On the evening of 13th October 2017 a cohort of 14 2RIRISH personnel arrived at Belfast International Airport to catch the flight to London. Where on arrival, we spent the night in a comfortable departure hall at London Gatwick Airport. During the course of the evening LCpl Cowan had, unknowingly, donated his passport to the floor of the smoking area. He then discovered, shortly prior to the onward flight that he had misplaced this documentation. The group bid farewell to the LCpl who had been quoted “don’t forget your passport” on several occasions leading up to the trip.
The party of 14 less one LCpl departed for Marrakesh. After passing a thorough customs check we moved to Imlil by minibus to our accommodation or ‘gite’ for the night. This was the groups initial exposure to altitude as they trekked the “200 metres” that Capt Martin had stated in an earlier brief. It was at this point that the group realised that Capt Martin would need to re-sit a lesson on judging distance. The gite came with a terrace overlooking the valley and had wifi. Regardless, the most important feature was that it served chips and plenty of them, with its meals!
The next day brought an acclimatisation walk around the village. The day also brought LCpl Cowan to Morocco, complete with his passport. During the walk we were introduced to our guide who was to bring vital local knowledge and years of experience to our trek. The group were not disappointed to hear that their “health brief” was somewhat exaggerated and they would not see any poisonous snakes or rabid dogs. The village has a population of 2000, 1999 of which are trying to sell you something at a “very good price”. It was on day three that Lt Maybin gave in and committed to buying a carpet for a price that would involve a loan from a major bank!
The third day was the beginning of our trek. We moved off to the top of the Tizi n’Tamatert Valley into the saddle at 2279m. The group was then offered a voluntary peak which the group, some willing and others not so willing took on with the over-enthusiasm that day one of trekking brings. After our first exposure to summits in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco we were ready for lunch. The guides carried all their equipment on mules and they set up a colossal feast served in the shade under some trees off the track.
After lunch we embarked on Capt Trevor Martin’s idea of a “downhill” leg to the campsite. The first campsite was just off a main road with an irrigation channel running through it. It was mid-way through the personal administration period of the evening that the guides noticed LCpl Leonard ‘bearing’ all in the irrigation ditch. After a loud jeer, he deemed his hygiene in the field to be complete.
The morning of Day five kicked off with a steep uphill climb to a height of 3555m, much to the amazement of the group the mules overtook us, even though they set off about twenty minutes after us. Several hours later we dropped to our riverside campsite at Tizi Mikemot. This was in line with the ‘climb high, sleep low’ policy to mitigate any risk of altitude sickness. During our evening meal, served in the pop up tent carried by the mules, Rgr Ramsay delivered the philosophical line, “my feet have carried me everywhere”.
Day six was a long gradual uphill to the next village- Amsourzerte at a height of 1797m. To get there we had to pass over the peak of the day,Tizi n’Ououraine, at a height of 3120m. The opportunity for the A Company contingent to get a matching T-shirt selfie was too much to overcome. Capt Martin valiantly struggled through a mild case of D & V, this appeared to be the only thing that would come true from the group’s environmental brief.
On the downward journey the skills of our Mountain Leaders were tested, and proved too much for. 2/3 of MLTs fell. Capt Edwards managed to draw blood from a fall. Sgt Morton, determined not to be out performed, put on a spectacular show, throwing in a cartwheel or two.
The Gite in the village was a welcome sight at the end of a long day, even if it was surrounded by streets that closely resembled a rubbish dump! Just as we settled in, the heavens opened, prompting the XO, Maj Andrews, to question Ibrahim’s booking for the sun.
A week had passed and the seventh day was the shortest trek from our Gite to Lake D’Ifni at 2392m. A stroke of luck hit the group as the journey was made with rain lashing off our faces. Our guide told us that a local had drowned in the lake a couple of months prior to our visit, and the body was never recovered. Regardless, the group couldn’t resist the opportunity for a wash and a shave in the stunning setting of the mountain lake.
At dinner that night, we got an insight to the upcoming menu for the next few days. One of our guides, purchased a goat from a passing farmer, and slit its throat. It was perhaps a slightly unusual form of dinner entertainment, but a reminder of how self-sufficient we actually were and an interesting insight into the nomad culture.
That night we slept in some stables built of stone and mud against the side of the mountain. Some of the lads had the opportunity to admire the fantastic scenery during the dead of night, as they started erecting tents when Rgr McKenzie discovered several spiders sharing his sleeping bag!
Day eight was voted as the toughest day by the group, even from a simple map recce. It was a long steep climb over the pass, climbing to a height of 3684m to the main Toubkal refuge. When the group finally reached the pass, the XO initiated his infamous press-up challenge, which was met with great enthusiasm. From the pass we dropped down into what was dubbed ‘the valley of no sun’. To the group’s delight, we found the main Toubkal Refuge, complete with bedrooms, hot showers, a herd of goats and a restaurant. The group had a great view of said refuge from the wet and muddy field a short distance away, where we dug storm trenches around our tents to prepare for that night. The mood was further raised by the final of the Moroccan jack-change-it championships, hosted by Rgr Ramsay #cardcounter.
Day nine contained the Main Effort of the trip, Jebel Toubkal. The group successfully trekked past others on the ascent, boasting the 2 Royal Irish military robustness and fitness, to a height of 4167m. The trek started before first light. It was during this climb that the acclimatisation of the last few days kicked in, as we overtook not only tourists, but some pretty professional looking climbing groups. Capt Edwards and Maj Andrews took a moment to reflect on their parallel careers having summited Mt Kenya 10 years previously together. Maj Andrews had clearly become more acclimatised to colder weather in this time as his warm kit consisted of a buf and rolling down his shirt sleeves. At the summit there was a short commemoration to the late CSgt Neil Stewart by Capt Edwards and LCpl Leonard, proceeded by a world record attempt at the longest and coldest photoshoot!
The following three days saw the group bounce between several villages, scramble over many peaks, clinging for rocks for dear life asking the simple question “will I survive if I fall” and camp outside a very modern and warm gite! On day 12 of the trip we arrived back in Imil, passing groups that were just starting their trek with smug looks on our faces.
Day thirteen saw us reunited with WiFi, hot water and solid beds in our Gite from day two. This was to be an admin and rest day, where Capt Martin ‘rested’ at the top of “one last peak”.
One of the guides, who was dubbed ‘Sammy’ by LCpl Cowan, as it was the closest British name to Samir, invited the group to his home for lunch. Lt Maybin was told he put on a great spread, unfortunately he could not go as he was under house arrest, as he was hiding from the man determined to see through his false interest in his extortionately priced carpets, and his band of merry men.
On the final day of the trip we moved to Marrakesh and had a day to explore the cultural aspect of Morocco’s urban culture. As we explored the streets, we discovered that wherever you go and whatever you do, there is always a friendly local nearby who will provide you with an assortment of essentials, ranging from tissues to ‘genuine’ designer watches, and all for a very reasonable price.
In a predominantly dry country we managed to find a few places that served alcohol. LCpl Leonard embarked on his singing career by trying out the karaoke, much to the distress of all in the immediate vicinity.
In all a thoroughly enjoyable trip, those new to mountaineering were given a great insight into the aspects of altitude and how it can affect even the most experienced of mountaineers. For the more experienced members of the group it provided a chance to enhance their skills and share in an unforgettable journey through one of the world’s most remarkable landscapes.