Thursday 14th November
When we stepped outside it was still dark and very, very cold! Today we would be having an acclimatisation day to the top of Ouanokrim which sits at 4089m, just short of Toubkal's 4165m.
I wasn't looking forward to today at all. My hips were still achy from yesterday and we'd been told there was a steep, technical part to today's climb. Normally I'd be up for this, what with my love of bouldering, but I knew this would be slightly different to climbing at the local bouldering centre!
The guides had already said that if anyone wasn't comfortable to continue with the scrambling part they were more than welcome to decline and save themselves for the Toubkal summit the following day. Before we set off I'd already convinced myself this was going to be my decision.
We walked up the same route that we'd tried out yesterday and not long into it the pain settled it's self back into my hips. I once again ended up at the back, struggling to keep up. It was so frustrating. When the group stopped, I eventually caught up and Mohammed, the lead guide, spoke to me and told me to walk directly behind him. He explained when you're at the back you lose your confidence and give up more easily, so recommended to stick behind him so I still felt part of the group. I reluctantly agreed and we set off again.
I walked behind Mohammed and thought I did OK at keeping up, but my hips were making me miserable ... I don't think Mohammed realised I was in pain, not just tired. I wanted to cry but refused; I knew it was just a combination of frustration and altitude emotion. Yes, altitude emotion! I remember having it in Nepal purely because I hadn't slept well ... it's like having an irrational toddler tantrum. Not funny at the time, but definitely when you look back at it!
We reached another stop and the guides said if I wanted to turn back I could. Yes! Yes, I want to do this! I just want to go back to the refuge, lie in my sleeping bag and weep. They asked if I was OK to make my own way back and I was absolutely fine with this. The chance to be on my own, with my own thoughts, in my own time. It's what I needed.
So Mohammed walked me back to a certain point a couple of minutes away, and explained the route back from there was pretty straight forward. He headed back towards the rest of the group, and there I was, alone in the Atlas Mountains! The most part of me felt absolutely fine, a slight part of me was a little nervous. It's stupid and, again, irrational but my morbid mind went back to the year before when two young girls who were trekking up Toubkal were found dead, after being beheaded by ISIS. What the hell was I going to do if I encountered some undesirables?! I certainly couldn't run. Maybe poke their eyes out with my walking poles? Luckily, the only people I came across were 2 local boys also heading up towards Ouanokrim; they were very pleasant and definitely not beheading-type people!
After a short while I got a concerning feeling in my stomach ... that feeling that suggests you need to get to a bathroom as soon as possible. 'Oh no' I thought. 'I'm literally in the middle of nowhere, ages away from the refuge and I have a bad stomach!' Again, funny now, not then! I thought I can't possibly 'go' in the wild ... like, what's the proper etiquette in this situation? Wilderness wees are obviously fine, but wilderness poops? I really didn't know. Either way, I'd decided in no uncertain terms I wasn't going to do it ... I would get back to the refuge in time. And thankfully, I did ... although there were a good few times I doubted it was possible.
When I got back to the refuge and after I ... yep ... I went back to our room, climbed in my sleeping bag and just wished that time travel and teleportation was an actual thing. I didn't sleep; just rested and shivered!
I don't know how long it was later when the door opened an Anna and Reduan walked in. Anna had got to the difficult scrambling part of the climb, and sensibly said 'no' to going further. The rest of the group had continued on. Tea was being offered downstairs so Anna and I spent the rest of the afternoon in the warmth, drinking tea and learning more Arabic.
It was a few hours later when the rest of the group returned. They said it had been tough, which made me think if it had been tough for them it would have been impossible for me, so I knew I'd made the right decision! Poor Laura had froze in terror on the way back down the scrambling part, but she still managed to do it! Such a champ!
Again, our dinner was made for us and the anxiety of tomorrow began to loom over me. I could not turn back on summit day. I could not not do it. The only thing I knew I couldn't fight through would be pain. Fatigue, you just have to keep slogging. Breathlessness, take it easy, have quick frequent breaks. Pain, nope. That night I took 3 Ibuprofen and 3 more first thing in the morning. They needed to work!