Ill-prepared on Marocco's highest mountain/(Ne)připraveni na nejvyšší hoře Maroka

Our rider Pavel Drastik is sending us a relaxed story about how he and his 2 friends unexpectedly decided to climb Marocco's highest mountain - Jebel Toubkal - instead of surfing knee-high waves :)

Aproximately 3 weeks ago I flew down to Marocco to surf some warmer waters than those we have in Norway at the moment, I switched my 6mm thick wetsuit with hood, gloves and surf booties for a much lighter 3 mm wetsuit, pair of flip flops and some shorts and was ready to surf every day. However while Norway was being beaten by storms and huge cold waves, Marocco, except for 2 days, had no more than 1-2 ft waves to offer. Pretty rare conditions at this time of the year, so there was really not much to do but think :)

At the beginning of my stay in Marocco I met up with my friend Lauma who combined a surf holiday with some climbing and that was when the seed was planted! I heard about Jebel Toubkal first many years ago when I read a travel book about a guy who traversed Afrika on a small motorbike, second time was when Lauma spoke. Jebel Toubkal with its 4167 m is the highest mountain in Atlas range, Marocco and the whole North Afrika. To climb it was much more challenging than knee-high waves!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

I needed a partner in crime though and there was none, untill Jens and Oskar, 2 of my swedish friends, found out I was baking my ass in Marocco and decided to come down as well. I wish all my friends were so spontaneous as those two mofos! As soon as I mentioned the mountain the boys were in. I have to mention that we all met skiing in Norway and generally have very close relation to the mountains and skiing especially. We started making a game plan, we were going to give it a try!

First of all I tried to get as much info about the hike from Lauma and internet sources. There was a cabin at approximately 3200 m where we could spend a night and even get food, that was crucial as we had no tent or sleeping bags. I wasn't sure whether there was much snow or not and it became our main concern. The only thing we knew was that temperatures were falling to -13 degrees at the top, which we couldn't do in flip flops and shorts, that was for sure! I was asking around the camp to get some warm clothes and shoes, you don't usually bring those on a surf trip. At the end I had a pair ofrunning shoes two sizes too small, cotton trousers, thin gloves, a jacketand a beanie. Oskar, who arrived to Marocco last, took woolen underlayer for me. I was looking like a total rookie, but “ready”to face the cold!

The plan was to pick up Oskarearly morning at the airport in Marrakech and drive directly to Imlil, a village where the road ends andserves as a starting point for most of the hikers going to Toubkal. Counting with 6 hours of daylight to ascend1400 altitude meters, it sounded doable. We wanted then to spend a night at the cabin and in one dayreach the top, descend all the way down and driveback to Taghazout.

Plans don't always work though. We were really surprised to hear from Oskar a day before his expected arrival sayinghe wasalready in Marrakech. And where werewe? Wewere just gettingout of the water in Taghazout. Oskar got instructions to get his butt to Imlil himself, we would meet up there the next day.

The day after Jens and Ifortunately hit the road early, as an expected4 hour drive took us 6 sincethe road over the mountain we picked was not passable with our tiny vehicle. Little detour all the way to Marrakech was inevitable. Anyways around midday we happily met up with Oskar, packed the backpacks and eagerly set outfor the climb. While Jensstopped by a shop to hire a pair of warmer gloves we considered hiring hiking shoes. The locals were warningus oflots of snow at the top and other hikersusing “good” shoes and some even using crampons. Oskar laughed it off saying that there is also people using bad shoes :) We didn't really give impression we have been in the mountains before, which wasn't exactly true, but we had fun being outsiders.

The way up wasn't that clear and we had to ask few times “Toubkal?” pointing in the direction of the way we thought was right. After a while the path narrowed and there was nowhere else to go otherthan up. We spoke to some descending hikersabout the conditions at the top and got theimpression that we should be just fine with the poor equipment we had. The ascent to the refuge was supposed totake 5 – 7 hours, an estimatewhich turned out to havea very good margin. We arrived at the refuge after 4 hours still during daylight even with the weather deteriorating as we ascended,and the continuous rain turning into snow at2600 m. When we reached 3200 mit turned out that there were actually 2 cabins, we asked around and opted for the cheaper one. After paying a reasonable fee we were shown ourbunk bedsand blanketsand waited for the food. It was pretty busy with fellow hikers, however, I guess they generally didn't consider us “fellows”. We were walkingaround with running shoes and clothes you would wear at home when watching TV. I had pretty much everything on to keep warm, 3 t-shirts, Jens' flannel shirt and ahoodie :) Most of the others had shinning gear from renowned mountaineering brands, swinging ice axes and crampons around. It felt comical, but we were rather proud and having so much fun out of it.

 

The way up wasn't that clear and we had to ask few times “Toubkal?” pointing in the direction of the way we thought was right. After a while the path narrowed and there was nowhere else to go other than up. We spoke to some descending hikers about the conditions at the top and got the impression that we should be just fine with the poor equipment we had. The ascent to the refuge was supposed to take 5 – 7 hours, an estimate which turned out to have a very good margin. We arrived at the refuge after 4 hours still during daylight even with the weather deteriorating as we ascended, and the continuous rain turning into snow at 2600 m. When we reached 3200 m it turned out that there were actually 2 cabins, we asked around and opted for the cheaper one. After paying a reasonable fee we were shown our bunk beds and blankets and waited for the food. It was pretty busy with fellow hikers, however, I guess they generally didn't consider us “fellows”. We were walking around with running shoes and clothes you would wear at home when watching TV. I had pretty much everything on to keep warm, 3 t-shirts, Jens' flannel shirt and a hoodie :) Most of the others had shinning gear from renowned mountaineering brands, swinging ice axes and crampons around. It felt comical, but we were rather proud and having so much fun out of it.

We decided we wanted to hire proper shoes which the other cabin was offering. The shoe boss however was asking too much money and didn't want to make any compromises. We gave him our last offer and started walking out in hopes he would soften, but we were out of luck, we ended up standing outside the cabin on half frozen ground covered in snow, still in our sneakers. Still feeling as though we could climb this mountain in our sneakers we ate our cous-cous dinner, we dried our wet clothes by the fireplace and shortly after headed to bed.

Not only was the night pretty cold, it was just a few degrees above zero, it was also difficult to sleep sinceI had spent almost the whole year at sea level and now we were at 3207 m in just couple of hours. When I got up I almost couldn't fit into the small shoes as my feet had blisters and had swollen up. We ate a miserable stole bread with jam for breakfast at around 6 o'clock while most of the others were already preparing for the ascent. We decided not to hurry and wait for first light. The sky was clear, the air was freezing and ground was covered in a snow. There was no place for heroism. Jens and I ran down to the other cabin to get the proper shoes, despite the price. Looking back it was definitely worth the money, after all I couldn't fit into the borrowed sneakers anyway.

The mountains were lit by the morning's first light and we started out following a group ahead. As soon as we caught up with them the guide asked us if we are going to Toubkal and we eagerly answered yes. He told us they were about to ascend a different summit and sent us back down to the cabin to the correct path via the south couloir. We had no map, none of us had been there before so how were we supposed to know :)?

Finally on the right path we were progressing, catching up with those who started earlier that day. To be honest we were most likely the last ones to start the ascend to the top that day. Yet, despite the delayed start we summitted together with the first hikers, it took us roughly 2 hours. Temperature at the summit was around -10, together with a light wind and sweat it felt really cold. We took some pictures and hid behind the cliff with direct sunlight where we warmed up and refueled with home made sandwiches. It eventually got pretty warm and we were able to take “obligatory” naked pictures, shocking the polish hikers we had met earlier. We descended down to the cabin, unwillingly changed the shoes again and after a short break headed back down to Imlil.

The sun was shinning and we were fulfilled with joy of achievement, we walked down joking around and speaking joviall your best french to passer-byes: “Bonjour monsieur, la baguette, bonne chance monsieur”, “ca va bien monsieur” , “merci” and one more. It's a mystery to us why, but we all were kind of producing decent amounts of noises together with odors, I couldn't recall a french word for this, but we called it “gas d'anal”. It sank down on most of the people :)

We got to the Imlil around 4 pm, drove 5 hours on a mountain road over half of the Atlas range and the same evening we were sitting in shorts on the terrace enjoying cold beers and overlooking the ocean. I'm telling you, it's better to live the life doing what you want then just spending it miserable way, waiting for a death ;)!