Updated: Nov 20, 2019
Wednesday 13th November
We woke up at 06:50am this morning for breakfast at 07:30am. We had to pack all our belongings as we wouldn't be staying here again for the rest of the trek; today we were heading towards the mountain refuge ... the place where we would spend the rest of our nights.
Mohammed had told us to make the best of the village house we'd stopped in as when we got to the refuge it'd be very different! It was obviously going to be a shared accommodation with other groups and travelers; the bedrooms and bathrooms were mixed and any luxuries, such as a hot shower had to be paid for.
We were told that today's walking would set off easy enough until we reached the Shrine of Sidi Chamarouch, where it'd get a bit steeper. Our final destination of the day would be the refuge I mentioned earlier at 3200m. The Charity Challenge itinerary had mentioned that today would be the day we got some training on how to use crampons and ice axes, but this wasn't going to be happening.
Mohammed had mentioned that the snow fall in the Atlas Mountains was occurring later and later every year, and was not imminent for the time period that we would be there. So although this trek was meant to be a technical snowy challenge, it didn't look like that's how it was going to play out. I was disappointed, but given the conditions we got on summit day, perhaps this was a godsend!
We left the village house and walked to the bottom of the village and set off the walk in my favourite type of terrain. At this point we were low down, so vegetation was relatively flush ... kind of like walking in a slightly sparse woodland! Some odd little bits were precarious where said woodland stuck out a little too much and forced you ever so slightly towards the edge of the path ... but not to worry; there was razor sharp chicken wire and barbed wire at the bottom to break any falls!
We arrived at the "entrance" of the Toubkal National Park where Mohammed explained the area was obviously protected so taking any natural souvenirs (like rocks and plants), graffiti and littering were all pretty serious offences. We continued until we arrived at the Shrine and had a short break. My anxiety was peaking as I knew from now that things were going to get harder!
I munched on my rather delightful raspberry oat bar, drank the mint tea that the guides had made, and just hoped I'd find it in me to push through any struggle I came across!
When we set off again it became more than apparent I was definitely not going to keep up with the rest of the group; they were all so fit and strong, and again I was the walrus in stilettos ... or more politely, the mountain sloth! Reduan, the guide, noticed I was struggling and did his best to help ... he told me off for wearing too many layers (I was sweltering), for holding my walking poles wrong (do not slide your arms through the loops), and for not having my rucksack adjusted correctly! We got all this sorted and I carried on, extra slowly but surely.
It didn't take long until I started to feel a similar sensation to what I'd felt during a Yorkshire Three Peaks trek and Hadrian's Wall trek, and my heart sank. I wanted to cry. My hip flexors were aching and beginning to pain when I lifted my legs. This was the last thing I wanted ... I can fight through any breathlessness and lethargy you throw at me, but physical pain is a bugger for me to try and ignore. I carried on, trying not to whinge, but probably failing miserably! Eventually, after what seemed like too many hours, we got to the next stop where we had a delicious salad and tuna lunch.
After lunch we set off again for the last leg of today's trek to the mountain refuge. Again, I was at the back being looked after by Reduan. This was actually a lovely time as we got to chat and learn a little bit about each other and learn (or try to learn) a little bit of Arabic. Both Anna and myself listened and tried to repeat, sometimes well, sometimes not, what he was teaching us! We learned to count to 10 at least!
I found this is what I love most about being away from home; the learning, the appreciation of another culture and another way of life. Almost everyone who does not speak English as a first language, learns it as their second, and we as English speaking people take this for granted, and I think it's a pleasure and an absolute privilege to have any opportunity to learn, even if it is just the basics. This was my first realisation of this trip.
After a difficult (for me) slog we eventually got to the mountain refuge. From a distance it looked like a prison in the mountains, but honestly speaking wasn't that bad in the grand scheme of things. The toilets, a combination of eastern "squat toilets" and western thrones did bring back that 'oh-so-horrendous' scent that was burnt into my nostrils during Nepal, were actually rather clean, and the bedrooms were communal, mixed sex bunk bed rooms ... but who cares, it's all part of the experience!
Initially I was concerned as there were 5 girls and 6 boys on our trip; given that there were 6 bunk beds in a row I thought that all the girls would have been on the bottom and all the boys on the top ... but this got mixed up at some point and it turned out to be 4 girls and 2 boys on the bottom, and me with the rest of the boys on the top! Again, all part of the experience! In the end it worked out however, as one of the other rooms was free so most of the boys moved into there, and I was OK to sleep with the rest of the girls in the bottom bunks.
Before dinner this evening we had the choice of walking a little further up the route towards where we'd be heading the following morning. Mohammed said it'd only be about an hours walk so I chose to challenge myself and do it. It was a good little walk; I'd left my walking poles and rucksack at the refuge which helped massively! Maybe going pole-less would be the way forward! We had a 10 minute break at "the top" and then headed back down.
Once again, we had a lovely dinner before settling in to our sleeping bags for the night. I did not sleep well at all. I remember willing myself to sleep to no avail. My mind was on the following 2 days ... an acclimatisation day and then Toubkal summit day, and I couldn't help but feel beyond stressed and anxious that I just couldn't' do it.