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The Jebel Toubkal Adventure – Day 2

The Route: Jebel Toubkal | Distance: 10.6km | Time: 7 Hours
Height gain: 1866m | Max Altitude: 3207m | Start: Imlil Village | Finish: Neltner Refuge
Map: Orientazion – Toubkal Hiking Map ISBN: 9788493560003 | Date: 07/06/2014

Jebel Toubkal Route MapI arrived my new best friends in the village of Imlil. Imlil is the gateway to the Atlas Mountains and the start point for our trek. From here on in there was only one way and it all led uphill!

My companions for the trek and climb to Mount Toubkal in ImlilWe all stocked up on water supplies from a small tea shop on the edge of the main street through the village while our newly acquired muleteer loaded up our mule for the journey. Our main holdalls would be carried up by mule up to the Neltner Refuge, beyond that point the mule don’t go, we would carry our daysacks.

I felt a definite pang of sadness engulf me as the poor old mule was loaded higher and higher with our bags and various other equipment but he (or she) seemed to take it all in their stride, such is the life of a mule I guess in Morocco.

Our muleteer and guide loading our gear onto the poor mule

With my first world sensibilities eventually pushed to the back of my mind after figuring out that I was actually rather glad that the mule was carrying my gear as opposed to myself in the increasingly stifling heat of the day the merry band of adventurers that I was now part of finally set off on the two day trek to Toubkal National Park. Following a river that climbed gradually out of the valley that would eventually lead to the seasonal village and shrine of Sidi Chamharouch (2310m) we set off at a healthy pace.

Our mule heavily laden following the narrow path up out of Imlil

As we went up other porters and mules were coming downI soon found myself passing by very typical looking Moroccan homes and shops with their wares displayed out front on the dusty roads. We passed children playing in the lanes and fields, donkeys passed us laiden with baskets containing nuts and fruit and soft drinks either going into town or heading like us up to the refuge.

We turned several corners and ascended several gentle slopes before we caught our first glimpse of Around. Around is the last of the series of villages that make up the trail head in the Mizan Valley. This amazing village is perched precariously on the slopes of the surrounding hills making picture perfect opportunities for the traveller with a camera.

The hilltop trailhead village of AroundDeparting Around we crossed a dried up river bed at the confluence of two rivers before the path steepened and narrowed as we zig-zagged our way up higher into the hills.

Emma ducks out of the way of our muleteer as he and his mule pass by on the narrow trail path

Crossing the dried up river plain outside the village of Around the gateway to the High AtlasWe hoped to reach Sidi Chamharouch by lunchtime so that we could recuperate in some shade and enjoy some much needed food and drink. The path relentlessly weaved it’s way along the eastern slopes of the valley and we marched like lemmings towards our destination.

The shrine at Sidi Chamharouch and the white painted boulderSidi Chamharouch is a strange and mystical place. It is surrounded by rocky peaks and sits astride a fast flowing river descending the valley. A huge white-painted boulder marks the spot where, legend has it, a holy man lies entombed. As an infidel access to the actual shrine is forbidden but we gained a good view of the inner sanctum from the confines of the small eatery that we stopped for lunch.

As I sat swallowing some freshly squeezed orange juice on an old wooden chair it was surreal to look down and see fresh red blood being washed from the rocks behind the shrine. I was beginning to see why westerners were not given access to the shrine! Animal sacrifice it still carried out at the shrine on a daily basis with goats and sheep etc being ritually butchered on a flat rocky plateaux behind the shrine. I saw what looked like a goat being dealt with in this manner from my vantage point above the shrine buildings. Not a sight to want to see too often but I was after all in Morocco and I had come to see the world and embrace its diversity warts and all so that was what I was getting.

Refreshments along the trail, fresh oranges and cooled drinks

Climbing up out of Sidi Chamharouch

Entering the High Atlas Mountains dwarfed by the massive peaksWe left Sidi after an hour or so and our weary legs found it hard to get back into the rhythm of the trek as the heat intensified and the inclines increased. From this point on I really could feel the altitude begin to kick in. The air was thinning and the rays from the sun intensifying as a result our ever increasing height. The surrounding mountain landscape was becoming more lunar like the higher we progressed up the valley as we plodded on and on. After several intense hours of trekking over rocky paths and fording many mountain streams in the process I began to scan the horizon for the Club Alpin Francais hut which I hoped would not be too far away but it would be a good few hours more before we finally reached the Neltner Refuge.

Emma and Omar stopping to enjoy the amazing views of the surrounding mountains

The high conical peaks loom in the background as we continue along the trail

Then like a mirage the refuge suddenly appeared, almost camouflaged against the rocky backdrop of mountains beyond. A sense of relief and joy gushed over me as I now knew that phase 1 of the adventure had been completed! I had made it to (3207m). I had no ill effects from the altitude and this building that resembled a Berber fortified dwelling would now be my home for the next night. Although I knew the hut is very basic I could not have been happier even if I had racked up outside a 5 Star hotel.

First glimpse of the Neltner Reguge at (3207m) a very welcome sight

Campers at the base camp at (3207m)After my initial happiness at reaching the Neltner Refuge my mood would soon change as I embarked upon one of the most horrendous nights of my life!

Looking down on the Neltner Refuge and the valley we had hiked up beyondThe refuge sleeps around 80 people with around 20-30 in a dorm, my dorm was rammed! I had been allocated a small bunk on the bottom level smack bang in the middle of a row of ten. I dropped my pack and sleeping bag off on the stiff mattress bunk before going downstairs for the evening my meal realising that sleep may well be a rare commodity that night.

As 10pm neared and the prospect of a 5am start in the morning was realised we all decided to turn in for the night. WRONG! no one sleeps in the Neltner and I mean no-one! With hikers arriving up until 1am sleep is almost impossible. Headlights flashed in the night, people struggled in and out of bunks and the smell, well the smell is one thing you cannot describe in words!

On top of the impossibility to sleep I had now developed what can only be described as the heebie jeebies! Suddenly I was crippled with anxiety and apprehension of the task I had set myself for the morning. I spent several hours perched on a third world toilet in the basement of this god-forsaken building high up in the freezing and deathly quiet mountains playing mind games with myself.

What if I could not make it to the summit? What if I suffered from altitude sickness above 3200m? What if the others wanted to press on and I couldn’t? Had they not all summited at altitude before, was I not out of my league? After months of training and saving up money to get to Morocco I was in danger of sabotaging my own trip! I lay for hours on a bench downstairs in the foyer of the building unable to get back to my sleeping bag in the dorm almost frozen by fear as the wee hours of the night turned my imaginings into imagined reality!

Would I be able to complete the challenge and see my real dream through to the end? Day 3 of the adventure coming soon!
Pics from the trip on Pinterest: http://uk.pinterest.com/jamehand/the-jebel-toubkal-adventure/
or here over on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/sets/72157644711701358/

The Highs and the Lows of the hike

Altitude Graph for Jebel Toubkal Challenge

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2014 in Hiking Adventures, Morocco

 

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The Jebel Toubkal Adventure – Day 1

Evening in Marrakech - picture used from LonelyPlanet.com

I found myself sitting at a table overlooking the famous square of Djemaa El-Fna in Marrakech chatting to four people that I had just met a few seconds earlier while at the same time trying to wolf down a tasty chicken tagine that had promptly arrived in front of me! Night had fallen but the city was alive and vibrant. Tomorrow would be very different, tomorrow I would be trekking up the Mizan Valley into the High Atlas Mountains to a base camp at 3207m known as the Neltner Refuge before eventually (and Insha’Allah) climbing to the highest point in North Africa and summiting the fabled Mount Toubkal at 4167m!

The challenge I had just set myself was a big one. I only had four days in Morocco, and only two of them to get in, get up, and get back out of the highest mountain range in North Africa having hopefully summited my first high altitude mountain at a little over 4000m in the process. Tonight though I was relaxing in the 1000-year old pink walled city of Marrakech, enjoying the sensory barrage that hits the traveller from the moment they step off the plane, savouring all the exotic sounds and smells that unmistakably tell you that you are in Africa.

My first night in the city would eventually be spent in a fairly down market hotel/hostel just off the city’s main thoroughfare Av. Mohammed V directly opposite the iconic Koutoubia Mosque which at least guaranteed an early morning wake up call if nothing else, as the faithful would be called to prayer at 4.30am sharp. The room was small and dark, the view non-existent and I could hear a constant flow of people passing by my door and along the hotel corridor outside throughout the night. I turned on my iPod and slipped into my own private place to try and grab some much needed sleep.

As the morning dawned and having awoken as expected nice and early thanks to the call to prayer I joined my fellow adventurers that I’d briefly met the night before for a quick breakfast of orange juice before congregating in the dusty street below ready to catch our ride out of the hustle and bustle of the city towards the snow capped mountains far away on the distant horizon. Omar (our guide), Emily, Jason and Chris were to become my new best friends for the next three days and we all started tentatively to get acquainted with each other during the hot and dusty two hour drive across the Moroccan plains and into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.

I usually find on these kind of adventures that there nearly always seems to be a common vein of interest running through the group, a want to travel and experience new places and peoples, and the need to test oneself against nature in a raw form in a far flung corner of the world. As a footnote to this idea all my fellow travellers had made multiple high altitude summits before and had travelled to far flung destinations such as Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, Peru and the Alps.

These discussed facts were not lost on me as I became acutely aware through the various conversations that my own travel CV – which is fairly robust by most peoples standards - was in fact coming up way short in the department of high altitude climbs and I was definitely the rookie on this particular trip. The grisled veterans around me continued to rattle off their experiences of altitude sickness and close calls from trips long past and as we bumped along the rough mountain road I began to ponder for the first time upon one main train of thought, a thought that I just could not get rid of, the thought of ‘what the HELL had I just let myself in for!’

What had I let myself in for? Day 2 coming soon!
Photography from the trip on Pinterest: http://uk.pinterest.com/jamehand/the-jebel-toubkal-adventure/
or here over on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/sets/72157644711701358/

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2014 in Hiking Adventures, Morocco

 

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The Jebel Toubkal Adventure 2014

Due south of the 1000-year-old pink walled city of Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains rise to a commanding 4000 metres and include the famous Mount Toubkal (4167m), the highest peak in North Africa and my target for this little expedition. Reached after a two hour drive across the Moroccan plains on the back of an overnight in Marrakech my adventure really begins with a strenuous five hour hike up to the Neltner Refuge (Base Camp) which at just over 3200m is strategically placed for a good summit bid the following day.

However, to fit this trek and climb into the two days I’ve allocated myself (Marrakech to Marrakech) I must make my ascent to the summit from the Neltner Refuge in the early hours of Sunday morning, return to the roadhead at the village of Imlil upon descent and then transfer back to Marrakech within a single, long, hot and strenuous day. Take into account the altitude, a mountain summit and a hard trek through the rough foothills of the Atlas and I’m sure you’ll agree that I have a really challenging adventure on my hands!

The long weekend, although short and tough, will also hopefully offer me something else, a chance to experience some of the delights of Morocco and the High Atlas Mountains – a world far removed from my own pampered western existence. From the colourful souks of Marrakech, with their vendors of spices, carpets and leather goods, to the pretty stone-built villages of the Berber people, I hope this will be Morocco at its most authentic and I can’t wait to get the travelling and adventure underway!

Be sure to follow live on the above map that I’ve set up using TrackMyTour software where I will be updating my position with live Tweets from the field augmented with Photo’s and GPS positions etc.

The planned trek & summit routeThe planned trek & summit route

I leave on the 6th June. Trip reports and photos upon my safe return.

James

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2014 in Hiking Adventures, Morocco

 

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First outdoors trip of the year

Keswick Panorama

After what feels like an eternity It’s finally time to dust down the old camping gear in the garage, check everything is ship-shape and head off for the fells of Cumbria and the adventure capital of The Lakes - Keswick.

Eight days of camping, hiking, scrambling and now kayaking beckon me, thanks in part to the latest edition to the outdoor fold of a new Seylor Kayak. I really can’t wait to get going especially after what feels like the longest and wettest winter ever imaginable over the last six months here in the UK.

With hopes of attempting Striding Edge on Helvellyn, The Corridor Route up Scafell Pike (if the weather holds) and various other assorted hikes and climbs plus a bit of MTB thrown in for good measure it looks like it could be shaping up to be a great opening start to the outdoor season for 2014.

Full trip reports, maps and photos etc upon my return so please stay tuned and check back on the site from time to time.

Happy Camping!
James :-)

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Hiking Adventures

 

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