Its 4am. The stars are out. There’s no light in the Refuge, and everyone’s started to bustle about…it can only mean one thing. Nope, not hammer time…it’s summit time.
This is it, I think to myself, whilst taking a glance in the mirror…I’m doing this thing. It was a weird almost third person moment, catching a look at myself, padded out in layers; woolly hat, head torch, and walking poles – I kinda felt pretty badass, like an actual mountain climber or something.
Anyway; I’ll go back to it being 4am….so everyone’s lacing up and getting ready, we only have about 30 minutes before breakfast so no time for messing about, but also, no one wants to be messing about at 4am…like, it’s not your average morning, where maybe you lose a sock or something.
So we make our way down for breakfast, which was like THE most salty porridge type dish you can imagine, like, even for me and Dave…seasoned salt eaters (see what I did there)…it was too much – but the bread was good! They also served us oranges, I packed mine for later…and after a mint tea; Mohammed gave us the low-down of how things would go that morning, and we set off.
It was of course freezing cold; but it didn’t take long for us to strip off a layer as the incline was steep from the start; luckily under the night sky I had no episodes of vertigo, which was awesome, because usually I’m terrible as soon as I feel any level of exposure!
We had been climbing for around an hour and a half, when Mohammed let us have a breather, but also so he could pray. This was an incredible rest break, as we all sat quietly, switched off the head torches, and gazed up at the stars. If I wasn’t so cold and out of breath it would have been even more enjoyable I guess….
As we continued up the valley to the Toubkal ridge; we could see the sun begin to rise, turning the peaks behind us a dim glowing red; at this stage however I’m not enjoying the views, as I was suffering pretty badly with altitude sickness; coming up the valley I struggled to keep my breath, and on a couple of occasions had to really go-in on myself to control my breathing to stop from passing out…at this point…I pretty much hated hiking and for the first time ever, I even considered never hiking again, I gave some real serious thought to just quitting the whole thing…I was over it.
(contrary to the smile, although maybe I was smiling at the thought of just going on normal holidays, and not being on the face of a 4000M mountain.)
As we reached the ridge, which you can see in the photo, we had some amazing, although hazey views of the Atlas mountains…again, I wasn’t in any state to enjoy this moment, but I’ve had a look at the photos, and I can confirm it was amazing.
The ridge walk was not so steep, and with the sun now on us, must have been a couple of degrees warmer, although I had lost all feeling in two of my fingers (but I have Raynaud’s so that was to be expected!). It also signified the final stretch…”20 Mins” Mohammed shouted…
It was at this point I was pushing through a barrier, like, in no other situation have I ever done something, or physically pushed myself, that I didn’t feel like I wanted to do. In my head I was spotting all the cosy looking rocks that I could sit under and wait for everyone to summit and get me on the way back down…yes, that’s right…in my head these ice cold jagged rocks looked cosy. I’m talking ‘Nans armchair on a winters day next to an open fire with a knitted blanket and hot cup of coacoa cosy’. I took out my last protein bar for the final push, however, it was frozen solid, and after chocking on it several times, I thought…well fuck you then…and that marked the end of the protein bars involvement in my trip, and my story.
(Remys altitude face & some jagged cosy rocks)
After pushing on for what felt like an eternity, the summit was finally in sight; 50 paces away at a guess, and bang. suddenly the strangest wave of emotion came over me. You may or may not have known that I had booked this trek to raise money for my Grandad, who sadly, a week before we flew out, passed away. This no doubt hit me at this point, I felt somehow with-him for a moment, before also feeling exctatic that I had reached the summit on a personal level.
We had all made it, even the guys who had reservations, our trekking gang, pictured below, all made it, and some even managed to smile for the photo too!
We didn’t hang-out for long up on the summit, what with it being -6C and the potential for rain later in the day Mohammed was keen to get us all back down to refuge for lunch.
I was somehow buoyed by making the summit, and felt in much higher spirits than even just 10 mins prior; and no doubt descending was easier on the cardio than ascending, even if more punishing on your legs.
Easier maybe, more dangerous, for sure.
As we slowly made our way down the icy summit ridge; I crossed paths with a hiker making his ascent, he’d put a foot wrong, and with some not-so-cosy looking cliff faces to his right, and me to his left, I looked on as he fell face first into the ground; falling rigid, as if he was literally scared stiff…luckily for him, our guide, and another, were close by and assisted him to safety.
“Okay”, I thought to myself…”no slipping mate”.
As we continued slowly down, the heat began to rise, and before long we were stripping back the layers again…blood was once again in all my fingers, and breathing was much improved…and to turn this moment from good to amazing…out came that orange I packed at breakfast…which I ate like a savage, biting through the peel.
The novelty of the heat, soon wore off, and it was a long trek back to the refuge, down varied terrain.
During one cliff-side water break, we asked our guide, Mohammed, how long it would take him to summit and return to the refuge if it wasn’t for us slowing him up…
okay…so before I tell you; we’re on pace at this point to complete the summit in just short of 7 hours…
Mohammed – “so in 2009 I did a competition, and was up in 50mins – down in 20. so 1hour 10 mins in total”.
DOWN in 20 MINS …. as you can imagine, the guy suddenly becomes our mountain God. Like that’s some serious mountain running.
The photo below is taken at the very moment that this conversation is happening…good times!
Alas, we return to the refuge, not in 20 mins, but still in good time for out-of-shape westerners I guess…and in time for lunch…which was the most welcome meal you can imagine; of bread, pasta, fish, veg, tea, rice, lentils…just everything.
So…there you have it..Summit complete and I’m back in one piece.
Was it horrendous? Yes.
Was it amazing? Also Yes.
Was it hard? Yes (Yes yes yes)
Was it worth it? Hell Yes.
Would I do it again? When’s the flight?
Toubkal was a crazy one…our first 4000M summit, no doubt one we will remember for the rest of our lives. The world is full of amazing things…make sure you don’t miss it.
As that famous photographer Wayne Gretzky once said –
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”
So make sure you take yours!