Monday, May 17, 2010

Toubkal: Highest Peak in North Africa

I have never climbed a mountain before. Jeff had climbed 3099 meters to the Buddhist Mountain Emei Shan in China. The closest I had come was hiking Mount Keira behind the University of Wollongong in Australia. A whole 464 meters. Not impressive.

Jeff and I had planned to hike Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa and 36th highest mountain in the world, for some time since living in Marrakech. We knew it was best hiked from May, as the winter months brought masses of snow and ice, and we are definitely lacking suitable clothing and equipment. We had met some new friends, Chris from Intrepid Travel, Ellis and Alex who were working and staying with some friends of ours, Fatima-Zohra from work and Kin, a friend of a friend. We picked a hiking date, and then it was on.

We had somewhat researched the hike. We knew it began at Imlil, with a hike to Sidi Chamarouch which was home to a muslim shrine, and then on to Base Camp. We had heard from various people that serious hiking equipment was unnecessary, as was a mule and guide. We took only snacks and Alex packed his weight in Lion Bars.

When we reached Refuge Du Toubkal at 3207 meters, we were a little worried. Serious Spanish summit monkeys surrounded us and were decked out in various enviable trekking gear. We however, the self proclaimed Weekend Warriors, were seriously decked out in running shoes, sweat pants and fleece. Some of us possessed snow jackets and beanies, but that was as serious as we got. We knew we were behind the pack when our dorm room buddies arose noisily for breakfast an hour before our scheduled wake up time. I even spied some Spaniards filling their camel backs with effervescent energy boosting hydrolites the night before. Our supply of Mars and Lion bars however were energy boosting, chocolaty and delicious. 

So at 7am we began our ascent. We had cleverly dressed and slept in our hiking outfits the night before, so were ready to go after some breakfast of stale bread and jam. Our loose plans for the climb were put into perspective when we looked out of the window during breakfast to find a fellow Toubkal hiker amusingly slipping and sliding on the ice. We were definitely ill prepared. He was was wearing snow gear and hiking boots. Holy crap. We crossed the river and then literally stumbled upon the scree, being sure to avoid the ice unlike our breakfast comedy show. Climbing up the larger stones was a breeze. But as our feet and hands pounded the smaller stones, they gave way beneath us and we redesigned the look of the slope. After somewhat successfully overcoming the scree, our jogging shoes hit the snow. Luckily, we were not the first to tackle Toubkal that morning, and footprints had already been made for us. We followed them to the end of the snow and then hit more scree, but more stable this time at 3700 meters. We followed the winding dirt path and overcame various bouts of altitude sickness consisting of non-serious shortness of breath and dizziness. Hikers on their way down from summit told us how long we had left, and after 30 more minutes, we were there.

Jebel Toubkal is not the fanciest of mountains, nor is it the most exciting. Anti-climatically, you see the weird graffitied pyramid structure before you reach the top. What takes your breath away isn't necessarily the views and the excitement, but the altitude. Regardless, we took the the time to document the evidence of our climb, snapping away in this pose and that. After downing some Mars and Lion bars, it was time to follow the other hikers back down to the Refuge. The descent was much shorter than the ascent. We scurried down the dirt and onto the snow. We had spied some tunnel sledding-like tracks on the way up and decided that we would take that opportunity to shave some time of our descent and have some fun. Chris went first and slid down 30m to the applause and cat calling of fellow hikers, waiting and watching the forms of the sliders from the safety of the rocks. We all followed, with Jeff and Alex walking back to the top for a second slide, this time, head first.

We made our way back to the Refuge, slipping, sliding and hiking. Returning to base camp with damp and dirty clothing, we filled up on more Mars and Lion bars and then got our gear together for the 4 hour sunny hike back to Imlil. Altogether we hiked 5 and a half hours from Imlil to the Refuge on Saturday morning and then 3 hours from the base to the summit on Sunday morning. We spent half an hour at the top, and then spent about 2 hours making our way back to the base. Needless to say, we were sore and tired. Everyone had their own ailments; calves, quads, coccyx, shoulder blade, ankle, feet, headaches, minor cuts and abrasions and sunburn.
Jeff on the route to Refuge Du Toubkal

Chris, Jeff and Ellis

Myself and Jeff during the ascent to Base Camp

Base Camp at 3207m

Kin, negotiating the path

Making our acsent up the scree

At the highest point in North Africa, on top of Jebel Toubkal

Jefff and I enjoying our first mountain hiked together

At this moment in time, Jeff was quite possibly the highest person in North Africa

Alex and Chris at the summit

The view from the top

Making the descent

Snow still covers the mountain in May

Ellis thinks 'To slip or to slide?'


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