unheard of, but wow! how much easier is life with a feather weight bag! As you might have read into this was the first trip where I have used a mule, usually I carry all my own equipment everywhere I go. I have to admit I felt rather sorry for the thing, he looked in a bit of a bedraggled state, but he seemed to just plod on, we were to meet our bags further up the path near the temple.

We set off across the top of the village following a concrete stream. Eventually we left the buildings and made our way to a flat open area, covered in small pebbles and scree. Im guessing this would have been washed down by melting snows, later when speaking to the guide he highlighted that at times there have been problems with water rushing through and damaging crops and infrastructure. Their were farms either side of the flat, but apart from that little else part from the mountains ahead.

We followed the well forms path to the left and passed a sign letting us know we had entered the national park range, although the graffiti took away from some of the magic. It was a steady upwards toll from here, stopping for short breaks, more than were needed but sometimes to allow mules past and other climbers defending, I believe it would be a bad idea to be in the way of the mules! We eventually stop for another break and the sun decided to peer around the corner.

Sunglasses on we continued up and approached the temple section. There was a little reality check when a man was being brought down the mountain by stretcher by 4 locals. We later learnt he had twisted his knee and could not defend himself, high winds had already grounded a helicopter rescue a few days prior when it had crashed near the summit, all five occupants survived though!

We stopped for more tea at the temple, I was loving the tea so much! Whilst we were waiting we saw locals with massive loads portering up the hill, Mohammed explained that they were the local young men who had decided to stay at home rather than go to work in the city, so to to stay at home was low wages and hard, hard work.

We started on the snow not long after the temple, a first for a few of the party, however once on we made our way through the valley and could see the lodge in the distance. I was quite surprised by the lack of any altitude problems, I felt neither out of breath or any head ache symptoms. I have felt both at the same altitude before.

We got to the lodge and settled into our room, soon prepping our bags and kit for the day after. we learnt from people who had been there for a week or so to cover our sleeping equipment with a blanket, due to the amount of damp and dew that would accumulate in the cold room!

Another hearty meal, during which we chatted to other teams that were in the lodge. the weather had been pretty poor, and were not getting any better over the next week, so a pretty poor week to decide to come to the mountains. We had high winds forecast for our summit day the day after, but it was the best forecast for the next few days so we had to take the minor opportunities.

I had a pretty rough its sleep, not through over thinking the next day, but through the noise of other people talking, moving, farting and general discomfort of a headache that had creeped up on me, I would have much preferred a tent or a Bivi.

After getting ready we had some breakfast (breads ad spreads) and tea. I felt we were having a late start and should have left earlier but being part of a group I stuck to the timings given. We kitted up outside, and set off. On the way up Jess had one crampon on loosely so we stopped to fix this. We took a zig zag route up the initial slope which was steep. As a group we made slow progress, George was suffering with calf strain and Steve was struggling with fitness and altitude.

Unfortunately we were once again reminded that this relatively easy climb was not without danger as a female climber was being assisted down by two other climbers. We heard her painful sobs and moans as she passed. Later i found out that she was suffering with the cold, which is something that I could defiantly sympathise with. I was suffering with numb toes, alternating the ice axe, so to clench my fist inside the glove leaving the fingers empty to try and keep heat in my hands. I continued this throughout the entire climb.

Part way up the initial slope near the saddle and the half way point, Steve decided to turn back as was short of breath, George offered to join him on the decent as he was feeling it in his calf. With 3 of us left we pushed on past the sale and onto a small plateau before another steeper section. It was here that the wind which had been ever present began to truly show its force. I have never been on a mountain with such high winds, maybe in UK winter, but this was strong. And in this to see guides and porters working to remove parts of the crashed helicopter from near the summit.

The more height we gained the more wind gained strength, we were leaning into the winds, with strong gusts knocking us off balance and each break catching us out and stumbling in the snow. We finally reached the second sale where we could in the distance see our objective, the summit pyramid.

We had a short rest with a little water and chocolate, we started the final push to the summit ridge. I was again at the back of the group and could see the whole party being knocked off balance time and again. All of us were struggling against a strong wind that continued to wrong foot everyone. It was only a matter of time until one of us took a tumble or twisted an ankle or something worse. We finally approached an exposed ridge with a large drop off the other side, 600m we were told, but could not see it. We were on hands and knees at this point to avoid being blown over. we stopped and you could see a classic mountain plume of dust billowing over the ridge, circling above and beyond. this wind was seriously threatening. We had a short con flab and decided that the risk was not worth the reward of the summit, so turned around.

For me this was new territory. I’ve climbed a few routes in the Alps and had many summits, this was my first major fail to reach a main aim of a trip.

We started the decent and conditions were only getting worse, heavy winds and shards of ice were getting painful on any exposed skin. I think I had all my layers on, goggles and two sets of gloves. We had whiteout conditions but the route was pretty obvious even so, we all concentrated hard on the decent as this was becoming quite a serious undertaking given its low grade.

Once off the saddle the wind died down and everything become more comfortable, it also helped feeling little stronger thanks to the lowering altitude. It was nice to finally arrive at the lodge, remove crampons and get warm in front of the fire with hot tea!

So we never made the summit, so this could be classified as a failure, however I often find the summit an anti climax, in essence its just standing on top of a big hill. Although, the failure on this trip still kept the drive alive to someday comeback and attain the summit, so a drive to succeed still beckoned inside.

It is often said that its the journey that counts and not the destination. Im my mind this had always been a paradox however this trip had finally humbled me and the excitement of high winds, the coldness, the free facial exfoliation from ice and grit, working together with my team mates with up and down, followed by us all getting safely back to the refuge made for one amazing journey.

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