Hitting new heights for charitable cause
Hitting new heights for charitable cause
Banbury Guardian editor Jason Gibbins recently climbed the highest mountain in north Afirca – Morocco’s Mount Toubkal – in aid of the Prostate Cancer Charity.
He was joined in the challenge by his good friend Simon McGrath, editor of the Camping and Caravanning Club magazine. Featured below is Jason’s account of the the challenge:
“So then, anyone fancy a wee walk?” The gruff Scottish inquisitor was George, our mountain leader for the week. The muted response from the other 16 sleeping bags in our dark dorm was only to be expected.
Day one of our trek up Morocco’s Mount Toubkal had seen our band of merry men and women walk for seven hours in temperatures topping 90 degrees Farenheit.
Day one had pushed bodies and spirits to the limit; it had threatened to beat both myself and others; it had been unlike anything I had ever experienced before. But that was day one, day two – summit day – was when it was to get really tough.
Our trek on day one had started in the foothill village of Imlil, 1,740 metres above sea level in the Atlas Mountains.
The starting point for most Toubkal climbs, Imlil marks the end of the Tarmac road and the beginning of the adventure.
Imlil is home to an invisible door which has the 21st century world on one side and a near Biblical world on the other – a world where foot or mule is the only form of transport, a world where wealth or social standing brings no advantage, a world where nothing – absolutely nothing – can outshine nature.
Starting with a steady climb through the quiet, respectful streets of Imlil we were soon crossing a wide, stony river bed, the winter’s melted snow trickling to lower ground as our home for the next three days – the paths and peaks of the Atlas range – stood tall and proud before us.
In the following early steps we passed the last of the green vegetation, we passed the first of the wind-bitten, mountainside Berber traders selling trinkets, jewellery, bottled drinks and fresh juice.
We made mental promises to spend our Moroccan Dirhams on the way down, a small token of appreciation for our warm welcome to their back yard.
And so we went on, the rocky path ascending slowly, steadily up the valley’s left bank as we moved forwards and backwards within our group, chatting to new friends, learning of stories from home, discussing tales of previous adventures and the reasons as to why we had all left the comforts of our families to spend three days in this foreign land, this alien environment.
For the first hours the beast before us was merely stroking our bellies, hiding the claws that would later tear into our calf muscles, our thighs, our chests and our souls.
A lunch of bread, cheese, fruit and water – water, our very best friend – was taken by a waterfall at Sidi Chamharouch, a tiny settlement around a Muslim shrine which marks the end of any terrain that could be considered comfortable or normal.
Immediately after lunch the track turned steeply uphill to the right side of the valley. Suddenly things had changed, the pace slowed and the conversation quickly stopped.
No talking, just walking. A collective realisation that it was time to dig deep.
For the first time the group started to split, the tight chain that had previously moved as one stretching further and further as some struggled to keep the pace.
As the air started to thin we passed the first remains of the winter snow line. It wasn’t pleasant any more, it wasn’t particularly enjoyable any more.
Our lunch in the warm sun alongside a waterfall was a fading memory, our night in the stone-built Refuge du Toubkal at 3,207 metres a distant dream. When the refuge finally, thankfully came in to initial sight it simply added to the pain. Sat in a bowl of surrounding peaks it appeared to move backwards as we struggled to move forwards, step by step, inch by inch.
Our eventual arrival was no cause for celebration, just for relief, but what a relief.
A basic dorm and hole in the floor toilet facilities were met without complaint, mint tea and massive bowls of soup and pasta were greeted with delight.
Despite exhaustion, no-one really slept. Degrees of dozing was the best we could hope for as thoughts turned to the day two challenges and 16 people made all-too-regular visits to the hole in the floor; head torches guiding the way in this distant walkers’ shelter.
And then it was 5am. The alarm clock of George stirring us from our broken slumber. We’d got ‘summit’ to do and it was time to do it.
Hats and gloves and warm winter fleeces; water, snacks and other bits and pieces.
If only the following hours would flow as smoothly as that sentence.
Kit checks were made in the pre-dawn cold. Mental reminders were made that less than 24 hours earlier we were in the mad melting pot of Marrakech.
The first test was a moon-lit scramble over a cold, threatening river – Mother Nature’s wicked way of ensuring we were alert for the challenge to follow.
And what a challenge it was.
A four-hour ascent up a 900-metre lunar landscape; an ascent up sometimes laughable, almost unbelievable, walls of scree, rock, boulders and snow.
Beyond that there is not much to say, simply that beneath every step was rock, on every horizon and every peak was rock. That with every step the air grew ever thinner, the muscles ever tighter, the breathing ever heavier. That the warning signs of potentially fatal altitude sickness – vice-like headaches, breathlessness – dominated the thoughts as much as the rock dominated the landscape.
And then, not suddenly, but gratefully, we passed the 4,000-metre mark and then we passed the 4,100-metre mark.
We walked to 4,165 metres, 4,166 metres and – finally – to 4,167 metres. We were the highest people in North Africa, standing beneath a strangely disappointing, graffiti-covered metal pyramid that marks the summit.
Why had we done it, why were we there? For my trekking partner and friend Simon McGrath and I, it was not because we are mountain men who do this sort of thing for pleasure. It was because just this once, for these three mad days in May, we had decided to do something to benefit others.
We had raised £4,300 for the Prostate Cancer Charity, smashing our original target of £2,500.
We had a right to feel proud.
We reflected on our achievement, we had a hug, we took in the view – clear blue skies stretching back towards Marrakech in one direction and the Sahara in the other – we refuelled on more bread, more fruit, more water and then we walked back down again.
The descent, initially three hours back to the refuge and then, the following day, a more relaxed five hours back down to the valley and civilisation, was not without dangers of its own.
The rocks and scree that provided footholds on the way up turned into a floor of marbles on the way down – waiting to punish every dip in concentration with a slip and a fall.
I took one painful fall on day three, crashing to the ground as I took the liberty of looking up to enjoy the view. The immediate concern from my fellow trekkers was replaced with hilarity when, less than one minute later, I repeated the exercise – the damage to my pride now matching that to my backside.
Thank you Mount Toubkal, I will never forget you.
– Simon and I were trekking in aid of the Prostate Cancer Charity and donations are still being gratefully accepted at justgiving.com. We would like to take this opportunity to offer massive thanks to all who have offered sponsorship and to each and every business – sadly too many to name individually – who supported our efforts through the donation of raffle prizes.