After an early morning flight from Luton costing around £140 return with Ryanair we arrived at Marrakech airport. First post of call was to obtain some local currency as you cannot obtain it outside of Morocco. The next port of call should of been to the duty free shop to get some drink supplies but we passed on this which would later haunt us.
Our Moroccan host Mohammed Aztat had arranged for a taxi to pick us up from the airport to take us to our mountain base camp in Imlil which was about 90minutes away. We played a game of taxi cab bingo on the plane which I proudly declare myself the winner of, a 1970s brown Mercedes, often seen in many foreign countries.
Weather wise it was quite warm and cloud free. The taxi was soon leaving Marrakech and heading South towards the High Atlas mountains. We did get a quick sight of the old city as we passed the city gates of the Medina. The taxi ride was interesting and these Moroccans certainly don’t mess about when it comes to driver etiquette. Through the warm hazy air we could soon see the mountain
range that and its snow capped peaks. The taxi soon began gaining height as we winded up and around the mountain roads towards Imlil, closer to our destination the car slowed as we had to pass a boulder the size of caravan which had fell from the mountain side on the previous afternoon, several locals were out with pick axes and sledgehammers trying to break up the obstruction. Soon we reached the end of the road Imlil were our host was waiting for us with a pack donkey to take our luggage to his home. The taxi cost around £1111 each way. Man of the locals had come out to have a look although I suspect they were eyeing us up for future bartering in their shops.
We entered the Dar Adrar (full details of our accommodation can be found here www.daradrar.com). Mint tea was quickly offered and after a quick tour of the building we realised we had fell on our feet with this place. Later we ventured into the village for supplies and a spot of shopping, be prepared for some very persuasive individuals in these remote Berber villages, stay strong and stick to your guns and
you should come away with a reasonable deal. Our host had also popped to the shop for supplies for tea which I was assured was going to be chicken or at least I thought this after doing my excellent chicken noise impression. On returning we were given a huge 3 course meal which was comprised of the main dish omelette (the chicken impression was taken in the wrong context), saying that though I hate Egg but still got a decent feed out of it. We eat on the roof terrace and enjoyed one of the most breath taking views I have seen, this place is beautiful and deserved more attention than our climb could give it. We arranged a local guide through Mohammed and retired to the living area were we met a Dutch couple Cor and Susan, after a chat about Toubkal they decided to join us on the trip but would meet up with us at the mountain hut as they needed to rent some gear. We retired to the bedroom and got our heads down for the early start we had planned.
Up early and after a hearty breakfast we were on the
trail to the mountain refuge, the walk would take about 6 hours. The weather was hot and clear, the scenery amazing and the hike manageable. On the way up we slowly gained height and we reached the snowline at the holy site of Sidi Chamarouch there is a white roofed mosque. This is a popular pilgrimage place for local inhabitants since the source of water, which emerges from the rocks here, is reputed to have healing powers,
incidentally the place were the donkeys stopped (maybe they drink the water). We rested with a cold fizzy drink and chilled out with the friendly locals. The snow line proved and added difficulty and we fell through the snow countless times. About 2 miles from the refuge the path disappeared and we were in the valley that led up to the gorge. At this point I realised not packing sun tan lotion was a mistake, the problem was multiplied because there was literally no cover from the sun for the last hour and the snow reflected it . By the time we reached the refuge I had a cracking headache and was burnt to a crisp. In the refuge we eat well and
chatted with our Dutch friends Cor and Suzanne. Mohammed our guide came into his own in the refuge and arranged all our food, there was plenty to go around.
We hit the hay around 10 in a dorm like room, the united nation of hikers, climbers and skiers got treat to a bohemian rhapsody of snoring from the UK boys. Fell asleep wondering if my cold would disappear and wondering if I had caught too much sun.
7am start and a splitting headache, first things first, 4 ibroprofin tablets in a desperate attempt to get me through the day. A quick breakfast and brew then we ditched all the gear we didn’t need, the backpacks were light the weather conditions were overcast (result for me, I could take no more sun) and the team was ready.
We set off up the mountain and the initial drag up the mountain side took its toll, we slowed our pace accordingly and took our time. Pete struggled at the start and didn’t fancy it but after a bit of a pep talk and a rest he kept going, later it would be me who struggled, but at this
point I felt great and ready for it.
After the initial pull up the first slope the gradient decreased slightly and a bit further up the mountain it opens out into a bowl like shape , Mohammed told us that at the top of this next slope was the ridge that led to the summit which was out of sight behind clouds.
Close to 2/3 of the way up this slope Pete took the lead and shook off his earlier problems, it was a this time I started to lose my breath very quickly, it was weird because Paddy has literally told me about 5 minutes earlier that we were over 4000m. At this point I felt totally shattered, my legs were failing after about a minutes effort and the recovery time slowed. At this point I decided to let Paddy know I was goosed, instead of whinging and whining I decided to just laugh at the situation and myself and Paddy had a right laugh at me dropping to my knees every 20 steps or so.
When we reached the top of the slope we knew all we had was a traverse of a narrow ridge
and a few hundred metres to the summit. I popped a quick peek over the ridge and seen the biggest drop I have ever seen, this focused me in the mountain and I knew I was so close to reaching the summit.
10minutes later and we were all stood on the summit of North Africa’s Highest Mountain, a small achecivement for a real mountaineer but in just under 2 years I had gone from nothing to this and done it with some great mates. All I wanted now was a view from the summit height of 13,671 ft, we waited about for about half an hour but the cloud did not lift.
The descent I cannot write much about because frankly I cant remember much, apart from sliding on my arse down a massive snow slope and thinking I hope this ice axe stops me. Ohh the other thing I remember is wondering how they got rid of all the human waste from the refuge, well we found out on the way down when we saw the back of the building......basically it looked as if was just thrown out of the window.....it looked like the biggest, messiest skid
mark you have ever seen.
A quick snack in the refuge refuelled us and he repacked our rucksacks, setting off back on the trail back to our base camp I felt really good, the walk home was a long one but it was a piece of cake compared to the walk in. Stopping just once to barter with the locals for a second hand tagine we reached the Dar'Adar just as night closed in. A hearty meal and an unlikely internet fix in a locals humble home topped off a perfect day. Mohammed Aztat arranged a taxi for us in the morning and recommended a hotel, this bloke is top notch by the way and comes highly recommended. After some late night banter with Suzanne and Cor we hit the hay..mission accomplished....tomorrow, time to celebrate.
Goodbye's were said to Mohammed and his staff and we shared a 4x4 taxi with our Dutch friends back to Marrakech. The taxi ride again brought a few worried looks from its passengers but hats off to the bloke he got us there, although I cant see the logic in blind overtaking on mountain corners when the drop spells certain death.
Our hotel was basic but well placed, we soon found a bar that served beer and hit the sauce, I can honestly say it was the best tasting pint of lager I have ever drank, all though it may of been the sweet taste of success.
Marrakech has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco and also has one of the busiest squares in Africa and the world, Djemaa el Fna. The square bustles with acrobats, story-tellers, water sellers, dancers, and musicians. By night, the square turns into food stalls, becoming a huge open-air restaurant with busy life. The Medina of Marrakech is also on the List of World Heritage Sites.
Pete wanted a picture of us with a snake charmer, no chance...!!! We wandered around the Souks and sampled some real Moroccan culture. After running out of bars in the old town we headed for the new town and ended up in a local working mans club, here we met some characters including an ex Moroccan boxing champ who had stories about working as movie extra and we chatted about football and their love for Liverpool. As day turned into night we lost Pete who
headed back to the digs, myself and Paddy found ourselves sipping cocktails in one of the cities most up market bars, this was bliss, and as Paddy will tell you the young bar maid took a shining to me and kept our table filled with free bar snacks. We headed back to the square and wandered around aimlessly taking in the night bazaar's, we bumped into Pete again and hit the bar for a night cap.
The hazy return home, pretty lame really, flight sound, no hiccups and Gill (superstar) waiting at the airport.
In summary this was one of the best things I have ever done, I recommend it to anyone.
Tips for others:-
Take your own booze as there is none in Berber villages
Get BMC membership for insurance and discount in the mountain refuge
You don’t need a guide but they come highly recommended especially Mohammed Aztat
Ice axe, crampons and mountain clothing is needed
When bartering go low, very low and slowly work up to your price
Flights £140, Taxi £20, Accommodation/food £50, guide £30 knowing that you have done it all for half that a popular walking magazine
sells this trip for.......priceless
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