At one point on day one of the trek through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the heat had caused so much moisture to flood from my body that you could have drank water through my shirt. The mules that sweated past us on the trek seemed to glare at my weeping body with desire as water poured out of me. I was soaked to the bone and struggling to acclimatise to the aggressive heat.
Possibly I should have checked the weather forecast when I booked my charity challenge trip to trek up Mount Toubkal last year.
40 degree heat makes the challenge of climbing a mountain so much greater.
Out of respect to the Muslim culture the first hour was spent clothed in vest, t-shirt, and long trousers. My relief was plain when the guide said we could strip down to lesser clothing as we left the villages behind.
Shamelessly I stripped to my pants and tossed my trousers aside and replaced them with shorts. Thankfully my big pant covered arse didn’t quite block out the sun and no small children were blinded in the process. Gone was the t-shirt and only the vest remained. Factor 30 was applied to every exposed bit of skin and I was ready to walk again….
The sun still beamed down on us as we began our climb, even seeing the snow on the top of Toubkal did little to convince me that any part of this trip would be less than boiling.
The pace was a steady one, altitude attacked early and with no mercy causing a handful of the challenge team to feel dizzy almost instantly.
There were ten of us total, plus a guide. One chap and nine women. It was a surprise to the lovely Irish man that his journey to the top of the highest peak in Northern Africa was going to be with a group composed entirely of the opposite gender.
And we were an energetic bunch of ladies. With ages ranging from 22 to 68, and each had eclectic tales to tell of adventures past. I didn’t know it on day one, but within five short days, these nine ladies and gent would become firm friends who would know far too much about my toilet habits.
There is no way of hiding your bathroom habits up a big hill.
To be frank there is no toilet on a big hill.
Day one involved a trek of 1000 metres upwards to a refuge where we would spend the night. Our boudoir was a dorm, where the beds lay touching each other and in bunk bed fashion.
In any other circumstances a man may be chuffed to pieces to spend his sleeping hours in the company of nine ladies.
I imagine the appeal is lost when those ladies are fighting altitude sickness, unshowered, and coated in mountain dust.
The first night was eternal. The room hotter than hell and smellier than rugby teams bathroom after a curry. No one seemed to sleep as the summit of the mountain stared in through our window, challenging us to climb it the next day.
By six am we were all awake, thanks to swinging head torches, a musty smell, and general mountain fear, we were ready to start the climb.
So on we trudged, through snow and scree. As we climbed higher the air became thick with altitude. Suddenly a few hundred metres from the summit the world seemed to tip on its axis.
The combination of heat and altitude meant I could get neither enough air or water inside me to generate enough energy to keep on moving.
The voice in my head mocked me as I knew Sara’s was too. Our mentals were coming out to play. Whilst never truly doubting I would fail to ascend fully to the top I questioned whether I would get there before sundown….
Every break we took was heaven. The world stopped spinning and I could catch my breath. Within a few steps of starting again the altitude kicked in, my lungs panicked, and the mountain started dancing again.
I could have cried.
This was far tougher than expected.
A couple of the group who had been affected far worse than the rest with altitude sickness battled on bravely. Utter respect to them as they reached around 4080 metres and saw an amazing view and finished their climb. Altitude is simply a bitch with no heart and they had been fighting with it since the day before, their war far worse than ours. The strength they drew on to get that far was incredible, I doubt that I could have achieved what they did.
And the view was superb.
The rest of us trudged on the final metres. The air felt like gravy in my lungs. Rocks and scree scattered beneath my feet. Sara and I tried to sing as we ascended, in an idiotic way to raise our spirits. We managed only a line or two before gasping for breath (much to the relief of the group.)
It was emotional. As a group we motivated, cheered and got each other up the mountain. I cannot even begin to put into words how it felt walking along the rocky mountain side, seeing the summit come into view and knowing the end was nigh.
Together we reached the top with our marvellous medic trailing footsteps behind after ensuring the rest of the Trekkers were ok.
It wa beautiful, epic, and still bloody hard to breathe!
But we did it. Sara and I raised over £4000 for our charities. £2000 more for the diabetes pot in the hope of finding a cure in my daughters lifetime.
I stood (and planked) on the top of Toubkal, I hugged new friends, cherished Sara for all she is to me, and thought of my kids and loved ones back home.
Then I took a deep breath and set off down the mountain…