Sam turned to me, her eyes still wide with shock about what we had endured. ‘Toubkal was the easy bit!’ Those are words I didn’t ever expect to hear given that Mount Toubkal is the highest mountain in North Africa at 4,167m and it is a lung-busting climb up.
But she was right.
Never, ever do what I did in this video and tempt fate…
I may have started off with, ‘Famous last words…’ but I didn’t realise how true that was going to be. Instead of descending the way we had come, or by the north face, Lahcen Idd Mansour, my friend and guide, had decided to go for an adventure. Our plan was to descend via Toubkal West down into the valley leading to Lake Ifni and then back up to Tizi Oua n Oums. Another descent and we would camp in the shelter of a thistle-filled valley.
Breathe, Sam, just breathe
There were two vital pieces of information I didn’t have before we embarked on the plan: Sam suffers from vertigo and Lahcen hadn’t done the route since before Corona.
The ridge which I frolicked along, clinging limpet-like to the edge and thrilling myself by looking down, was Sam’s worst nightmare. She did it though and we stepped off it on to a sheet of scree.
Wishing I had wings
That’s when the challenge started for me. We were heading vertically down. Scree walking is an art in itself, you have to dig your heels in and let yourself slide. Sam and Lahcen went down as a pair and I brought up the rear. ‘Andak, look out!’ I’d yell as my heel hit a larger boulder and set off a small waterfall of rocks. I had all my weight balanced backwards so that if I fell I would just sit down, but my quads were quivering when we took a break for a sandwich.
The next part got harder. There was no scree, just crumbling mountain face and a drop into the abyss if you slid the wrong way. All talk ceased as Sam and I entered our own little worlds to get through it. My whole body and brain tensed as I focussed on not causing myself or anyone else serious injury. A break in this terrain would be catastrophic.
Worse was still to come. We spotted our mules, waiting patiently for us to get to them and lunch, high up on the other side of the channel cut into the mountain by water. The passage across it looked impossible to me but Lahcen had called in reinforcements. Hamid, one of our muleteers, was scrambling up so that he could help me down.
I can’t pretend I like being led down a mountain but I was so happy to see him and grateful to him. It was as treacherous a dry descent as I have ever encountered. With my pole in one hand and my other clutched firmly in Hamid’s we slid and skittered down. I would do it solo where ever I could to give this slim, but insanely strong, man a rest, but he saved me many times from a tumble.
I stopped trying to think when it would be over and just kept going. Sam told me afterwards that she used every single mantra she had to remain in the moment and give herself the courage she needed. I honestly can’t imagine doing that descent if I had a fear of heights so bravo to her!
Hissy post Toubkal West fit – obligatory!
Finally, we reached a path. ‘I’d never have taken you down here if I’d realised the path was gone,’ said a slightly pale Lahcen. I had my obligatory hissy fit, ‘I need a rest NOW!’ and sat down on a rock to contemplate my mortality before I started the climb up.
When we got to the mules, Abdu, our other muleteer, had set up two camping chairs overlooking the most magnificent view and the tea was on. I had just settled down, boots off, to enjoy it when there was a thunderous crashing. A boulder about half the size of a car had dislodged from the peak and was bouncing down the mountain gathering rocks as it went. The team leapt up and rushed to the edge to warn the muleteers below.
By the Grace of God
‘Al hamdullilah ala Salama, Thanks be to God for a safe arrival.’ We all looked at each other. The rock fall must have crossed the route we had just traversed.
If you enjoyed ‘Toubkal was the easy bit’, please do check out my books.
I have posted lots of pictures on Instagram.
Hero piece of kit for this adventure was my Montane jacket (Montane Women’s Spine Waterproof Jacket). Very light, waterproof and most importantly windproof. Vital on top of Toubkal where the wind blows in from the Sahara and freezes in the altitude.