Mount Toubkal – Day 1
Area: High Atlas
Starting point: Tamerant, Imlil
Date of walk: 27th April 2019
Walkers: Me & Saeed (local guide)
Distance: 8.1 miles
Difficulty: Moderate – Hard
Terrain: Rocky, Icy in places, Hard under foot
Weather: Sun, light rain, hail & snow
Emerging from deep & lengthy morning meditation, opening my ears and eyes to be reacquainted with the beautiful snow capped mountains towering ahead over me. Longing reverence is felt & known once again, every moment passing, every moment reborn, every moment, a new softer version of me making itself known. A voice from the ‘invincible friend’ is there to ensure my heart is continuously opening up to the land and all that exists on it. Beyond everything, everything, is this simplicity which can be so easy to be lost in ‘everyday life’ This simplicity involves a severe lack of judgement and a severe abundance of love, sounds amazing right? This is the beauty of meditation, it is a bridge to a joy that is purely internal, whatever, wherever you are.
The wondrous power & stillness of nature are clearly evident here in this sleepy high Atlas Berber village. Things move how i like it here, slow and steady. It is a relief to leave behind the intense heat, hustle and bustle of Marrakech to spend some time in solitude. Upon arriving yesterday in Marrakech yesterday, elements of fear bubbled to the surface of my being. This experience is not foreign to me and this can occur amplified sometimes when spending time alone away from attachments in more secluded areas both physically and mentally. A feeling I felt strongly when venturing into the Amazon jungle alone for the first time. Removing yourself from your comfort zone at times is humbly challenging. It is not a holiday but rather an opportunity to reconnect to oneself without the distractions, cloudiness, emotions & thoughts of others. It is actually a replenishment of spiritual power and a great catalyst for growth. An opportunity to just check in & re-assess the things which are important and to see with clarity if I am investing my energies in the right place, people & situations.
Hikers, walkers, trekkers , climbers or outdoor enthusiasts create all sorts of rules and boundaries to ensure they are safe during there activities. I usually go by 1 rule before anything else. Respect what you are doing, respect the land which you walk on. So many walkers I see wanting to ‘beat nature’, make it to the top. So many walkers, leaving there litter all the way up. It is a simple karmic rule, respect the land and it will respect you. The mountains, the rivers, the forests, the elements and of course the people residing here. Nature’s force can shale us at any time wherever we are. With this in mind I start to get my bag ready for today’s first day up Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest mountain & the highest point in the Arab world.
Sadly a few months ago in December 2 female tourists were murdered on this hiking route. Locals and news outlets have put it down to terrorists coming from Marrakech, when talking with locals they can see they are deeply affected by the tragic event and could not possibly imagine that would ever happen somewhere near Imlil. This is called for increased security in the area, extra checks and it has been made obligatory for now that any tourist going up Toubkal needs to take a guide with them. Hussein at Jardins Du toubkal kindly arranges for a local Berber gentlemen to walk with me. Saeed his name is, and we become acquainted after breakfast around 8am. We slowly depart through this sleepy village of Tamarent, Imlil with a little conversation. Saeed’s English is very good & I inquire where he learnt. To my sunrise English is not the only language he knows, he knows 5 languages. Berber, Arabic, French, Spanish & English which he has primarily learnt through tourists passing through the area hiking Toubkal.
Imlil is the official start from this walk, but I am staying in Tamarent which is a village a couple miles down the road so we meet the main path later on. Imlil is situated 1750m above sea level and actually there is a noticeable different physically in breathing and heart rate. When I gain more height within the 1st hour or walking, the struggle is real…. that’s all I have to say. I am stupidly carrying my pack weighing about 11kg. As we gain some more height through the village of Around my heart is pumping hard and my breath is unusually short. I admit to myself my fitness at the moment is low & the altitude is a kicker. It is here, 1 or 2 hours in thoughts of doubt & self judgement creep in. The monkey brain becomes extremely active and I really begin to question what the hell I’m doing here, alone with a stranger walking up a snow capped mountain. If I wasn’t so stubborn perhaps I would have listened to this monkey brain and turned back. Saeed is patient, kind and gentle. He witness’s my struggle ‘slowly, slowly’ he constantly says. ‘Take your time’. I take his advice and proceed with pigeon steps and remember Rule 1, Azim, respect what you are doing, respect the mountain, work with nature, not like you are above it. We reach the 1st checkpoint and have a short rest. Saeed walks over with a fresh pot of mint tea, just like he pulled it out his back pocket. He says ‘Berber whisky always free when your with me’. This reminds me of my time spend with the Bedouin in Jordan and there sage tea heavily doused in sugar. Everywhere I went, every little desert camp i stopped in, there was always fresh hot tea. It seems the same kind of thing going on here in Morocco, perhaps its an Arabic thing. One thing is for sure, as the local saying goes ‘no sugar, no tea’…… Tea drinking is a ritual, actually wherever you are in the world and here in the Arabic world, it is said the 1st cup of tea acquaints to you the family serving you the tea, the 2nd cup means you are now family, and the 3rd cup means you have to kill for them if they are attacked! Well, I end up drinking about 6 so I’m not sure what that means.
We proceed slowly after a short break, sugared up and tea’d up. I feel like a new man after that…. for about 15 minutes until my terribly low fitness level makes itself known once again. More height is gained and the realization sinks in, the rest of the day is uphill and the whole of the next day. The weather is getting colder and more dreary and I’m told expect bad weather later, and looking ahead it doesn’t look pleasant. Snow becomes more visible I’m places, especially on the tops.
We reach the final checkpoint before reaching the mountain refuge and have another well needed short rest. It’s about lunchtime and I sit with Saeed and his friends drinking more Berber whisky, we share a couple loafs of bread with a serving of local olive oil. A simple, basic but greatly warming lunch. They are intrigued by my Pakistani origins and it seems to please these local Berbers. They choose to see me not as British but as a Pakistani. ‘please , please eat more, more tea, more juice’. Arab hospitality is so warming and it’s moments like this that lifts the spirit and push me to keep on going. It is obvious, these people respect their land immensely, the area is so cleanly kept. Saeed picks up litter on the path whenever he see any, most likely left by tourists trekking Toubkal. It is also obvious Saeeds priority is my safety, he carefully watches my footing and is keen to share his experience on the mountain and what he has learnt.
This 1st day is tough, 4 hours in our walking today and leaving the last checkpoint the temperature drops alot & snow pelts me in the face from all directions. The snow isn’t the issue but its the wind which comes with it. There are literally icicles coming off my beard & face. Wow ,it must be cold, ice manifesting off my face is a new experience. In the distance the refuge becomes visible in the distance, a sigh of relief as the end is in sight but the walk is still another 1 hr & 30 minutes in these conditions. To put it in to perspective, a good day of hill walking back in the UK for me is 3 – 4 miles an hour. Today it is nearer 1 mile and hour. The refuge is around 2200 metres and actually is the highest I have ever been since I was 10 in the Himilayan Kashmir region.
As I stumble into the mountain Refuge the log burner is on the go and I make myself comfortable soaking up the heat and talking with other groups of walkers. The refuge is suprisingly full. I lay back on the ‘couch’ and try take a little rest to shake off this altitude headache before dinner. The Snowstorm outside looks to get heavier & most who attempted to summit today turned back including the guides. I said Saeed ‘what do you think?’ He seemed unsure but responded simply with ‘we will try’. I seem to be the only walker not in a group. Groups from Poland, Greece, Belgium, France and lands beyond intend to summit the following day. A slight nervousness comes over me after dinner. It is simple fear, fear of not completing, fear of ‘failing’ (if there such such a thing), just plain simple fear. I find a relatively quite spot in the refuge and immerse myself in meditation before dinner, letting go of all that fear, letting go of ‘me’, my expectations and surrender to the universal forces at work. After dinner, I lay my head on the bed and I’m out like a light.