Summit: Jebel Toubkal, Morocco

Some of you may remember: I made a personal resolution on a milestone birthday to climb a mountain a year. A recap of some previous climbs:
Jebel Catherine, Egypt, 8,625ft  or 2,629 m
Mount Fuji, Japan, 12,388ft or 3,776 m
– Harney Peak, USA, 7,244ft or 2,208m
– Schiehallion, Scotland, 3,553ft or 1,083m
Cadair Idris, Wales, 2,930ft or 893m

Now I get to add:
– Jebel Toubkal, Morocco, 13,671ft or 4,167m

I almost didn’t fit one in. It’s December before I even made my first trip to any mountain this year.

And, boy, did I get my bum kicked with altitude sickness. I underestimated it. I didn’t realize until I looked up the numbers of previous summits for this post that this is the highest I’ve ever gone, at least on foot. Well, good thing I know now.

The landscape changed drastically. The bottom of the valley was lined with trees, changing into autumn colors. The season was technically going into winter, but the milder climate had the trees clinging into their foliage just a little bit longer. On our return, we passed many piles of wooden crates used for the apples from the orchards. We passed a couple group of men sorting their harvest.. had I not been with a group, I would have been so tempted to stop and take a bite.

Somewhere just above the villages, the tree line stopped and the mountains were rocky faces looming over us. The face of the mountain looked bare without the colorful trees. I couldn’t shake the sense of leaving civilization behind as we forged upward.

The trails were created by mules. All these generations, mules continue to be the primary mode of moving and sending supplies through these mountains. I was pleased to see how healthy the animals generally are, that despite the hard work, they are fed and well-cared for, unlike their peers in the city of Marrakech. Over my years of travel, I have started to see a correlation between how societies that treat their children, elders, women, and livestock be a reflection of how they value life.

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We stopped at Sidi Chamarouch for lunch on our way up. From that point was there I started to feel the altitude. I wasn’t alone. Another fellow climber started to struggle. I thought I’d give him company but found even his pace too leisurely for my impatience. I found myself following in spurts of catch up with the rest of the group as I stopped briefly but frequently.

We stayed at a mountain refuge, a base camp, if you will, on Mount Toubkal.The lodge was much larger and better equipped than I expected. I had imagined something similar to the mountain huts on Mount Fuji. Instead, the refuge was an enormous mansion, with a large open central area, as is typical with Moroccan buildings. No one ever lingered, though. Only two rooms have wood burning fireplaces, a sitting room and the dining area. We were staying at one of the newer refuges, where, on the upper level were dormitories, each trekking group sharing one. While not luxurious on Western standards, it was nice to have separate rooms by group, as the various treks all had different schedule. Our “beds” were two levels of platforms with thin mattresses and pillows.

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While I said the refuge wasn’t luxurious, it was far more than I expected and could have asked for. I have no doubt in my mind it was luxurious in many local standards. A solid building, with windows, and roof over our heads. The pleasure of fireplaces even in just two rooms. Flushing toilets and running cold showers. They even collect the trash, when I was expecting to have to carry it all back down. They even afforded to lay out some blankets, which were a godsend over our sleeping bags. I am admittedly too pampered to live in this cold for long, but three days, I could muster the wherewithal and actually enjoyed it.

We got up early for our summit. I didn’t quite understand why we had to get up so early, in the dark, but was glad to make it back in time for lunch. I would not have done well starving while climbing. I ended up taking a really steep route to avoid the ice patches on the inside of the ridge, a move that I actually reveled in as it brought back memories of the rock climbing we did in Scotland. I wasn’t so pleased when we were descending, though. I slipped and fell hard quite a few times, several jarring my bones enough to remind me that I no longer have the bounce of the youth when they fall.

The ascent I would describe in four phases. First was the climb of the rising wall behind the refuge. As it was pitch black when we started, I was focused on what my head lamp illuminated, my head down, eyes intent on the individual rocks I could see on the ground. I didn’t realize it was a pretty diverse route until my return, first a swish back path amongst boulders that leveled out into ice patches before we rose over the first saddle and lost sight of the refuge.

The boulders flattened into a field of rocks. Sometimes it was a spread of larger rocks the size of my fist with relatively smooth faces to just walk over. Other parts cleared into loose gavel-like deposits that made for a loose footing. The light has come out and we could see the golden sunshine peeking over the top ridge line. The face of Toubkal made me feel like I was standing inside a crater, and that I was at the base of the hallowed cone inside a volcano. The scree got really steep as we start climbing our way to the ridge. More often than not, I was scrambling over rocks. I could handle that better than a loose dirt path on extremely steep gradient, proved later when I couldn’t walk down without falling. We made it to the inside of the ridge, and hovered around the ridge wall towards the summit point.

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The summit was on a flattened top, almost like a hilltop, a cruel joke after all that work.. by the time I saw it, I was so shattered and altitude sickness threatened to take over my sense of up and down. I barely dragged my feet to the summit. I couldn’t even muster the energy to quicken my pace. I was so relieved to reach the summit I forgot how to really celebrate.

The metal triangle marker has got to be the strangest summit marker I have ever seen.

I was startled to hear how much walking we did, both just to get to the refuge and roundtrip overall. I beat myself up for the return trip, wondering why I, as active as I am, had so much trouble with the climb. It wasn’t until today, when I looked up the elevation numbers that I found out this is the highest summit I made on foot. Next time, I’ll give myself more time to acclimate to the altitude before making my summit attempt. I’ve been living in the low elevation countries for too long!

Two days later, the soreness has fully set into my legs.. and to add insult to injury, I find myself facing the following in my guesthouse (riad) in Fes.

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Four flights of this. I’m on the top floor. I could cry…

Great many thanks to Toubkal Guides for the wonderfully managed trek in every aspect from the crucial guides all the way to the individuals ensuring the smooth transfers.
Special kudos to:
– Our trek team: Mohamed, Ibrahim, Abdul and Khalid
– The Refuge Toubkal des Mouflons staff for being so hospitable, feeding us well, and giving me that bottle of hot water to warm my sleeping bag!
– Jamal for such a well oiled management of the trek.

South West Coast Path: Porthleven

Last day on my Christmas weekend trip. Thanks to the combination of weekend timing and Boxing Day, I’ve had an unusually long long weekend. I thought I’d be ready to go, but as the time goes by, I find myself more and more enamored by Cornwall.

I squeezed in a last hike. I started late, taking advantage of the fact that St. Michael’s Mount is open for the holiday, a rare winter availability.

I drove to Porthleven to try to finish up my segment. As I started to warm to the idea of completing the entire South West Coast Path as a life goal, I decided to try to tie my segments to the ones listed on the SWCP website. I was to connect the bit from where I left off on Christmas Day when I just couldn’t seem to get closer to the village within my sight- Porthleven.

It wasn’t even far. It was ridiculously close, where I left off that day. But it was far more scenic from the direction I walked today.

Highlights– West End: N50 05.581 W5 20.798
– East End: N50 11.292 W5 26.191
– Entire Distance walked: 5 miles
– Weather: dreary grey, but dry. Muddy, I now understand why people stroll in Wellies.

Porthleven: Charming town that grew from a fishing village and port. Views are much prettier walking east to west, with the rolling cliffs and varying landscapes.
I was every so reluctant to start my drive inland.

Summit: Cadair Idris

Nothing like a sore body to keep me planted on the sofa in front of the telly, laptop available without much physical work. As mentioned earlier, I’ve been good about making a summit hike a year, at least. This is my second of the year.

For hikes, I rarely prepare other than to check weather and camera battery life. But advance research of the path is a rare thing. Yet, I did this time around. I dunno why. In reading other hikers’ notes, though, it sounded like a foreign language to me. It was. The names were all Welsh. A part of me felt like raising a hand and saying, “Vanna, I would like to buy several vowels, please!”

Yet, all that said, I made the biggest goof of all. I woke up, at the B&B and found, with that dreadful sinking feeling in the pit of my belly, I forgot my hiking shoes. I didn’t even have trainers. So I wasted a whole day driving back home to get the shoes and hiking pants that I also realized I forgot, and back to Wales.

I can see why Cadair Idris is one of the most popular hikes in Wales. Take a look at the beautiful sights. The ridgeline rose above and circled a lake tucked in the valley. A lot of literature about glaciers and whatnot. To me, it was just stunning to see the wall of cliffs create a semi-circle around the water.

Despite all my reading, I somehow managed to go a different route. Probably because I got distracted. I ended up coming up to the lake, Llyn Cau, from the shallow end. When the path should have veered left and up to circle the ridge clockwise, I ended up watching a team of shepherds and their sheepdogs steering their grazing herd from the inner crater area to the outer rim. I found myself following another path around the lake, until I was just at the base of the wall leading to one of the lower peaks, Craig Cau.

I don’t think I realized how steep the climb up was until half way, when I thought to myself how my little scrambling experience was being put to good use. And that I should have put my camera in the bag instead of slung across my body but that it was too steep for me to stop and sit to adjust that. To give you an idea, in that length, I went .4 miles in distance, and gained 703 ft in altitude.

[Blue: Route I walked.
Yellow: What most people walk]

I would not have traded that climb for anything. I love a good challenge. Not recommended for the faint of heart or those with no hiking nor climbing experience, but otherwise manageable.

The hiking down to the summit of Mynydd Moel was rather uneventful, a large grassy route that made me actually bust out into the tunes of “The Sound of Music.” After the nth iteration of “Doe, a deer, a female deer; ray, a drop of golden sunnnn; me, a name I call myself.. ” Has anyone ever realized how that song can get stuck on an endless loop?? “And that brings us back to Doe. Doe, a deer.. ” Good thing I was the only walker for a long stretch. How well does sound travel cross those ridges, do you think?

The descent is absolutely horrific, a loose and extremely steep death trap of boulders of all sizes and shapes. I found myself resolving to purchase a pair of walking poles. For others, I recommend taking the climb I made from the lake, then walking the counter clockwise route after reaching the summit. The view is to be much more stunning and the experience more enjoyable. Your legs will thank you… as mine are cursing me today.

Nikon D5100, f/8, 1/320s

Nikon D3100, f/8, 1/250s

 

South West Coast Path: Marazion

Ever had one of those “meh”days? Days when, even though you know it could be a good one, you’re feeling rather uninspired? It’s worse when it’s a day in the middle of traveling. Today was such a day.

I started in Marazion town. The town itself is absolutely adorable. A winding street of old buildings colourfully painted. And most homes has a plaque nailed in its exterior face identifying what that structure used to be in the old days, so signs such as “Old School House,” “Marazion Institute,” “Quaker House.”

Marazion faces St. Michael’s Mount, the castle topped island I have been admiring from my first day’s walk. What I didn’t realize was there was a causeway, a stone walkway linking Marazion to the Mount, walkable during low tide. Quite a view. Just like what I imagine a castle should be.

Nikon D90, f13, 1/20s

The walk between Marazion and Penzance is linked by a concrete walking path. Rather dull. It weaved through some sand dunes. With the Christmas holiday, vacationers came out to enjoy the air. While it was unseasonable warm, the wind was blowing up a storm, enough to lift the gritty sand to whip on the face. The parasurfers seem happy with that, their colourful sails a cheerful contrast to the otherwise grey day. The walk was literally around the bay, so other than the Mount, the view remained rather monotonous.

Total Tally:
– Weather: Cloudy. Gusty gritty winds
– End points:
N50 05.581 W5 20.798
N50 07.164 W5 31.992
– Conditions: dry concrete pathways, or pebbly beach (good for cleaning hiking shoes as you walk!)

Highlights: St. Michael’s Mount, worth a visit. I went a couple days later. Be sure to catch the causeway at low tide.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ready

I packed everything.. I think. My first day hiking the South West Coast Path in Cornwall, end of December, dead middle of the winter. I expect cold, rain, gusty winds. And breathtaking views. So I wanted to make sure I got everything covered.

And this doesn’t even cover the load I left in the boot. I *did* say in my intro that I tend to overpack. And somehow everything fit in the small daypack, except for the tripod.

Except for shoes. Those of you astute enough to pick that omission out, I left them in the car I wouldn’t trail mud through the little B&B.

South West Coast Path: Praa Sands

Christmas Day. Alone. I had mixed feelings when I woke up this morning. It’s not the first time I was not with my family in this holiday. But last time around I was working, on travel. The people in the office immediately invited me to their homes for dinner, for company, for festivities. I’m not traveling for work today. I’m abroad, but technically at my home. My family, literally, on the other side of the world for a wedding.

Christmas is not of religious significance to my family. My brother and I are too old for the Santa routine. We haven’t exchanged gifts in almost ten years. The holiday is not a big deal. Yet, Christian or not, anyone growing up in the Western world probably has grown used to the idea that today is a day of family and friends, whichever way you spend it.

I didn’t realise it but subconsciously I had literally thrown myself into the hiking. Let the numbers speak for itself:

Tally:
Miles walked: 9.8, one loops, starting at Prussia Cove.
End points of SWCP reached:
– N50 05.581 W5 20.798 and
– N50 06.120 W5 25.091
Weather: Cloudy, gusty winds on occasion, no sun at any point
Conditions: Muddy and muddier

One view you *have* to walk to SWCP to see is that of the Port-en-alls House, the mainstay of the small village that is completely used a vacation homes. Walking the path, I wind around the corner to the backside of the house, down a narrow rough stone road flanked on both sides by tall stone walls. So as a pedestrian, I don’t see the whole building in the approach and completely pass through in the backside. Once across the next beach onto the next point, though, I was amazed by the view. It took me a while of recollection to realise this was the very house I walked by a couple times already.

The house, from afar, looks like it is perched on the edge of a cliff, its stone walls both blending in and rising out of the rocking wall. It sits low, not too far above the water. The land raises behind the house, but pales in comparison to its formidable facade.

The ponies. Oh, yes. The ponies. A small herd of Shetland ponies was introduced to the Rinsey Head area to graze the overgown brush. Signage into the area alerts walkers of the ponies. With warnings.
– Do not feed  them as they will grow reliant on humans for food.
– Do not approach them as they are not domesticated (I thought horses have been domesticated for centuries??)
OK. I can deal.

What there was no guidance is what to do when they are blocking a very narrow path I am walking. Do I slowly walk through them? What if they charge me? How “undomesticated” are we talking about, really? Sure enough, as I approached, they all looked up and started warily, not twitching a muscle. I like animals. I pet them in zoos. But I don’t really know a whole lot about the non-human species. So do I stare down at them. Squat down to their level and just make eye contact? Or wave my arms wildly to get them moving?? What do I know?! We must have stared at each other without moving for a good 10 minutes.

I chickened out first. It was a long walk back and I didn’t want anything happening to me to hinder my progress. Yes, nervous Nettie I am. I crept back, backtracking my steps to find an intersection to go another route. Better than calling home and saying I broke a leg falling down a steep coastal ledge because a pony bunted at me. I’ll take the former ding to my pride.