Top Ten Tips for Climbing Mount Toubkal

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.

Group photo at the summit of Mount Toubkal
Group photo at the summit of Mount Toubkal

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.)

The Three Musketeers
The Three Musketeers

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.

We may have laughed at first but in the end we were all jealous of the umbrella
We may have laughed at first but in the end we were all jealous of the umbrella

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!

Carol and her long awaited Snickers bar
Carol and her long awaited Snickers bar

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!

Me and my walking poles, almost there!
Me and my walking poles, almost there!

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!

Above the clouds
Above the clouds
Looking back from the hostel at the bottom of the Mountain
Looking back from the hostel at the bottom of the Mountain

Morocco – 22nd of June

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Our last day in the village of Marigha. We felt so welcomed and accepted by the people in the village that it made us sad to think we had to leave. I know that we will all miss the children so much. In terms of building work we were back to sand chaining and shovelling. We wrote our names in chalk, along with the footballer names the children had given us, on the walls that we plastered the day before. Just like that it was lunch time.

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There was so much going on after lunch; parachute games, frisbees, skipping, chase and ball games. Just before dinner we had a game of football with the older boys in the village. I think it is safe to say football is not really my game, although I did manage to tackle someone with only minor injuries. Then they put me in goals… bad idea, I prefer to run away from the ball rather than dive in front of it.

After dinner we went to the house next door where they had prepared some cous cous, some people tried their luck at eating it traditionally by making it into a ball and just eating it off your hand. Unfortunately I am allergic to cous cous but it was really old fun to watch everyone trying to through handfuls of it into there mouths.

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We then went back up to our house where the villagers were waiting for us to show us some traditional drums and dancing. It was an amazing experience to be involved in the dancing and some sort of take on the conga in which I ended up piggybacking one of the younger boys because he couldn’t reach my shoulders!

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So this concludes my Moroccan Adventure. It was one of the most amazing experiences and I feel so privileged to have been a part of it. In the speeches that were given that night the village council told us how grateful they were for what we had done for them but I want to just say that I am grateful to everyone involved in making this project happen, to the village for taking us in and trusting us to build such an important feature in their community and to friends I made along the way.

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THANK YOU AND THE END

Morocco – 21st of June

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Plastering walls in Morocco essentially consists of throwing cement at walls. We spent the day being taught the technique that means the cement actually sticks to the wall; this does not mean that the cement actually stuck to the wall.DSCN0329

The children were waiting outside the house wanting to play after we finished building, so played music on our phones and had a dance off which was hilariously fun. I was attacked by tiny children wanting to play catch (they wanted me to chase them and then tickle them pretty much), by the time I got to tea I was absolutely exhausted from the heat.

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After dinner we all sat in our “Scottish Room” and ate our junk food and chatted for ages; which made it really difficult to get to sleep when everybody left…

TO BE CONTINUED

Morocco – 20th of June

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I think the villagers were becoming more used to us being there, we had a bigger audience at the build site and even a couple of the local girls came out to see what we were doing. One of the the girls wanted to give us a hand with the building, she must have been about thirteen or fourteen, so she joined our sand chain.

We played outside the house again after lunch and the girls joined in as well, up until then it had only been boys that had wanted to play, but now the girls were playing with the parachute and the football and duck duck goose. I discovered that duck duck goose can actually be a very dangerous game if you play it in the mountains, as I dramatically slid into my spot while being chased by a 7 year old around the circle. My legs (which were already covered in bruises from the buckets) were now cover in scratches from my ankle to my knee.

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We met out side out house at four o’clock so that our guides could take us to visit the local salt mines and for a hike around the village. We walked down to the mines and they explained to us how the salt water is taken up from the wells in buckets and put into the reservoir, it is then let into large, shallow, concrete squares on the ground and left to dry out for three days in the sun. Then the salt is bagged and taken to the local markets for sale.

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From the mines we walked up behind the village to where the castle was and started our mini hike from there. We walked all along back of the village and up onto the foothills of the mountains above. Some of the older children joined us, they seemed to have no problem with the steep slopes or the heat as they ran ahead of us. The views were incredible. We could see the whole village from the highest point on our walk.

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We were so exhausted from our hike and the heat of the day. After tea we went to the local shop and bought a bottle of ice cold Pepsi each which was a perfect way to end our day…

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TO BE CONTINUED

Morocco – 19th of June

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The site had gained an audience, the children came to watch us build and some even wanted to help. They had also brought a tiny little kitten with them which was just adorable.

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We were making more sand chains but because I was on a slight slope I kept managing to batter my legs with the full bucket of sand and ended up with a leg covered in bruises.

We took the parachute out after lunch again for the children to play with because they absolutely loved it. They had the kitten with them again,we soon discovered that they did not think of the kitten as a living thing, I think they just thought of it as a toy. I was really impressed with how quickly they picked up that we didn’t like how they were handled the kitten and started to treat it nicely.

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When got beck to the building site at half four some one had written on the wall outside of the education centre: “Big Build 2014 Marigha, Childreach International, Big Build Morocco, Thank You” and then a drawing of a chef…

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Morocco – 18th of June

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The first thing I did in the morning was look across to the the mountains opposite us. The clouds were tucked in-between them, just under their peaks, hugging the sides like fluffy white glaciers. It was a beautiful start to my day.

We had a free afternoon after our morning’s work on the building site so Imogen, Lorna and I went explore the village a little bit. We walked up to the castle that Abdul had taken us to on the first day and the hills next to it. We then decided to go somewhere new and followed a path that went past the castle and back into the village but we had never been to this part before. While we were trying to decide which way to go next some of the villagers start talking to us. Of course we had no idea what they were saying so Lorna tried speaking french to them, which worked until they exhausted her knowledge of french and both sides settled with pointing at things.

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We met for tea at the usual time but instead of going to the main house for it, we were invited to one of the local builder’s house where they would show us how to make traditional Moroccan Mint Tea. We sat around a long room on the floor which was covered with brightly coloured mats and cushions to put behind our backs. Abdul was sitting down at the far end with a tray full of various tea related items and began explaining how they made their tea

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After the tea had been boiled for five to ten minutes we were each given a glass and some traditionally baked bread. I had really started to like the mint tea but I still had to wait for it to get to at least room temperature before attempting to drink it.

When we came back from dinner there was a good fire burning outside the local cafe type thing that was under our house. The children were sticking branches in the fire and chasing each other while spinning these branches around. They found this game hilarious fun but all I could think of was that it would end in someone getting burnt. As far as I know no children were hurt by flaming branches of doom that night…

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TO BE CONTINUED

VLOG – Mint Tea and Saturday Markets

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Here is a blog of the first three days of my trip to Morocco for you to enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLcbUBP9wbU. This is the first VLOG i have ever done and it to me two days to get it uploaded to YOUTUBE, stupid internet…

Also check out my Morocco Highlights video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7P2sWOim9o

Advanced warning the highlights video will only work on a computer due to copyright (I used songs by American Authors and Imagine Dragons).

Morocco – 17th of June

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A lot of sand chaining happened today (pretty much we lined up and passed buckets of sand down the chain and then the empty buckets back up the chain). Some people were also continuing with cement mixing and wall building. I have to say that chains really are the most efficient way of moving heavy things about that I have ever seen. I think this method should be used a lot more than it is being used now. It definitely taught me about team work and how important communication with in it (I’ll be using that lines in future interview *winky face*).
Between Lunch and tea we got to meet some of the children from the village, we took the parachute out that Imogen had brought with her and taught them some games. We also taught them the “Hokey Kokey” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. They sang us the National Anthem of Morocco, a song about a cat who had his piece of fat stolen by a dog and then they started singing Shakira’s 2010 world cup song “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) much to our surprise, off course we joined in and they seemed equally surprised. It was a great moment

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We really wanted them to do some dancing but they were to shy because some of the older boys were watching, so we decided to do the Macarena and Abdul got them all to join in which was so much fun, even though we didn’t know the words at all! After a long discussion with the group one of the yonder boys ran off , when we asked why he had run away they told us he had gone to get a drum. The boys then started singing with a beat from the drum and also a squashed, empty Pringles can that was rhythmically being hit on a stone by one of the children. It was amazing to listen to and very hard not to dance to.

It was great to finally meet the children who were going to be using the education centre once it was complete. I think it definitely showed me that all the stress from fundraising and saving and organising transport down to London was worth every single minute of the time I had put into it…

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TO BE CONTINUED

Morocco – 16th of June

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I was woken at five in the morning by the prayer call from the village mosque, I thought it was a dream. I was even more sure when I asked Imogen and Lorna if they had heard it and they said they hadn’t, especially when I could have sworn I asked Imogen what time it was when it woke me.

Utterly confused, I headed to breakfast where I asked around and it turned out I wasn’t going crazy because some of the others had heard it as well. Breakfast for me was crumpet/bread things with jam which was a much better start to my day.

Walls seemed to be popping up everywhere as we worked during the morning, you could turn your back for one minute and when you turned around again you would be in a completely different room from the person you had been standing next to. We could see where the class rooms were and where the toilet was going to be, it was beginning to look more like a functional building.DSCN0049

We stargazed again that night and we were joined by some of the Aberyswyth people, if only they had stayed out a little longer they would have seen the three amazing shooting starts that shot through the night sky. I had never seen shooting stars that clearly, especially the last one; we could see the bright white meteor and its tail perfectly against the dark black of the sky. It was absolutely beautiful…

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TO BE CONTINUED

Morocco – 15th of June

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We started work at around nine in the morning after our breakfast. Unfortunately I had only had a banana and an apple for breakfast because the only other option was not gluten free, so I was still a bit hungry when we got to the site but I decided to try and push through it. The first job I was given was chiseling the wall so that electrics could be fitted into it and the plastered over. Quite a few of us were doing this but some were mixing cement (this meant having a pile of cement and sand on the floor and mixing it into water with spades) and some were helping to build up the interior walls.

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^ Me chiselling ^

By around lunch time I was starting to feel like I need a lie down but luckily the president of Childreach’s partner organisation had come to visit us and had brought some lovely gluten free crumpet/bread things. He sat with us at lunch and tried to teach us Berber, all he succeeded with was “shoran” which I’m pretty sure is actually Arabic but it was a step in the right direction.

The girls were moved to a much bigger house which was decorated with the most amazing tiles inside.  The only downside was one bathroom between fourteen girls, but on the plus side the site was literally right next door to us so not to far to walk. The house also had a beautiful view of the village from the roof terrace, which the RGU team’s bedroom opened directly out onto!DSCN0041

We stayed up to star gaze that night because I had seen Mars in the sky and Imogen had also spotted Saturn. We watch the International Space Station pass over us from the roof top and then decided to call it a night…

TO BE CONTINUED