The Madness of Marrakech:
From the heatwave of the UK (or from us older generation, what we like to call summer!) we landed in Marrakech at 9:30 am and met up with Rachid, one of our two local guides, and then whisked off to our Riad, a delightful townhouse built around a garden/pool divided into quarters. Our rooms split up between the team, some had deep tiled baths with accompanying showers and quirky local treasures drenched around the room. There were nooks and crannies all over the place, so everyone went for a scout to see each other’s rooms and the rooftop with shaded areas to lounge about. When the team settled, we were treated to the local Maghrebi mint tea (wow, that was refreshing and sweet, I’ll have another please along with the recipe!) before having a quick look at the 3 days of trekking ahead of us. A spot of lunch and currency exchange awaited us and a venture out into the Moroccan sun for the first time. 39 C, not too bad as it wasn’t humid, and the sensory overload of sights, sounds, and smells of Marrakech.
From simple things like crossing the road to being able to walk down the streets without cricking your neck from all of the weird and wonderful sounds coming from every angle. The bartering begins straight away! From the genie trinkets to the snacks we find in our local stores. Some of us really enjoyed the game, even though the locals, like Vegas, always win! Jamie managed to have his name and stature spread about quite quickly amongst the locals as he managed to somehow fork out £30 for 3 pipes of Pringles (other wheat-based stackable snacks are available!) and some Moroccan spiced walnuts.
The Challenge of the Trek:
3 days of trekking were finally upon us, each day more challenging than the previous! Starting from the small mountain town of Imlil at 11 am, once the mules were loaded with food, water, and our duffel bags, and we had downed yet another Maghrebi mint tea, we were off. The team of 8, including myself, and our 2 local guides Rachid and Ibrahim. This is the perfect opportunity to get to know your team so so well. And discovering how 8 very different people can become such good friends, despite some very different backgrounds. The common goal of wanting to be slightly of your comfort and reaching the summit of Toubkal was the firm foundation of the team bonding and becoming buddies! Nothing was too much trouble for our guides, answering every question and getting accustomed to our accents, which ranged from Cockney, Scouse, and Brum. This was always amusing for all as we forget sometimes how diverse our own dialects and common terms can be!
Day 1: Was gentle and it took us up to 2,500m and lunch. Lunch itself was a spread fit for a King, extremely filling, healthy, plentiful and necessary for the work our bodies were embarking in. A few hours later after a good rest, we descended down to 2,250m and our first refuge, Azib Tamsoult. The 8 of us divided into 2 dorms. This gave us an opportunity to spread out and arrange our kit for the following day. A good feed with chicken tagine, couscous and other local loveliness! Snacks and drinks were also available to buy at the refuge. I think the guys realised how spoilt we were, they expressed their surprise for the pleasant surroundings and amenities around every corner. For the new trekkers, I was quick to mention that this is almost certainly not the case with every trek, and not to use this as a benchmark of expectation!
Day 2: An early start of 6 am for the day ahead. This was for the simple reason that it can potentially be quite a long day, and the early start was to establish the fitness level and determination of the group. The initial part took us through the narrowing high passes and towards a few spectacular waterfalls, ideal for a few photos and snacks to be taken on board. We had prior information of 97 zig zags awaiting us. Those familiar with Ben Nevis and the Pony Track will know about the humble 8 zig zags there! When we reached 2,500m we saw the traverse across to the start of the zig zags. Here’s the start of the grit and determination!
Naming mountains in alphabetical order was a pleasant distraction for some, although we did get stuck with a few letters, certainly not “T”. Counting up t0 97 in French and German also gave us something to think about as we meandered our way up. This eventually took us up to 3,600m, our highest point for the day. Another descent to our lunch spot, which gave us our first proper view of Toubkal. You can keep the pretension of a city skyscraper rooftop venue for an overpriced meal. Give me some plastic garden furniture, a good spread of calorific goodness, a couple of mates to laugh with, a view of the mountain you’re about to climb any time! After lunch, a descent to 3,200m and our final refuge, Toubkal. This was our opportunity for downtime after a good days walking and to sort out our kit for tomorrow, summit day! The local sheep and goats coming down the surrounding peak, provided much fun as they called to each other in the most peculiar manner. There were a few tears of laughter shared, and a “you had to be there” moment for sure.
Day 3: Early early! Headtorch time for an hour or so as we started for the summit at 5 am. The stars didn’t disappoint, Mars was extremely bright and very yellow, the International Space Station drifting slowly over us, and pockets of snow clinging on to the rock trying to survive for the Winter no doubt. The team were amazing on the ascent, 6 of them between Rachid and myself, one of the Steves with Ibrahim, making his own time up the mountain. Once we had reached the ridgeline at 3,900m, the sun had popped up and we were greeted with stunning views of the High Atlas Mountains. The Sahara desert was in the distance, but it was hard to make out at this time. There was no wind and the temperature was perfect, not too cold, and not too hot. From here on in, we got fleeting views of the summit, the manmade pyramid beacon coming closer and closer.
After 3 1/2 hours, the whole group summited Toubkal!!
We spent longer than usual at the top (about an hour) The weather was glorious, the group were feeling strong and were all emotional in the best way possible. A proud moment personally, as some of these guys had only been as high as Nevis at best! To see them high 5, hug, laugh and start the endless photo taking and video capturing. This was a testament to the team as a whole! A group that was determined and motivated to strive, 2 guides that looked after us and timed our ascent to perfection. Under the umbrella of 360 Expeditions, the whole trip was perfect.
The key was that everyone was looked after, enjoyed themselves thoroughly, and all summited! How good is that!! Lifelong memories and recent chats reminiscing on how we miss the place, and we should do it again in Winter! With 360? Absolutely, it was superb!