Thursday, November 5, 2009

Trekking up Toubkal

I awoke one morning in Essaouira with a revelation. Up to that point I was in love with Essaouira and was enjoying the beach, sun, partying and company at the hostel. I could have easily stayed for weeks but I had a dream. I had a dream about accomplishing something for my soul. It was part of my pilgrimage towards deeper meaning in life and I knew that I had to leave all my new friends and simply go. I knew I had to go climb the highest peak in northern Africa.

I packed my bags and walked straight up to Jon. "I am going to go climb a fucking mountain"
"?...well alright man. but right now you look like Bear Grylls from Man vs Wild. haha"

I said my goodbyes and caught the next bus to Marrakesh. Once I got to Marrakesh I didn't know exactly how to get to Imlil where I would start my ascent to Jebel Toubkal. I walked to the Bab Rob the southern gate and waited for a bus that never came. It was nearing 5 in the afternoon and I knew I had to get transport very soon since it was still Ramadan. People would all be rushing home soon to finally eat their first meal of the day at 7. I rushed over to the shared taxi station and waited for a full taxi. I finally found a taxi going to Asni which was as close to Imlil as I could get. I crammed into an old Mercedez with 6 other passengers. There were two men up front with the driver with one of them squeezed in the middle with his legs barely touching the stick shift. I was in the back sharing the spot with a man to my right and a family of 3 on my left. One of the men in front was obviously not Moroccan, but it intrigued me how he spoke fluent arabic to the driver.

We got out in Asni and I learned that the westerner in front was from California. He was living in a village near Imlil working on a wildlife project. I was stoked to learn he was the only person that had a snowboard and rode these majestic mountains in the wintertime. I caught another shared taxi with him up to Imlil as I gathered valuable information for my climb the next morning. I arrived at a guest house right at dusk when the locals all started to eat. I was out of luck for a restaurant and went to bed.

The next morning I started out early on a dusty mule track leading out of the village. I had a general idea of where I was going but the easiest thing was to follow the mule droppings up towards the rocky face. The trail soon turned into a rocky switchback up the mountain. It was easy going at first but I had all my luggage and camera gear on my pack and I started to take frequent breaks. After 5 and a half hours of rugged terrain I saw the refuge appear before me at 3140 meters. This is where I would spend the night before the final ascent to the peak early in the morning.

That night I had another dream. I dreamed of excruciating pain as I was being beaten and attacked relentlessly by a wild animal. I suffered and suffered but in the end I rose unharmed and alive. I awoke that night with nausea, a massive headache and the urge to vomit. I knew i was dehydrated from the day but I had never felt so sick from only that. I went downstairs where the guides were already up and cooking their early Ramadan meals. I was diagnosed with a case of altitude sickness. I then realized that less than 24 hours earlier I had been relaxing at sea level in Essaouira.

I went back to bed and waited for the others to set out. Around 5 in the morning the first wave of trekkers started out with their headlamps, thermals, gloves and backpacks. I put on my warmest layers which wasn't much considering I was packing for the beach and desert. I waited for some light so i could see the trail. I was feeling like shit, but I kept thinking about my dream and I knew I had to endure the pain. The peak was only another 3-5 hours away.

Nearing 6 in the morning I caught second wind and I felt great for about 10 minutes. This was enough time for me to pull myself together, grab my camera bag and start out. The crisp morning air helped me for a while but as reached the loose shale I was pounded by a headache again. The next 4 hours was going to be a mental challenge like no other. I luckily had the company of 3 guys from england who pushed my pace. I soon fell into a trance. I concentrated on each step and breath. I looked at the ground in front of me and simply commanded my legs to move with each deep and deliberate breath. I did not want to slow the group down and I also knew that I needed the group to keep me going.

We reached the top before noon and the view was just as impressive as the climb. It was 360 degrees of mountain and cloud views reaching as far as the eye could see. The afternoon sun warmed us from the gusting chilly winds. I felt just as sick as before and snapped my photos as fast as I could. I did it! I was relieved but eager to get back down. I knew that the pain would stop and that euphoria would kick in. Everything was going to be alright. I had reached my goal and the worst had past. I was on top of the world.

5 hours later I was running down the rocky path towards Imlil laughing and smiling chasing my backpack stuck on a mule caravan. I was in pure ecstasy and loving life. I was alive!

more photos here

1 comment:

  1. Wow Kevin!! Great story and way to conquer the mountain!! Well done.