Nov 20 2009

one down, three to go…

With one month down since we departed from the UK we achieved our first goal to raise money for UNICEF. Yes we did it.. We managed to get our unfit bodies to 4167m and summit Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa.
After spending a good few days in the desert at over 30 degrees C we made our way towards the small town of Imlil in the high Atlas. We covered aprox 130km of the Tizi-N-Test pass from 600m above sea level to 2100m. That was an experience on its own. Rugged single lane tar with clapped out trucks and prehistoric vehicles speeding down through the bends like they were gunning for pole position in the Monaco GP.. We made it, with a few scares and real close calls (along with witnessing a police investigation of a site where a panel van ‘mysteriously’ ended up 200m down a cliff, all the more nerve wrecking).
So we chugged into Imlil after a good 7 hr drive trough the Draa Valley and the coffin destine pass. Every man, his dog, brother and mule tried to convince us we required their services as guides or to take the strain off our backs and load up their well worked mule (they do work hard, when we were heading back to the town we saw one loaded with bags, supplies and a lazy tourist). ‘La shukran’ was again the well used Arabic I learnt in Egypt many yeas ago and we pressed on along Imlil’s only road with every man’s brother’s brother still trying to convince us. ‘La shukran’ again the most useful and close to only Arabic I knew. We got to the end of the tar and swung right on a steep dirt track that took us 3km to a very small village called Aremd. Starting the trek from Aremd cut off 40 mins or so and was hassle free so we decided to chance our luck in finding a camping area in this 3 mule town which hangs from cliffs and surrounded by skree.
After covering the dirt track we were stopped by non other than… Robin Hood the 2nd… This self named Berber hero admitted he was the first store on the path to Aremd and he was there to steal from the rich and give to the poor… Out came the usual English splab like ‘Ubly jubly’, ‘Fantastic’, ‘No money, no honey, no chicken curry’ etc etc. Good laugh and I bet if a talent scout ever ventured to Aremd, Robin Hood 2nd or his soon to be expected child (Robin Hood the 3rd) would get snapped up for the first Moroccan comedy film.. Robin, after further banter, kindly directed us to his good friend Omar Cherif, a 4 min drive on the cliff lined track, where we set up camp for the night, sans shower to Dale’s dismay however the desert nights bush camping prepared us for the tasks at hand but not for the sudden drop in temps. We chomp the prepared pasta from the previous evening, cleaned up and hit the hay only to be woken up several times by the rocking of the entire cab when the very strong winds swirled through the valley. It starts with a whistle in the trees and then it hits the tent, brace, exhale, then try sleep only to be awoken by the next long whistle and then the same procedure.
So with very little sleep we hauled ourselves out the tent at 6:45 and prepared a quick nosh and packed up. Fortunately we packed our gear for the trek the night before and Dale was not impressed when I cut down the clothing allowance nor when she put her pack on for the first time. Not a word uttered but I could see she was not a happy camper. We headed off on a very well marked path at 8am. I could see Dale was not comfortable so we went through the routine which we covered in the Sierra Nevada to get her pack more comfy followed by a few aggressive words of encouragement, well my way of motivating is the way I like to think of it.
The first day of the trek took us to just under 3200m and we spent the night at the newer ‘5*’ refuge… €40 for the night for the two of us in a dorm room incl. dins and breakfast and a hot shower! The first time we were in a bed since we sailed across to Spain, bonus and a splash out… We met loads of interesting people in the refuge and shared numerous cups of Berber whiskey (mint tea) with them all. The plan was to wake up at 5:45am, pack the bags with supplies for the summit, have a good nosh (breakfast) and hit the skree for the 1000m summit. The nerves were starting to kick in, along with a small headache from the altitude. ‘What was out there? Are we fit enough to do this? We don’t have a guide but we kind of agreed to head off with a bunch of 4 guys from England…’ We hit the hay at 7pm and slept like babies. We were woken at 5am by a noisy Spanish group who were starting their bid early so we ended up surfacing before the alarm went off.
We were out the door at 6:30am and the icy wind hit us. Thermals, fleece, soft shell and gortex jackets held out the cold but our poor tootsies and fingers took a beating.
After, just over 4 hours, numb fingers and toes and a load of skree stomping we got to the summit. The path was clearly marked with lumo orange spray painted dots (they must have used a load of cans to mark that as a dot or arrow approx every meter or so). The water in the tubes or our hydration packs were frozen solid. The task was to now strip off and get our UNICEF t’s in a pic so that everyone who reads this will know they need to get their short arms in their deep pockets and donate to our UNICEF fundraiser. OK a ¼ of what you intend to contribute then…
So after the pics we zipped up, I fired up a fag just to prove smokers are not unhealthy people, shook our fingers and started the decent…
We made it back to the refuge just before 12pm, warmed up, ate fruit and nuts, melted the hydration pack tubes and packed up the rest of the gear to hit the path at 12:30. It was a fairly carefree trek to Aremd and filled with banter with fellow trekkers who were heading back down so time passed fairly quickly. We rolled into Aremd just before 3pm and with jelly legs but perky spirits we got to the area where we left Mvubu. As we approached him I raised my hands and swore! I locked the keys to the safe which had the keys to the back lock in the back so there was no way of opening either. Out came the hammer and I started beating the lock which kept the left spare wheel safe. All the banging attracted Omar no. 2 and he could not understand why I had the car doors open but was stressing about the wheel lock. He ducked off and came back with a chisel and Omar no.1 popped the lock in a second, I took off the spare wheel opened the back, got the safe keys out and unlocked the rest of the cab before getting the spare wheel secured again. We packed up the cab, changed and hit the road to Marrakech.
We got to 4167m and back down in 2 days and then continued the coffin route to get a few days of chilling before meeting up with friends for the next week. Our legs are still like jelly but sense of achievement (and lessons learnt re locking keys away from one self) outweighs the pain and fatigue (note all the emphasis on the effort people).
A good few months to go until the next trek but till then… DIG DEEP!
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