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. My room was small and dark, the view non-existent and I could hear a constant flow of people passing by my door suffling along the dank hotel corridor outside throughout the night. I turned on my iPod boosted the volume 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!’
Full mapping of the routes and GPX downloads available from: