Trip Start Aug 25, 2006
47Trip End Dec 15, 2006
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Our hostel was run by a French guy who appeared to be familiar with the likes of our group (now consisting of 6 people after picking up Mike, an Aussie now living in Berlin). Initially we weren´t sure what was required to make the ascent, but after getting a rundown and being informed we´d need proper boots, snow crampons and a snow pick I thought we were being taken for the stupid white tourists we looked like. We had dinner that night at the hostel, again a big tajine dish, and we bought out a bottle of wine to have with it. When the guy saw we had wine he rushed over and closed the curtains out to the street saying it was bad to have alcohol displayed publicly. Their closeted approach to alcohol over here still baffles me.
The next morning we set off in cold conditions leaving our large packs in the room at the hostel and taking only our day packs with enough food for 2 days and a couple bottles of water. We met a Polish couple, Thomas and Ana, who were staying at our hotel and planning on doing the exact same trip. It was a 6 or so hour hike to the refuge where we would spend that night. We were to climb about 1200 vertical meters over about 10ks.
The first hour or so took us over behind Imlil and through the next, and last town, before hitting the beginning of the up. The trails were small and very rocky allowing only a moderate pace. Mike and I shot off ahead powering up the paths, but we could only keep this up for so long. Often along the path would be another group of people descending from the peak that morning and would often inform us how good it was up there. it seemed the only other form of transport that could navigate the tricky paths were donkeys and we came across these beasts fully loaded regularly.
We would do a good burst of about 30 minutes before stopping for a serious rest and some food. We couldn´t have picked a better couple of days to do the trip. Not a cloud in the sky and no major winds to speak of either. We made pretty good pace for the first few hours and i just enjoyed being out of Marrakech and getting into some clean air. After about a third of the way in the path became much less of a well beaten track and was barely discernable amongst all the other rocky terrain on the mountain.
We began to reach some snow about an hour before getting to the refuge which was a good sign. About this time Mike and I had stormed off ahead and weren´t stopping anymore until we got there.
We all finally arrived and were very happy for it. It was getting fairly cold by that stage of the day and the chill quickly caught up with you when you stopped moving. The refuge was not too unlike a ski lodge, made out of stone and wood. It pretty much acted as a half-way house for the mountain and most people were either on their way up to Toubkel in the morning or elsewhere in the region. The dorms were pretty unique - about 8 bunk-beds in a row on either side of the room with no gaps in between them, presumably to make use of everyone's body heat during the evening because there was no heating in the room (you could see your breath condensing in the air in the room even at 4pm). There was a big but basic kitchen with plenty of gas burners that seemed to be burning perpetually.
Luke and I had gone out earlier in the evening to try out our snow crampons which seemed to work ok but we came out of them at regular intervals also which was bit of a worry. We braved the cold for short periods of time to check out the stars which were spectacular being so far away from any major city and with a cloudless night sky. We took it easy though and had to have an early one to get up in time to fit everything in the next day.
I couldn't believe how early some of the other guys got up and out into it in the morning. We weren't too far behind however and kicked off at god knows what time (6-something). It was so cold but once you got going it was bareable. And you had to get going too - almost from the very beginning it was steep climbing. Everyone had trouble of some sort with their crampons in the first hour but we all managed to find a solution and keep going up. It was meant to be about 3 hours up and 2 back to the refuge and you'd spend about half an hour on top tooling around too, so if we wanted to get back to Imlil before sunset we had to move. The first hour wasn't too bad, steep but bareable and it felt good to be walking again after yesterday.
We had to rest every 10 minutes or so but then after about halfway we started to feel the effects of altitude, having to breathe harder and stop more often. The hardest part of the climb, or what I'd like to call the bitch slope, was exactly that - the longest and hardest part because it was so steep and deceiving as to how high it actually was.
Not long after that we could see the sun and started getting warmed again. The summit was almost in view and from there on it was hard not to be motivated to get up there.
Luke and I hit it first followed by Mike and Rus.
We played around for a while up on top and took in the view. Again we couldn't believe how perfect the weather was. It wasn't too windy or cold up the top either so it was very pleasant. After about half an hour though we decided it was time to come down. I raced off ahead and ended up doing the descent to the refuge in a little over an hour. We all witnessed the horror of Rus' ankles and I understood why he took that little bit longer to get up - he had blisters the size of postage stamps on the back of each heel, the blood from them had soaked through 2 pairs of socks he'd been wearing. The worst part was he had to hike 5 hours back down to Imlil too.
The hike down was a bit harder than I thought it was going to be - the paths seemed harder to negotiate, a fair bit rockier than they were the day before. We eventually got down, negotiating the donkeys and locals again and were all well tired. I tried looking for the bath house (hamam) in town but it was closed for the week, so I settled for a long hot shower at the hostel.
Getting out of town in the morning was a nightmare and a half. I went down to the cab rank twice to negotiate a price for us, only to be disappointed both times. We finally decided to get everyone down to the rank so we could jump in the next available cabs and go. When the next 2 turned up, the 6 people that had been in one piled out and all of the locals, we're not sure if they just wanted to annoy us or really wanted a ride into Marrakech, flocked the cab and seemingly filled it with more people than physically possible. We protested this with the guy who we'd been negotiating with and eventually everyone got out and let us take the cab. The other one already had 2 others in it so we resolved to share it.
The drive out and back from Imlil desensitizes you to impending death moments while in a car. It's like that scene in Hunt for Red October where Jack Ryan says he can't sleep on planes because of the turbulence, then has the experience in the helicopter over the submarine then in the end of the movie you see him sleeping on a plane. I'll never be proper scared in a car again I think after witnessing some of the stuff we did on that drive.