On the 16 May 15 selected members from all three squadrons of 1st Military Working Dog Regiment left the UK for Marrakech, Morocco. The aim of this exercise was to introduce us to the activity of mountaineering, by giving us the Summer Mountain Foundation course, and what better place to have this experience than in the Atlas mountains, culminating in climbing her highest peak Jbel Toubkal which stands at 4167m above sea level.
Upon arrival we were whisked away to the town of Imlil where we spent the first night recovering from a very early morning start and where we were introduced to the pastime of drinking mint tea. We were dropped off at the end of town as the vehicle would not be able to make it to our accommodation, thus our bags were loaded onto donkeys and we proceeded on foot, “via Mount Everest” according to Pte Scott. The next day the instructors introduced us to some mountaineering concepts as we explored the hills around Imlil. After this short introduction we were ready for our mountain adventure. On the morning of our start we were met by members of the Moroccan Army who were there to accompany us and offer us protection during our trek. After “an orgy of handshaking” (Cpl Sancto) we were ready to depart.
The Atlas Mountains are an amazing place with a hardy people who manage to eke out a living from them. You could be forgiven for thinking that you had gone back in time as none of the villages had a single paved road and the animals are housed within the home complex, being turned out every morning to graze. The houses themselves are made by hand with stone and mortar, though some houses are starting to look more advanced as the locals have cut roads out of the mountainside so now they have relatively easier access to better materials. Everywhere you go there is an abundance of donkeys doing every chore one can think of in an agricultural community.
Our instructor WO2 Peace, stated that “in order to acclimatise properly to the altitude we needed to walk high and sleep low” thus, once we left Imlil, we spent the next several days ascending and descending several peaks before we attempted Jbel Toubkal. Each night we stopped off in villages in various refuges until we reached the Refuge Du Toubkal (altitude of 3207m) on Sunday 24 May 15. This was great for us as we were initially told that we would be camping, a shower every night will never go amiss even if some of them were freezing, scolding or with so little pressure you’d have to run around to get wet.
We awoke early Monday morning, ready to take on the mountain, only to find out that we had received four inches of snow overnight. This gave us stunning views from the refuge but unfortunately it also meant that we couldn’t climb as winter conditions were outside of our remit. We mostly all went back to bed and took the day off awaiting Tuesday, hoping against hope that mother nature would let us climb after we’d come all this way. Tuesday was a bitterly cold and overcast day but the conditions were tolerable so we ascended to our final goal, the top of Jbel Toubkal. Upon reaching the top the Moroccan soldiers were ecstatic and took so many photos that you’d think they were the paparazzi at a movie premiere. This was doubly amusing as the clouds meant that there was nothing to see.
Our goal achieved, we descended back down to Imlil thinking that our adventure was pretty much done but we were certainly wrong about that. After exchanging gifts, saying goodbye to the Moroccan soldiers and another orgy of handshakes we left for Marrakech. Marrakech is a city that is unlike any other I have experienced. It too seems to be stuck in time in that although modern technology is abundant there is not a single skyscraper to be found and donkeys share the roads with cars. We split off into groups in order to explore, some of us taking in the tranquil parks, some exploring the history through palaces and tombs and some getting hopelessly lost in the Souks. We then got together for our final dinner in Morocco and watch the sun go down at a lovely rooftop restaurant that had live authentic music and a belly dancer that made her way around all the tables.
Ex DRAGON TOUBKAL has been an experience of a lifetime, one that I feel privileged to have been a part of and one that I will never forget. I thank the Moroccan Army for their company and the Ulysses Trust for offering us this wonderful opportunity.