I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been to Morocco now, whether it’s personal or work, but I’ve think it’s in the region of 13/14 trips over the years and still it’s one of my highlights of the year. This year was no exception..
We’d been watching the forecast prior to the trip for some time and about 10 days before there was a small dump of snow. Now forecasts for this region are exactly that and it’s quite difficult to get real observations on the ground, but as always Instagram provided some confidence inspiring pictures of snow falling in Imlil. This all suggested some reasonable conditions on the ground and as we all flew in from 3 major airports to Marrakech, we were optimistic as to what we could expect!
Mornings are often the time to enquire how folk slept and are feeling, I’m not sure any of us were prepared for a deep Northern Irish accent shouting ‘Sexy’ as the daily response, funny though…it kind of become the standard reply to a lot of things on this trip. Our first glimpse over the High Atlas indicated a fairly low snow line and as we made the beautiful journey up towards the hut, it became quite obvious that there wasn’t much of it and so the first day after arrival at the hut we selected a high 3800m high pass to check out. How did I choose the 1 place with patches of deep soft now or small scree to wander over, the pass never seemed to get closer and for the last 100m the winds picked up, I was wondering if this was turning into some kind of boot camp rather rather than a lovely adventurous holiday for everyone!
Meanwhile, Matt a good friend of mine who’s an IFMGA guide was legging it up some steep couloir with 2 in tow and over a technical 4000m summit and down a path with a million dead ends and some heinous route finding - the race was on as we knew a storm was approaching later on that day. We all had a nice Scottish experience for the last 30mins of the day, a natural exfoliation is another way to describe it!
24 hours later and with the forecast having suggested a few Cms of snow, we started digging the hut out! Our time in the hut had been well spent, lots of knowledge shared and practised….but the ‘bird off’ started on this day, the 3 woodpeckers found in the UK seemed to be a favourite and don’t get me started on Hobbits or Kinver…and I really don’t want to talk about the soup!
The next part of the trip became emotional….there are only 3 levels, Adventurous (ie normal), Emotional (ie not normal) and Spicy (everyone man and woman for themselves)!! Later that afternoon we spent something like 2 hours trying to get maybe 400-500m, drifts up our chests became the norm and in places there was still 2metres of snow below our feet….top forecast that!!
We tactically left the hut next morning a little bit later as I’d heard about a local Moroccan guide leaving early and hopefully breaking trail up Toubkal. We never entered the Spicy level, but at times I wanted to so we could bail! It took almost 6 hours to gain 1000m in height - normally we’d be back in the hut with our feet up celebrating - and another 3 hours to get down, one the longest days on Toubkal I’ve had, certainly physically the hardest.
It was a challenging day for all, for one member though who had not reached the top many years ago due to a bad storm, it had extra meaning. He had climbed all his life all over the World for over 50 years, (add on his youth and it gives you an idea of his age) and we gave up with asking ‘have you been climbing in so and so…’ as obviously he had!
Meanwhile Matt was swimming up the waist deep snow to get to the routes - now Matt is over 6 ft, so for us normal folk that is chest deep and as for hobbits, well….Being creative on the belays there was also alleged use of ski poles!
Hilariously one of the team had an outdoor branded watch that as well as tell the time in multiple languages informed him of how active he had been that day. Moderate was the answer…..if a 10 hour day of fairly continuous moment in deep snow registers as Moderate, then I don’t want to achieve the Strenuous level!
The last day saw some big numbers ticked with the climbers, perhaps even a new route or 2 - Matt’s still checking on that fact but at grade VI and 4 pitches it was a fantastic achievement at approx 3300m. It was also the day that they checked out each others axes…luckily Santa was due a few days after the trip!
Moroccan hospitality was at it's usual high standard and I'm sure I put on weight that week due to the vast quantities of food, we were served. We had a superb night in Marrakech for the end of the trip, but the laugher didn’t end there! The Bird Off returned at the airport, with some dubious bird calling impressions that really sounded like something else!
It’s always nice to hear from folks after the trip and it think this sums it up perfectly..
“I had a brilliant, no let me change that, an awesome time in Morocco. I am not going to lie, some of the days were hard, but your encouragement and the team spirit certainly made each day enjoyable and achievable. I really enjoyed seeing the difference in conditions and it all added to the adventure and experience! The scenery, laughter, experiences and skills I learnt during the week will never be forgotten, nor will the fantastic diverse group of people I shared all this with, that I now have the pleasure of calling friends.”
(I'll be back there running another trip in 2020, so if you fancy a 'little walk' in the big mountains or some 'Alpine' climbing then visit here for more information Morocco Winter Mountaineering and Climbing )