18th December: A long day climbing 1500m in the Atlas Mountains

We got up early and had a large breakfast of cereal, yoghurt, bread and jam. Then we filled our flasks and checked our packs, donned coats, hats and gloves and set off to climb from Imlil to Riad Atlas Toubkal high in the Atlas Mountains.


As the snow on the paths wasn’t too bad, we did have donkeys to carry our kit bags half way, then the porters would carry them the rest of the way. Rather them than me!


The path climbed relentlessly but wasn’t too steep and the pace was nice and steady. The scenery was beautiful, with stunning views back down the valley.


By now the sun was quite high and it was very warm so we all shed a couple of layers. Then we posed for photos at the entrance to the Toubkal National Park.


We finally reached a tiny village nestled in a sun trap by a river where we stopped for some lunch. Perfect! The mint tea was much nicer here too.


After lunch we still had a long way to go and a lot of ascent ahead of us but we were all feeling good and enjoying the hike, even as the clouds rolled in and we needed extra layers again.


Once we reached about 2800m after about 7 hours of walking, it was snowing quite heavily and it was very difficult to see the path with the flat light.


We’d been walking for 8 hours by now and I was starting to struggle, getting slower and slower and suffering with stomach cramps. The hut finally came into view and my spirits were raised and I dug deep and kept plodding. The path disappeared and, at the front, Pete was finding it tough but was determined to keep us all moving because it was very cold and he wanted to try and get us to the refuge before it got dark and even colder. However, at times it felt as though it was getting further away, and a couple of times I was in tears, even though there was no doubt we’d make it.


I was so pleased to step through the door, I cried again! I think this was perhaps the start of the altitude sickness that really set in the next day.


After summoning a smile and posing for a photo, a man cheerfully brushed the snow from us and showed us through to a room where the fire was blazing. Fantastic! Then, after some welcome refreshments (including more mint tea!) we were shown to a room with 12 bunk beds for us to share. It was freezing so we didn’t stay there long and were soon back downstairs enjoying a hearty dinner of soup, tagine and beautiful sweet oranges. My tummy was still very bloated, which is an affect of the high altitude, and my normally loose trousers were uncomfortably tight, but at least the pain had subsided. Some people had showers but I couldn’t face queuing in the cold and decided to stay smelly!


Later, Paul explained the plans for the next day. After today’s long trek, it was to be a later start and a shorter walk, to get used to the altitude and practice using crampons and ice axes, ready for the ascent of Toubkal the following day. He had a device to check our blood oxygen and heart rate, which unsurprisingly had worsened since yesterday after the climb. My oxygen dropped from 94 at 1700m to 88 at 3200m, a level which would be worrying if I’d been at home at sea level, but wasn’t considered abnormal here.

John and I went up to bed while the others stayed downstairs playing cards. However, they soon joined us because the electricity was switched off! It was to be a long night for a lot of us.

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