This year, as well as my popular winter mountaineering week in Morocco, my good friend Matt who is an IFMGA Guide ran an adventurous winter climbing week. Mixed climbing onto a 4000m peak, WI 4 on bullet hard ice and some long mountaineering routes proved to be a huge success, even I was jealous! Primo conditions saw us all tick off a load of objectives and work on that all important winter tan! It was a truly hilarious week, with much chat about cuddling for warmth at night, the usual marmite and soup love / hate relationship and the best mountain hut salad that some members never got to try!
After each overseas trip I normally describe a little about what we did, where we visited and so on, but this winters trip was overshadowed by a tragic and brutal incident in Imlil, one that had an impact on all of us who were in the area at the time. I can not describe the feelings of folk within this community or indeed throughout Morocco, the barber in Marrakech, the waiter in Essaouira, the Riad owner in Todra, all were apologetic, all were shocked, all were sacred of the future.
Indeed it changed my New Year trip and instead I had an impromptu break, but I popped back to Imlil for a few days before I flew home to visit the folk in the village and also those on the mountain, it’s clearly difficult for them at the moment.
Morocco is so much more to me than just the mountains, it’s a country that is generous, vibrant, colourful, energetic and offers a warm welcome. The walking, climbing and mountaineering are of course a huge attraction, a short flight quickly brings you into the country, the infrastructure allows you to get around easily and access some pretty incredible treks and immaculate rock. Visiting during the winter months, the weather is generally stable with some ideal temperatures allowing you to get that ‘winter sun’ that we all crave at this time of year. Within a days travel of Marrakech you can be looking out across the Atlantic coast or traveling over one of the high pass through the High Atlas and heading out towards the Sahara, the landscape changes quickly and constantly you find yourself grabbing for your camera. The trekking I do is within a winter Alpine environment, always surrounded by 4000m jagged towers of rock, tracks taking the natural line over and though them. Rather than battling a Scottish day, I know where I’d rather be!
What makes Morocco for me though is the people you meet, the friendships that are forged, the hospitality you receive, the honesty of folk and the natural desire to share their country with you. I’ve been to a lot of places over the years and a few countries have left fairly sour memories as a result of the folk you meet, yes those countries have some outstanding natural features or incredible history, but your internal radar is always working overtime, wondering when the next scam is going to be unleashed on you. It’s challenging, tiring and I’ve nipped over the border frequently to escape it. Morocco is somewhere to relax, folk are at first shy, but respectful, engage them in conversation, the mint tea will flow and offers will abound. Mountains are mountains the World over, but from the little cafe owned by Ibrahim halfway up the mountain to my good friend Abdo who manages a mountain hut, to Mohammed at my 2nd home in Marrakech and many others who all make our experiences positively unforgettable, that is the reason I keep returning. Only on Friday, a cafe owner high in the mountains, who I’ve visited for years unexpectedly offered my food and drink for free. You can’t bottle this, nor sell it and at times is hard to explain, the raw friendship and honesty is only experienced by visiting, travelling through and spending time in this region.
I’ll be back in Feb and next winter, to visit, to climb and to share this beautiful country with others, it’s a perfect place to visit, to travel, explore, meet, relax, experience, laugh....