I put out a request for mates to join me on my trip to Morocco that I still had yet to plan. One hero emerged from the crowd, Chris Webber, was that man. I was glad Chris wanted to get stuck in. As a student at Leeds Beckett University it was really refreshing to see a student grab the bull by the horns. We arranged for the obligatory pre-match pint, and in usual fashion I forgot my guidebook due to the excitement of a pale ale. I wasn’t too fussed as it was probably as useful to get to know him, and to understand his ambition for the trip.
Once gain with the use of one of Britain’s top airlines to fly to Morocco, EasyJet, we landed in the evening. I want to reassure you, even though I mock these airlines gently, I really appreciate their cheap and appropriate service. Only thing I really don’t rate is their coffee. But it’s swings and roundabouts.
Navigating in the dark
We landed in Marrakech at night, with a slightly regretful switch on of the phone, and use of my 3G, we navigated our way to the hotel by bus. Hotel Ali was to be our pillow for the night, and boy were we ready for it, we were knackered. On arrival we dumped our bags and headed in to the hectic and world renowned Jemaa al-Fnaa square. It was so busy, and we were told this wasn’t their busiest, which only begs the question, ‘how would you get anywhere?’. As we navigated the snake charmers, acrobats and buskers, we arrived at the food. We were hounded by the stalls to sit and eat, and out of no where a man pounced with the opener of all openers, ‘we have not had diarrhoea in 2 years’. We looked at each other in agreement, and without checking the menu, we sat. We knew we had just screwed ourselves budget wise, but ah well.
We ate up and paid our slightly inflated bill, and headed back to Hotel Ali. On arrival at the hotel Chris wanted water, so aimed for the shopkeeper shutting up for the night. Chris asked for a 500ml bottle of the finest spring water, and was immediately asked for 30 Moroccan Dirhams, Chris didn’t have enough so turned to myself for a sub. I handed over the cash trying to complete the exchange rate with my tired brain. As we headed upstairs, it dawned on me that he had just paid about £2.50, what a mug. I laughed at the poor sod more the next day when we went for supplies to the Carrefour.
We sought an appropriately unsafe Mercedes-Benz taxi for our journey to Imlil in the High Atlas. We found one with no seat belts, head rests or any other factory fitted safety equipment or accessories of any kind. We could only guess the speed by how much the wind was blowing in through the open windows, aka ‘Moroccan A/C’. Arriving in Imlil, I had booked a refuge, which conveniently was closed, but was somehow still advertising on booking.com. Slightly confusing. But thankfully as luck would have it there was someone else to meet us to immediately reassure us of accommodation and another means to extract money from our wallets. We didn’t mind, it was nice that we didn’t have to go hunting for accommodation. However it was a fairly good hike up the hill to a Gite, called Gite Atlas Mazik. The chap who ran it, Ali, immediately sat us down to a Moroccan tea. And with classic flare poured our tea from the cup to about two feet in to the air. I believe this is to aerate the tea, but who knows, it was tea. It was super sweet, similar to a soft drink, leaving me wanting more.
We packed our rucksacks, checked our kit, ready for an early start the next day and double checked our route. With everything sorted we got a good nights kip. It was a slight daunting knowing that we were going to be heading out on a 6-day trip the next day.
Toubkal trek begins
The first day was a monotonous winding road up to the start near Tachedirt. It was actually very useful, as it allowed us to tweak rucksacks, retie boots and any other adjustments. We also passed a shop, which was unfortunately closed, but we did make a mental note of it’s location, and its unforgettable slogan. We arrived at the start of the hill climb and decided we should walk only a short way up and set up shop for the night. As we finished dinner the most British thing happened, it rained. Enough to dampen the mood slightly. We crawled in to our sleeping bags and bivis with difficulty and waited it out. By the time it finished we conceded and stayed in our bags. We’ll wash up tomorrow.
The sun started to rear its head and we were awoken by a bunch of westerners walking past us with their guide, porters and mules. We decided to make haste and get going. The mountain side looked barren and with little character, the walk was a slog anyway, but this definitely made it harder to enjoy. Looking back down where we had come from, it was a good view, but more so relating to the achievement of the ascent, than it’s beauty.
We now were going to drop down to Azib Likemt, a little village in the next valley. So being an anti social walking mate and hater of long descents, I plugged in the ear phones and gave Armin van Buuren my mind. After a couple of hours we arrived in the village and ready for another rest, so we settled down on the local campsite and set up our extensive basecamp.
Kit fixes or not
First problem was my inflatable mattress’s primary function was failing, it wasn’t staying inflated. Had I laid on something sharp last night? So I plunged it in to the river to seek this sleep wrecking misfit out. My helpful and quick thinking colleague did what only I would have done as well, he reached for his camera and got a snap. And dubbed me Gollum. The hole remained illusive, I had to concede.
After a terribly uncomfortable nights sleep we headed up the valley towards village Azib Tifni. We had only been walking for a short time when I realised that my lower back was getting wet, I stopped quickly to sort it out thinking that I may not have tightened my Camelbak enough. I pulled it from my bag and tested it, it was really tight, then I noticed a solitary drip from where the pipe meets the bag, and there was a tiny split in the reservoir/pipe mount joint. There was no fix for this. I normally carried two or more 1 litre Sigg bottles, but had decided to try the Camelbak, I was gutted I didn’t just stick with what I knew.
Further up the valley we split away from the usual path that headed towards Lac d’Ifni, instead we headed for the col, Tizi n Taharate. Passing the picturesque village of Azib d’Ifni, of which I managed to snap no pictures. We eventually reached the col, and what a pig it was. But as we set up camp for the night we were rewarded with great views. The only reason I haven’t popped that on here is because the sunrise the next morning was even better. We tucked in to our rice, saucisson and passata sauce, and admired our view and our make shift camp at about 3450m. What a way to acclimmatise.
Morning view to die for
Sunrise was amazing, and feeling blessed to have seen such a sight without anyone else there, we packed up and piled down the hill. I won’t say much about this, other than it was a seriously s**t slog. As we arrived in to Sidi Chamarouch we headed for a drink in a local cafe. My poison, Coca Cola, it was amazing. Topping up with a couple of bottles of water we headed up the path to Toubkal refuge. We had good pace and passed several groups along the way and the finest mountaineers in the world. Until we reached our sanctuary for the next couple of nights.
Toubkal Refuge could have provided us with many characters to chat to, but when groups arrive they don’t stray much from who they know, so we had to pick independent trekkers. Not that I disliked Chris’s company, but I enjoy a mingle. We sat for dinner with two lads who had basically bombed straight from Marrakech to attempt Toubkal in 2 days. And they had been punished with altitude sickness whilst attempting Toubkal on day 2. They were comical, and had me and Chris in stitches, their exploits cycling back in the UK were hilarious. The type of guys or gals you want to meet on these journeys.
Avoiding the crowds on Toubkal
Next morning we woke early and set off for the North Col avoiding the crowds of the South. We found our route, luckily no one was on it. We found our pace and cracked on, we felt really good confirming the acclimatisation trek had done the trick. It felt like we hit the col in no time.
The summit scramble was a little steep, but a far more welcome challenge than the South Col. At last we recognised the iron pyramid at the top and made a beeline for it. We were still in good shape, and success seemed a little underwhelming. We sat and admired the view, and watched a load of trekkers reach the summit absolutely knackered. I don’t know about Chris, but I wanted that. Instead I was left wanting a bigger peak. Our preparation had been too good, it had taken the edge off.
With satisfaction we headed down, meeting a lot people on our descent who were a little worse for wear. There was definitely an air of pride in our achievement, but felt like we needed something bigger. We returned to Toubkal Refuge for our final night in this valley, catching up with the two lads from the day before, who were heading down in one to Imlil, bloody nutters. Recovering for the second half of our journey, we returned to Imlil giving ourselves a full day to get ready.
The second half of our journey is covered in a blog post to follow. Watch this space.