“What made me think I wanted to climb a mountain?”, I said to myself, out loud, in hour 3, Day 1 of the slow, extremely strenuous, even boring trudge toward the summit of Mount Toubkal in the High Atlas Mountain range of Morocco.
This was way more than I had signed up for. I was expecting a leisurely hike up a sloping incline with beautiful vistas every step of the way. What I got was the toughest physical challenge that was more than I could have imagined and certainly amazing views of a world I’d never seen but the scenery wasn’t changing fast enough for me…every few hours, and I wanted more. It was mostly rocks.
And then it started to pour rain, a steady non-stop deluge for 6 hours. And no matter how much waterproofing you’ve done, in that kind of water, you’re going to get wet. Very wet. Soaked through every layer of clothing, down to the skin. And even though you’re drenched through and through, you have to keep going because there’s nowhere else to go. You’re on a mountain. So, all 31 of us kept trudging along step-by-step, though one woman had an even tougher time and had to finish this leg of the trek on a mule that was sent to “rescue” her. We were heading to the Neltner Refuge where we planned to spend the night. It was hours away.
Here’s how I got myself into this situation. The TNS Global (where I work) parent company, Kantar, has a relationship with UNICEF. This trip was a fundraiser for UNICEF’s Brighter Futures, with the money slated to help children in Malawi, Bangladesh, and Bolivia. It sounded amazing and I signed up immediately. I’m happy to say that our team raised about $110,000, exceeding our goal by approximately 30%.
So, back to the mountain climbing part. We finally made it to the refuge after about 8 hours. The place was full. 31 of us, plus probably another 30 climbers who were also crashing there. We slept 26 to a room. There were four showers. Two toilets that sometimes flushed and two of those hole-in-the-floor thingys they called toilets. Bring your own toilet paper.
We were greeted by a staff of several “locals” who came bearing gifts of mint tea and cookies, before they served us a hot dinner while we sat around the fire trying to kill the bone-deep chill we had from being soaked for so long. Our grumblings eased and we actually started to have fun, getting to know each other, playing games, and comparing our day’s miseries.
Day two started at 6:30a. We were to complete the trek to Mount Toubkal’s summit in 9 hours, 4-5 up and then the return. One guy in our group refused to go. He waited for us at the refuge. I didn’t blame him. I (and a few others) didn’t really want to go, either, but we
allowed ourselves to be cajoled into it. Plus, I didn’t really come all that way to not try. I wasn’t happy, though. The weather got worse, not better. After a few hours, we were turned back by the snow, ice, and wind. Many were disappointed. I wasn’t. I was ready to turn around. In fact, a few of us turned back about an hour before the die-hards did. It was dangerous. My goals had been met: raised money, climbed a mountain, and had a new adventure. Reaching the top or not didn’t matter to me.
So we spent another night in the refuge and then headed back down the mountain, which wasn’t exactly a piece of cake either because it was slippery and muddy and as we got further down, we had to figure out how to cross the rivers that appeared out of nowhere from the melting ice and snow. But we stopped for a picnic lunch about 3/4 of the way down , which was pretty cool.
Our guides –Raheem, Omar, and Khalid– were beyond amazing. They safely –and with good humor– led 31 first-timers up and down a mountain in some of the harshest conditions the area has had in years. I love those guys.
Can something be awesome and horrible at the same time? Apparently… because that’s what this was for me. Not 50:50,though. I really hated the climbing part; it was much, much tougher than many of us imagined it would be. But it was more awesome than it was horrible.
And the rest of the trip was a blast. Three days taking in the culture of Marrakesh, an overnight in Madrid, then back to home-sweet-home. What a magnificent experience! My Spinsterlicious Life.