Now you’ll understand why I was so lazy with my writing last week. Instead of spending my weekend writing for you, I spent it trudging in the Moroccan Atlas. Let’s go back 2 weeks ago. Lanky Pole – him again – called me with a crazy proposal: climbing to the top of the highest peak in northern Africa – the Djbel Toubkal in Morocco. He’d bought flights for 3 and one of his mates had bailed out at the last minute. Fool that I am, I said yes. Seven days later, I was in a small hotel in Imlil.
Imlil is the closest village to the peak, it is a charming place 1,740m above sea level where people don’t hassle you as much as in Marrakesh and where the temperatures are bearable. It’s almost heaven: the first night we had there was the quietest I had in years, the food at the hotel was amazing, plentiful and cheap, the landscapes are breathtaking, the light is uniquely soft and beautiful, and you’re surrounded by cute baby goats, cats and mules. Not to mention the exquisite fresh orange juice that will make you forget that there is no alcohol here.
We got up quite early to pack our things before taking the path to the refuge of the Toubkal, but also to give this crazy Lanky Pole some time to run. I wanted to join him but I thought it was more prudent to keep my energy for the hike. I think I was right: the hike was only 10K long, but after little more than 3 hours of walking with our backpacks, we had gained 1,500m of elevation!
I really loved this hike. First of all because the nature is beautiful there, but also because I realised that I love walking as much as I love running. That’s probably because I was much better at it than I expected – even though I’ve already hiked quite a lot in my life I was expecting to be a burden slowing down Lanky Pole and his mate, which wasn’t the case and we arrived at the refuge much earlier than we expected.
At the refuge (around 3,200m above sea level if you did your maths), we had all the time we needed to chill, read and eat a surprisingly good dinner. In our dorm we met an Irish guy with whom we shared most of the hike the following day and went to bed early. All 3 of us didn’t sleep much, probably because of the altitude and the lack of oxygen.
We got up before sunrise, had some breakfast, repacked, and when daylight came, we headed in the wrong direction. We quickly realised our mistake, headed back to the refuge and took the correct path. We were followed by a hiking dog all the way to the top! We called her Łajka, the Polish name for Laika, the first dog in space to which she was a real look-alike. She was also technically the closest dog to space in all northern Africa!
This part of the hike was the toughest. It was little more than 3K long, but the elevation gain was 1,000m. You can imagine how steep it was. Also at 4,167m above sea level, the lack of oxygen leaves you breathless after a few steps, so that was challenging. Luckily, I wasn’t as affected by altitude sickness as my 2 companions and I led the way to the top, where we found dozens of tourists, some of them in a pretty bad shape. But we were happy and took the photo of victory!
Unsurprisingly, the way down was much easier and faster than the way up. It took us only an hour to go back to the refuge and another 2h30 to go back to Imlil where we took a much needed and appreciated shower and spent another night in our favourite hotel. The next day, we had another delicious breakfast and Lanky Pole had another early morning run despite the exhausting hikes of the 2 previous days. Just before leaving for Marrakesh, we were surprised and pleased to see that Łajka was down here in Imlil! She’d followed us to the top of the Toubkal and now she was with us again, 2,500m lower and 15k further… We gave her plenty of affection before hopping into our taxi shared with our Irish friend and an Italian guy.
We finished the trip in Marrakesh, which I must admit isn’t my favourite city. It’s beautiful and colourful, but it’s too hot and the locals hassle you too much to sell you stuff that you don’t need or want. I guess we were too tired to enjoy it. The food was good though, and we ate a well deserved humongous couscous! I didn’t even feel guilty about it or about the ton of Moroccan pastries I ravaged, even though I hadn’t followed my training plan at all…