For the past year I have been fundraising in order to take part in Childreach International’s Summit to Sea Challenge. This involved me climbing Mount Toubkal and trekking along the Moroccan coast line in every weather condition imaginable. Instead of writing a day by day blog of my experience in Morocco, like I did with the Big Build, I have decided to share with you my top ten tips for tackling the highest mountain in North Africa.
10. My first tip is you will see bugs, they aren’t everywhere on the mountain but they will sneak up on you when you least expect it! I found an ant in the squat toilet, after I had been!! A reminder to all arachnophobes out there “the spiders in Morocco don’t bite”. I for one am terrified of spiders and this was proven to everyone in base camp on summit morning when three of them decided to invade my tent as we were preparing to leave. Much to the guides amusement I screamed bloody murder and ran from my tent hyperventilating, crying, the works. The guides will then try to show you the spiders after they have removed them and this will send you into another fit of screams and them into a fit of laughter!
9. Next have fun and don’t take it to seriously. If you make it to the summit then fantastic well done you did it! But if you don’t it is not the end of the world you made a pretty good crack at it. There were times when I thought there was no way I was getting to the top but what kept me going was the two people I was with at the end, Scott and Carol, knew how to have a laugh. The distraction combined with the team spirit we had is what got us all up that mountain. I was determined to make it but I also knew that there was no way I was going to make it to the top if I thought about how much I couldn’t breath, instead I focused on the very strange conversations we ended up having (must have been the altitude.)
8. Leading on from that; also be prepared to cry! It might be a lot it might be a little but it will probably happen at some point on the mountain. My time came at the most unexpected moment for me, we had to jump across a river. This sounds easy enough but when you have already been going for about 9 hours and you have fallen at least ten times during that time, jumping over a river from one rain soaked slippery boulder and landing on another rain soaked slippery boulder seems like an impossible task. I ended up holding up the entire group by about five minutes I was so determined I was going in the river not over it, but when these moments hit you have to just keep going because otherwise I would still be half way up that mountain, alone!
7. Pack for all weather. The first day of trekking in the mountains will be hot, the second day it will hailstone so hard you will be left with multiple bruises (ok this isn’t a guarantee but still be prepared, they hurt like hell) and the third day you will go from being to hot to to cold every five minutes as you climb to the summit. Buy a proper fleece for summit day, take your down jacket but a fleece is top of my list. For one thing it is more breathable than a down jacket so this makes the climb so much easier. I am not for a minute saying that you do not need a down jacket because trust me you do. It gets pretty cold at night, also if you have just been hailstoned on and your waterproof jacket is out of commission while it dries you will be so glad to have it. Also if you are on the summit for more than about twenty minutes you will start to feel the cold and it will come in very handy then.
6. Be prepared to do very unusual things. For example; you will get up at ridiculous o’clock on summit day because breakfast is at half two in the morning, oh and did we mention you are going to be climbing in the dark? Head torches on everyone! Also our guides preferred method of getting down the mountain was to sit on our backsides and slide down in the snow, if you have had no experience in snow sports then it can be very difficult to steer in this mode of transport and you are very likely to crash. I crashed five times in total, three of those were into other people! Another strange experience has to be going to the toilet on the side of a mountain, sometimes you are lucky and you will find a nice secluded area in which to go about your business, other times you will not be so lucky and random American climbers will try to make conversation with you.
5. Take snack bars. This is especially important if you have any allergies like myself because you will find that although the guides do a fantastic job of catering for us awkward coeliacs, the lack of fibre in your diet will leave you feeling tired and very hungry! Even if you don’t suffer from any allergies I would still take things to snack on during the day. Snacking isn’t really a thing in Morocco, they will occasionally pass around a bag of nuts and biscuit type things, but apart from this the only time you will eat will be set meal times. Times between meals can vary depending on how fast your group is moving and also how far the guides want you to trek for each day. There are stops along the way on the first part of the mountain where chocolate and fizzy juice can be purchased but these won’t keep you going for long and on summit day there will be no shops. I took a veriety of different snacks but my life saver was definitely “Trek Cocoa Oat Flapjack” they fill you up and taste amazing all at the same time and an added bonus, they are gluten free!
4. Talk to the guides. Ask them questions about the mountain, about the culture and about themselves. They have a lot to say and you can learn so much more about the country from someone who lives their than you ever can from a travel guide book. Also our guides were fantastic, they were up for a laugh and they valued the advantages of sticking together as a team.They know the mountain like nothing else and are also very capable of rescuing you if you slide half way down a vertical slope, after flying of a makeshift slide and are clinging on for dear life thinking “this is how I die!” (yes this did actually happen, sorry Nana.)
3. Take a camelback!! They might be expensive but they are completely worth it and 100 times better than any water bottle could ever be. Trust me I learnt this the hard way, I ended up borrowing a friend’s camelback on summit day because she had injured her foot and it saved my life! The water bottle I had taken with me may have looked practical and fancy in the store with it’s fold away feature and large capacity but it was the most impractical thing I have ever purchased. Nowhere in my bag could store it with out either the issue of easy access or just the fact that it fell out every two minutes! Save yourself so much hassle go out and buy a camelback, like right now!
2. Take walking poles!!! I can not stress this enough, if this is the first mountain you have ever climbed then take walking poles, if you have weak knees then take walking poles, if you are of medium fitness (as the itinerary suggests you should be but really you need to be super fit) then take walking poles! My walking poles are my best friends now, they helped me scramble up impossible looking paths and helped me keep my balance on paths so thin they were probably built for ants!
1. Finally, celebrate!! You climbed a mountain, you made it to the summit! You might not remember most of it because you were to busy focussing on putting one foot in front of the other and not falling and remembering to breath, but you did it. At the top you will see the other Atlas mountains which surround the highest peak of Mount Toubkal, you will be above the clouds. If you are scared of heights I advise you not to look down at this point, if you are scared of heights what on earth are you doing climbing a mountain in the first place you eejit?! When you get to the bottom, look back up, you were up there, you made it, celebrate!