Climbing a big mountain has become second nature to me just lately. I don’t suppose I could explain why I get so much enjoyment from it, but there is something about sweating up the hill, trying desperately to fill my lungs, sometimes questioning why, which grabs my attention and holds on to it firmly. That feeling of personal achievement when reaching the summit will always remain an enjoyment just for me, nobody else. Perhaps that is what pushed me to the top of Mount Toubkal even after the previous nights meal had decided to make a second appearance.
It was 4am and I couldn’t wait to get out of the stuffy room that slept 24 bodies. Who had decided closing the door was a good idea? A previous dread of the morning chill suddenly became a dream and stepping out under the ceiling of stars brought nothing but excitement. We had one head-torch between us and without discussion I became this morning’s leader.
“Don’t take the right fork in the path” was the warning in the foreground of my mind. So we took the left. That sickly feeling hadn’t subsided and I soon realized that what I wanted to stay in, definitely wanted to come out. My disgusted friend averted her eyes as I failed to turn off the head torch in time. But I felt so much better – onwards and upwards!
What happened next could successfully be avoided in conversation to save face, so I won’t elaborate too much. But safe to say we got lost; clambering over loose rocks and losing the cairns before we began following what I thought were white markers, only later to realize it was a type of lichen. Sitting still for long wasn’t an option as the cold set in, but other torches soon emerged which saved too much panic. Risking a fall with every step, the numbness of my hands had the whole traverse to safety drag on for what seemed like eternity. Like everything else, it came to an end and we reached the path to meet three hovering head torches, one of which was a guide, so we slowed our pace and cheekily followed behind. I took a Rennie in hope to shift the irritating acid taste but the effect was negative (apologies to the new friends who had to see that). Decision time – did I want to climb to over 4,000m on an empty stomach feeling drained of energy, with worry of ‘taking a wrong turn’ a second time? I think you know the answer.
Plod, plod, plod. I can’t remember another occasion when I have ever walked so slowly. Or ever felt so drained of energy. But to stop and turn round to witness a stunning orange and red haze across the sky, accompanied by a sea of cloud hundreds of meters below, the sun hitting the tips of the mountains around me; well this really spurred me to the top. Lifting my head into the cold chill of the wind, the summit stared back at me and relief (which came about in the form of a few tears) set in. Never has a view been so impressive and never has a celebratory Twix tasted so good. So good in fact, that it had me bouncing back down the hill as if the past few hours had been a breeze. As much as I love photography I knew my camera could never capture what I was seeing, so I left the numb hands for the summit and appreciated what my eyes were seeing so much more without the distraction.
The summit of Mount Toubkal had come about after a short discussion with some strangers over breakfast. The night before we had agreed on a calmer day in Marrakech after a few consecutive days spent travelling over land. However, halfway through a tasty crumpet we caught each others eye, gave a nod and ran upstairs to pack our bags. Two hours later we were in Imlil high in the Atlas, booked into a guesthouse with only a cat for company (a nippy cat at that) and Moroccan mint tea on tap. Next came a day of solitude as we found our way to the refuge, enjoying a blue sky as we wandered through beautiful little villages. An afternoon of sunbathing on the roof, card games and a huge vegetable tagine prepared us for the shenanigans detailed above.
Getting down wasn’t so straightforward. As if by magic a man and his mule appeared as my legs decided they would go no further. Being thrown off the side of the mountain was more appealing than walking in pain for any longer. Forget horse riding across a beach, mule trekking over boulders in the high Atlas is where it’s at.
The 48hrs it took to conquer the highest peak in North Africa was mentally and physically challenging, but who were we kidding, we didn’t want to spend the day walking around the famous Majorelle gardens of Marrakech anyway.