Mt.Toubkal Our African Adventure: Pt.3 (Toubkal Breaketh the Man)

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.) mkesh d

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.
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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.

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(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.

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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!

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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. mkesh3

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.

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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”.

SAY. WHAT.

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!

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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.
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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!

Mt.Toubkal Our African Adventure Pt.2 (Toubkal Maketh the Man)

After the shell shock of an afternoon arriving in Marrakesh [as explained in Pt 1]; we were about to see a completely different side to Morocco. We had some brief complications with our breakfast, and by complications, I mean, our breakfast was served in an entirely different building on a completely different street…delicious nonetheless. Being rushed along by our driver we knocked back our mint-tea and bundled our gear into the minibus, sat ourselves down, and anticipated the days ahead. mkesh 5

It didn’t take long before the echoes of the bustling Medina were out of earshot, and we had views spanning across vast desert land; with the occasional village…and occasional luxury apartment block being constructed.

We could soon make out the mountain-scape through the morning haze; and we suddenly found ourselves being thrown about in the van by the twisting mountain lanes…if nothing else, the adrenaline release at least made up for the lack of Red Bull in my bloodstream.

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Arriving at the beautiful mountain village of Imlil at around 09:30 / 10:00 we swiftly unpacked, and then re-packed our day 2 kit onto the Mules, before sitting down to share a mint-tea whilst going over the itinerary for the next few days with the guys at Aztat Adventures.

 

The first part of our journey was through a shaded woodland; and being Walnut season, we could see locals up in the trees harvesting the nuts. The shade was welcome, as it was around 35C in the sun; and of course the woodland wouldn’t last forever!
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The woodland gave way to the dried river bed; which in the Spring is a popular resort for locals to access clean water, fresh from the snow-melt from the peaks of the Atlas mountains.
The river bed was easy going on the legs, but extremely hot, which made it tough – there was another smaller mountain village ahead; which marked the half way point to our lunch break.

As we made our way through the village; we found ourselves outside of a primary school; with the children running about around us; which was awesome.

Now over more rocky terrain; we trekked on for 6around another hour until we can to our lunch stop. where we had a feast cooked up of pasta, vegetables, fish, and bread. The locals cater to our westerner sugar dependant needs too by stocking fizzy drinks ( Coke, Fanta etc. and a load of chocolate bars too!). The rest was welcome, more-so to have a break from the heat; things had been easy going to this point, and we had a sense of anticipation still of bigger things to come…

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…and bigger things came indeed! As I mentioned before, we had packed the mules with our kit for day 2, and in our wisdom, this included our coats, gloves, waterproofs etc etc etc…so of course it rained, hailed, and rained some more! So here we are, in all our plastic theme-park chic ponchos…I don’t care. rainI know these are the gripe of many a seasoned hiker…but guys, they DO serve a purpose; sure they make you look like a complete idiot, but
a) it was hot
b) we kept dry
c) they weigh like nothing.

So you can be uptight if you like, but I say embrace, with due thought, the £1 poncho. Like…if you’re on-top of Nevis , or in the Valleys of Snowdon and you have a poncho but no 4 or 5 other layers…like you’re an idiot. But there definitely is a time and a place for them…well, the time was the end of September and the place was hiking up the Atlas mountains.

The weather sure made it a slog; a fairly gradual ascent wasn’t too tough on the legs, but the changes in weather made it mentally tough. The Mountain Refuge was in sight after a further 3 hours of trekking; arriving at around 5:30pm refuge

The facilities were basic, as to be expected, but comfortable and actually, when you’ve hiked for 7 hours, and are 3600M up…amazing.
The lads in our group all had the upper bunk of a dorm; which eager to rest-up we climbed up to have a chat and relax…of course, our bed collapsed…of course. Luckily no one was squashed, and after some not so convincing handy work by the guys running the ‘tuck-shop’ we were told it was safe, and to jump back up. Which we did after dinner, and a chamomile tea…which for some reason had the same effect as drinking a pitcher of Long Island Iced Tea.

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The night was drawing in; and with a wake-up call waiting for us at 4am we headed off to bed at around 9pm. Legs aching, and mentally exhausted from the weather extremes, I don’t suppose our minds could comprehend the next days task…the 13,500 ft summit. We could over hear some mumbles from the dorm from a couple of lads who were prepared to opt-out of the summit attempt… no chance we thought… we’re here to do this thing.
So all that was left to do, was contemplate and digest the days events, and anticipate the next… and of course, taping up our feet in preparation!

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Join me on the summit attempt in Pt. 3 (Toubkal Breaketh the Man) where we set off in pitch darkness, taking in views of the Milky Way, an eating breakfast by head-torch; experience our first ice and snow hike…and where I almost pass out on two different occasions due to the altitude…

 

As the UK summit season quickly approaches we thought it would be a good idea to talk with our friends over at Three Peaks Partnership to get an understanding of the impacts of the ‘novelty challenges’ that on the one hand bring thousands of people in touch with the U.Ks landscapes, yet can be the plight of the season for others, and that’s not entirely unjustified either – with over a TONNE of trash being collected last year from the peaks…

 

 

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What was the driving force behind the partnership being founded? Was there one particular bad year for litter / mess etc or was it a slow build up of local frustrations?

Rich Pyne (Rich Mountain Experiences, Ben Nevis) was working on the Ben back in 2013 when he came across a huge pile of abandoned rubbish – an all too often occurrence. That started an idea and soon he was in touch with me (Kelvyn James, Mountain Services, Scafell Pike) and Kate Worthington (RAW Adventures, Snowdon) and together we got the ball rolling on what has become the largest organised mountain cleaning event in the UK – The Real 3 Peaks Challenge.

Without the partnership what would the Three Peaks look like?

Last year we collectively moved past the tonne collected barrier – think about that for a moment – how much does one empty plastic water bottle weigh….

My team on Scafell Pike take in excess of 50 bags down every year – but in 2016 we actually saw a slight reduction – I think that is down to a combination of now knowing where to look, having gotten the really old stuff off the hill – and the message getting out there.

Pictured below is the first haul from 2013 which inspired the creation of the partnership…and we can see why! 

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Why do you think there is an issue with litter / misuse of the peaks, education, attitude etc?

There’s no simple answer; many events are now encouraging people into the hills who simply aren’t equipped mentally or physically – and often they just don’t know or understand the impact that dropping litter has. I think (& I base this on comparison to the work I do oversees) that we are still along way behind in educating clients and the general public on the wonder of our natural environment – how special it is – and the part we all have to play in keeping it so. (Check out some of our posts on Ben Nevis & Snowdonia to see what’s on the doorstep!)

 

 

Do you think that mass ‘challenges’ can dilute the authenticity of our summits; or are they a force for good in opening the eyes of the masses to the incredible landscapes on offer in the UK?

Anything we do to offer, develop or encourage a love of the outdoors in our clients, friends or strangers is a good thing – interaction with nature should be a key part of everyone’s lives – the challenge is to do so responsibly.

But – the quick fix nature of the way many challenge events are promoted is counter productive to this – and oddly it’s probably also poor business!

Having made well over a hundred ascents of Scafell Pike I can tell you that the middle of the night is not the best time to climb England’s highest point – instead I’d rather encourage clients to take their time, to spend some additional time absorbing the area – maybe wandering slightly off the beaten paths, spend some money in the local businesses – take the time to fall in love – so that they come back again – rather than looking for the next 24hr fix.

What’s the first thing someone planning the 3 peaks challenge should consider to keep their visits as Eco friendly as possible?

If you carry it in – carry it out.

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So..how can people get involved?

Visit our Facebook Page – work out which mountain you’d like to come help out on, gather up your friends – and get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

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So go for it…sign up and take on The Real Three Peak Challenge – or take on some of the cracking advice here, take your time and learn to fall in love with your own backyard (Unless of course you’re not based in the U.K. – in which case come along and see what we’re hiding over here!)