Atlas Mountains 2012

This was originally written for the Berghaus Adventure Challenge.


View Toubkal in a larger map

Jump directly to:
Day Two – Walk-In
Day Three – Acclimatisation Day
Day Four – Ouanoukrim (4089m)
Day Five – Toubkal (4167m)
Day Six – Walk Off
Day Seven – Marrakech
Day Eight – Coming Home

Day One – Flight from Gatwick to Marrakech

After the success of our Scotland training trip it was with a mounting sense of excitement that I pitched up at Gatwick to meet the Moroccan adventurers that had made their way independently to the airport.

Alan’s usual crisp organisation allowed us to get checked in and through security with sufficient time for a short shop in the various airside facilities.

When we came to board the plane we found that the flight was relatively empty, allowing us to spread out and occupy sufficient space to be comfortable.  Despite (or because of) the limitations on alcohol in our destination country we could not resist the temptation of duty-free gin.  Laura’s only complaint was the timing of the shopping offer – earlier in the flight and we could have made some headway on its consumption.  As Laura’s various bags were all more or less vastly over the permitted weight limit the precious fluid was entrusted to Andy who mysteriously seemed to have brought virtually no luggage.  It was Grace that took the prize for the smallest bag though, seemingly with less stuff than I usually take to my office job on a daily basis!

After a short wait in Marrakech airport a man with a disappointingly normal hat arrived with a big bus to take us to our accommodation in the city.  The drive was only about quarter of an hour and almost as soon as we were within the walls of the medina the bus had stopped on a non-descript street corner, our gear was ousted from the vehicle, and we were performing a luggage-laden stagger down a maze of streets trying to avoid being run over by mopeds.  We eventually came to somewhat ordinary looking door on which our driver knocked and we were ushered through into the rhiad that would prove to be our peaceful oasis in the chaos that is Marrakech.

The rooms, which were directly off the central open space, were quickly allocated to their occupants then we were marched up to the roof terrace and proudly shown the local stork nest.

After showing sufficient enthusiasm to placate our proprietor, Andy and I discovered our lovely double bed.

After a slight re-allocation of rooms we could settle in for the night then proceed to the first of many fabulous olive-laden tagines that we were to experience during our stay.  To finish off the meal we were also treated to the first of very many glasses of sweet mint tea that were to become a feature of our Moroccan adventures.

All too soon it was time to retire for the evening and I slept soundly knowing that tomorrow we would be in the mountains!

Day Two – Walk-In

It was with mounting excitement that I rose from my bed on the second day of our adventure.  I rapidly rearranged my gear to be ready for departure then adjourned upstairs for breakfast, which fortunately was accompanied by tea of the non-mint variety.  We then assembled in the court yard of the rhiad to await Des, James and Simon.

Led by Des we proceeded back out to the nearest road which seemed significantly closer than it had the previous evening when we were fully laden.

We then boarded the equally nice bus organised for us and were on our way to the mountains.  Over the next couple of hours the view got steadily more impressive as we drove into the Atlas range.

After some slightly scary moments in the van as we made our way through roadworks (it was just like being in London!) we were dropped off in Imlil, which has the distinction of being the settlement at the end of the road.

Some mint tea eased the unloading of our gear then we stocked up with water as we were advised that the higher you go into the mountains the more expensive the water gets.

After only a short time we met the lovely mules that were to carry our main bags up to the refuge.  It was time to leave…

After walking through the main street of Imlil we deviated from the road and immediately traversed some short but steep sections of the path.

It felt good to finally get some height gain behind us – only 1400 more metres of vertical ascent to go.

We continued to follow Des and company whilst enjoying the January sunshine.  As we walked alongside a river flowing along the valley floor Des described various historic floods that had caused devastation to the local area but the biggest danger we were to encounter was turning an ankle on the loose pebbles that constituted a large section of river flood plain.  Fortunately for me this was half as likely to be a problem as for the two-legged members of the party and my prosthetic continued along in the usual untroubled fashion.

As we ascended further we unsurprisingly began to encounter more and more snow.  In what seemed like a relatively short time we were approaching our lunch stop in the village of Sidi Charamouch which signified about two fifths of the days distance completed.  The last few hundred metres of the path was covered almost entirely in snow and ice offering an interesting reduction in traction.

With a view of the shrine and Des looking pretty relaxed (he hadn’t seen us amputees slipping and sliding across icy paths yet!) we enjoyed some delicious mint tea and met possibly the most important member of our party – the Chef.  Brahim had managed to somehow concoct a lovely lunch of omelette and fish in a very basic kitchen which, along with more mint tea, set us up for the longer climb to come in the afternoon.

Immediately upon leaving the shrine my day got worse.  When crossing terrain that is anything other than relatively flat the lack of flex in my ankle severely restricts my ability to plant my foot securely on the floor.  This is not usually a problem but in the steep and slippery conditions we encountered after lunch the resultant lack of traction made progress with any sort of speed very hard work.  Fortunately the terrain eventually settled into a more gentle and constant slope which myself and prosthetic could cope with without over exertion.

As we were told we were nearing our destination the snow began to get deeper and more powdery.  This also proved to be hard work as continuing to achieve a foot-over-foot gait became difficult.  The sight of the refuge in the distance cheered us for the final push and soon after the sun hid itself behind the sides of the valley along which we had ascended and the temperature started to drop we reached our home for the next four nights.

The refuge seemed much more homely than we had been led to believe by Alan.  Since his last visit a partition had been constructed in the main area creating two rooms which were much easier to heat.  This was fascinating to the rest of us but we tore ourselves away to inspect the most important element of any accommodation – the toilets.  The majority of these actually resembled what we had expected with the exception of one European type sit-downable toilet in the mens – toilet justice at last!

We also found our dormitory which went from tidy to gear-strewn in record time, settled our stuff in to the bed spaces and headed downstairs to keep warm by the fire.

We were safely at the refuge after a vertical ascent of around 1500m, the mains power was on so I could recharge the batteries in my leg and tomorrow we’d be strapping on our crampons and heading into the snow and ice – all was well with the world!

The day’s elevation profile:

Day Three – Acclimatisation Day

Sharing with nine other people in an unheated room at altitude in the mountains is not to be recommended if a good night’s sleep is required!  I should have remembered from previous experience of altitude that my sleep patterns were odd – I would be tired when I went to bed early and sleep for three or four hours then wake up and spend the rest of the night lying awake.  I had come prepared on this trip with an mp3 player to occupy myself whilst awake at night but had forgotten to get it out of my bag yesterday evening and didn’t want to make noise by rummaging.  To make matters worse I was hot.  My sleeping bag was a bit too warm for the room which had started off freezing but must have been warmed up by our sleeping forms.  Perhaps it had not been necessary to sleep with my prosthetic leg inside the sleeping bag to protect the battery from the cold.

As this was our acclimatisation day we had been allowed the luxury of a lie-in so breakfast was at a relatively late hour.  We assembled in the main room of the refuge and tucked in to warm bread with laughing cow and non-mint tea or coffee – lovely!

Before leaving the refuge we were instructed to attach our crampons for the first time since Scotland but ice-axes were not yet required.  We stepped outside to find a beautiful sunny morning and immediately set off up the valley.

The route out from the refuge was pretty steep and as this was our first real exertion since getting to altitude I found myself quite out of breadth.  The crampons were really helping though.  With care I could get guaranteed traction which meant I was free to concentrate on what I was doing with the rest of my leg without worrying about slipping.

We continued up the valley whilst Des and co. looked for somewhere we could practice our ice-axe arrest skills.  This was proving to be tricky as recent fresh snow had left a powdery layer on top of anything consolidated rendering the conditions essentially self-arresting.  This was demonstrated by James as he picked a likely looking slope then tried and failed to slide down.  Even after repeatedly clearing the powder away by shuffling around his ability to slide was insufficient to make getting a good practice a reality.

In the search for a non-powdery area to practice our skills we continued up the valley.  After the initial steep bits coming out of the hut the gradient had settled into a gentle incline with occasional serious bits to keep us on our mettle.  We were happily wandering around the mountains enjoying practising walking in crampons but our guides were continuing to be frustrated by the snow conditions.

After ploughing through some deep snow covering a particularly prolonged incline it was decided that we had reached sufficient height to make the acclimatisation worth while so turned round to retrace our steps back down the valley.  If a suitable place for practising couldn’t be found on the way down we could always try another day.

Descending through the powdery stuff was actually good fun and not too much like hard work.  With each step it was possible to slide a bit even with my prosthetic leg making gravity pay back our ascent with assistance on the way down – lovely!

Within a seemingly short time we were back at the refuge which allowed us to make the most of the sunshine and soak up some rays on the front ‘patio’ – I had not expected mountaineering to be so civilised!  Flash took this opportunity to try out his new shoes for the first time outside – one of the better local purchases made by the group.

With the sun going down behind the valley sides the temperature dropped dramatically once again so it was time to retire inside for some more of Brahim’s cooking and an afternoon of card games and other amusements.

Des took the opportunity to brief us on tomorrow’s plan after our evening meal.  We would tentatively be setting off to try and reach the summit of Ounouakrim via a col at 3700m.  Those that felt comfortable would be welcome to continue to the summit if there was sufficient time whilst those that were not so inclined could save themselves for the main event and descend to the refuge.  We were warned that tomorrow’s route would require some mild scrambling after the col and the day would actually be harder than getting to the summit of Toubkal – decision, decisions…

 Today’s elevation profile:

 

Day Four – Ouanoukrim (4089m)

To give us the best chance of getting as far as possible up the second highest mountain on our itinerary we got an early start on our first summit attempt day.  I’d had a better night’s sleep thanks to the nocturnal noise disguising properties of quietly played music on my mp3.  The previous evening Grace, a practical engineer type, had casually mentioned that I could save time in the morning by getting halfway ready, pre-dressing by prosthetic with trousers and boot.  As our room was not as cold as I had feared this is exactly what I had done.  I just slipped my other leg into the left side of my clothes, did everything up and was ready to go!  More warm bread and laughing cow set us up for another day in the mountains and after attaching crampons we set off just as it was beginning to get light.

An early start

The initial route out of the refuge followed the same path as yesterday and was immediately pretty steep.  I found today’s transit required much less exertion, which I took to be a good sign that my acclimatisation was going well.

Up we go

Over the next few of hours we proceeded in a leisurely fashion up the valley toward the ‘col of decision’.  During this time we encountered various snow conditions underfoot, from hard-crusted consolidation (great fun and easy to walk on) to deep and powdery (hard work and impossible for me to maintain a foot-over-foot gait).

Hard work on the ascent

A well deserved rest

I had managed to maintain a reasonable pace thought the morning without overly exerting myself and as we neared the col and the incline began get less steep I felt hopeful that Des would give us the option to continue despite my initial tendency to give this one a miss.

The view from the col

After we’d had a little break Des suggested that some of our group would be welcome to continue upward if they felt able and the remainder would return to the refuge, saving themselves for the main event tomorrow.  As not all of us were feeling in top form four people decided to call it a day but the rest of us were heading to the summit!

A slight scramble

As we’d been warned we encountered some slightly more serious terrain which would require hands on the rock soon after leaving the col.  We were now being led by James and Hussain as Des and Simon had accompanied the descending group.  James decided to err on the side of caution with the amputees and scampered ahead to set up a rope to prevent any slipping on the first tricky bit becoming a serious event.  This gave me the opportunity to pose for photographs then it was time to concentrate again.  After grabbing the rope and securing it around myself I managed to traverse the steep bit without needing to call on James support – I do love the traction given to me by crampons!

Throw me the rope

We then had to carefully get over several more scrambling sections before we were safely back in walking territory.

The technical bit completed

All the while we were slowed down on the tricky ground the weather was beginning to deteriorate with significantly increased cloud cover and the beginnings of some snow.  Fortunately this didn’t distract from the enjoyment of the last push to the summit which proved to be fairly straightforward.

At the summit

One summit achieved!

Once the obligatory photos were taken we didn’t hang around as the weather wasn’t cooperating.  James led us back over the scrambling sections, safeguarding us all down the now snow covered descents.  Again, having crampons attached to my feet gave me a level of confidence that I haven’t experienced with a prosthetic leg under any conditions – they’re great!

Down the now snowy scramble

After the excitement of scrambling off the summit we settled in to the long plodding descent.  By this time there’d been a fairly decent sprinkling of fresh powdery snow covering the valley floor beneath the col allowing me to slip and slide my way down the mountain.

Nearly back at the refuge

Where there was a hard layer of snow anywhere I could utilise the crampon given traction to force my prosthetic knee into descent mode and ride the resistance down the incline.  Even though my leg is not designed for this, using the descent mode where possible was saving my real leg at least a portion of the descent effort and hopefully I would be less tired for the main event tomorrow.

At the refuge we were reunited with the rest of our group who had considerately saved us a seat for a late lunch in the warmest room, the effect of which was demonstrated in Maggie and my ‘homecoming’ photo.

Warm in here!

Despite not needing to get to the summit of Ouanoukrim I was pretty satisfied that I’d made the effort especially considering I didn’t feel too tired.  Des kindly explained that today was a harder day than the ascent of Toubkal so I was happily looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure!

Today’s elevation profile:

Ouanoukrim’s elevation profile

 

Day Five – Toubkal (4167m)

After lying quietly in my sleeping bag for what seemed like many hours I was actually glad when the 0530 hrs wake-up call was announced by an all too cheerful Alan.  The previous night I had slept in my favourite thermal top and once again pre-dressed my prosthetic leg in boot, gaiter and trousers.  I put on my last precious pair of clean underpants, slid out of my sleeping bag, clicked on my leg and was almost ready for action.  Rapid dressing had become second nature in the chill of the dormitory so I finished off my bottom half with a second boot and gaiter then snow proof over-trousers (essential when trying to ensure a microprocessor controlled prosthetic leg stays dry!).  Having the trouser braces in place I could proceed to the second baselayer and soft-shell as we had been warned by Des that the weather was likely to be cold this morning.  My great ‘Attrition II’ hard-shell kindly supplied by Berghaus was the final layer between me and the elements, the advanced features of which I had only begun to appreciate in the clement weather of Scotland but were now seemingly vital to maintain cosiness in the mountains.  After some rudimentary ablutions I grabbed my daypack (also organised the previous evening), crampons and poles and was ready to go.

Once the group had assembled for breakfast we were given an impromptu briefing by Des.  During the night a considerable amount of fresh snow had fallen and the temperature had dropped.  We were told to expect the summit to be much harder to achieve as the fresh snow would make progress more difficult and tiring – we would just have to see how we got on once out of the refuge.  Des left us with this instruction to cope with the cold: “If you’ve got it, wear it!”  After scoffing as much bread, laughing cow and water as I could force down, I took my spare warm layer (an Ignite vest) out of my bag, put it on along with my gloves, hat etc and was ready once again.  At this point my day-pack was the lightest I had ever taken out on a serious walk.  I was pre-hydrated so was carrying only a litre of water, the only spare clothes I had were some gloves, I had my head torch attached to the helmet, all I had in my bag were some snacks and emergency gear – I should have been happy but it somehow felt wrong!

When the time was right we made our way out to the lobby for crampon attachment – it was cold!  With rapidly numbing fingers we strapped ourselves in then put outer gloves on as quickly as possible so we could follow Des in the frigid pre-dawn.  James had a peek at his watch, which showed the temperature to be –15oC – brrr!

Chilly crampon attachment

We initially followed the now familiar route out from the refuge, making our way up what I had first thought was a fairly steep slope.  Despite the overnight snow, this now seemed a relatively easy start to the day, which continued until we turned off our familiar route and headed up the valley leading to Toubkal.

The first steep bit – lots of loose snow

We immediately encountered significantly deeper snow and a steep traverse.  I was working at pretty much 100% effort to keep up with the able-bodied people in front, a task not helped by the considerable struggle to make any progress with my prosthetic leg in the deep powdery snow.  It seemed like most of the upward gain made by my left leg was lost when I tried and failed to find a sufficiently firm place to plant my prosthetic foot.  This torturous progress seemed to continue for an exceedingly long time but in reality we probably managed to cross the traverse in around quarter of an hour – it was the hardest bit of mountaineering effort I have put in to date!  This was exacerbated by a walking pole failure not far out from the refuge.  I didn’t want to slow the group down by trying to fix it so made do until we had a moments rest at the top of the traverse.  Albert then came to my rescue by helping me to extract my spare pole and stuffing my defunct one away for later fixing.  I was now on easier ground with a pair of poles – bring it on!

Pole replaced – thanks Albert!

The morning continued with both the mountain and weather providing a considerable variation in underfoot conditions.  I happily crossed gentle slopes covered in consolidated snow – an absolute dream for this one-legged person wearing crampons (and probably everyone else).  I also struggled up some more serious inclines covered in deep layers of powdery snow – not so enjoyable and pretty hard work.  We also had to pick our way across some rocky sections which felt odd whilst wearing crampons but provided no more of an obstacle than could be overcome with careful foot placement.

More steep and tricky bits

After dumping the tiring layer of fresh powdery snow overnight the weather was being kind to us for our ascent.  A beautiful sunny day had developed providing spectacular scenery that I could snatch glimpses of in brief moments of stopping (I have to spend a lot of time looking at my feet whilst walking).  Unfortunately the sunny weather wasn’t preventing the wind chill from being significant but I was still snug in my gear so was able to continue upwards without worrying about the cold.

By about eleven o’clock it had become apparent to Des that we were not making progress at a sufficient rate to achieve the summit before our turnaround time.  Finding a suitable place to stop, Des presented us with the second difficult decision of the trip.  Those who felt able to increase their pace would be formed into a first group and attempt the summit, those remaining would continue at a similar speed and get to a landmark col on the route at 4000m before heading back to the refuge.  I was feeling pretty good at this point and thought I could move faster if required so was happy to push on up and five of my fellow climbers thought the same.  With some reluctance and a sense of shared disappointment we continued up the mountain.

Another group separation

For the next hour I followed as close behind Des as I could.  He was setting a slightly faster pace and maintaining it consistently.  Over more varying underfoot conditions and generally steep terrain we made good progress toward the col.  Despite feeling strong when the group splintered I soon felt exhausted on this part of the ascent.  There was no choice now but to keep going or condemn the whole group to failure so I kept telling myself I could make it and continued upward – it was tough!  Eventually the ground began to level out and we approached a rocky outcrop that marked our resting point at the col – hooray.  We could take a few minutes to catch our breath and force down some calories as we wouldn’t stop again before the summit.

At the col

When breaking out the water we soon discovered that the chill wind had been effective.  Our siggs were frozen to the point where they couldn’t be opened and doing everything else was a struggle.  Despite only stopping for a short time and keeping my gloves on as much as possible I found my hands were painfully numb when we set off on the push for the summit, heading toward the triangular marker of which we had caught distant glimpses.

Keeping well away from any cornices we continued our ascent.  Fortunately my hands began to thaw out after about ten minutes which was useful as iceaxes were very much in demand. Traversing through some deep snow with interesting drops to one side, we cut across the face of the mountain allowing us to approach the summit via the easiest terrain.  As our turn-around time was getting near we began to cross a gravelly section with little snow, turned around a corner and were presented with the summit structure – closer than I could have possibly hoped.  A few more minutes of easy walking found us at the summit – two 4000m snowy peaks in two days – we had done it!

At the summit….

… with bionic technology!

The view of the surrounding mountains were spectacular and tiredness was forgotten as we posed for the obligatory summit photos.

At the summit with Grace (ITAP engineer)

The full summit group

The folly of exposing my microprocessor controlled leg to the elements for photos was revealed after a couple of minutes as our camera batteries began to fail.  In my snug gear I had forgotten just had cold the temperature was but fortunately I was sufficiently alert to realise that it was time to put my leg away.

View from the summit

Another good view

We squeezed in a few more photos whilst Des and Simon readied themselves for our descent.  They had decided to utilise some ‘reassurance roping’ to protect myself and Flash, the two summiting amputees, across some tricky bits resulting from a slight route change going down.

Reassurance roping

It was good knowing if I slipped I hopefully wouldn’t disappear over the fairly precipitous edge we then encountered.  Thankfully I managed to negotiate the traverse without causing Simon too much worry and we were then into the descent proper.

Starting our descent

The wind was really whipping around us and it was still icy cold.  As we hadn’t had much of a break since well before the summit Des decided to treat us and removed a portable shelter from his pack.  After all squeezing in to a circle together with our crampons pointing inward we could settle down with our bums on the inner edge of what looked like a mini parachute.  As the last person moved in to place we experienced a blessed relief from the wind and almost immediately the temperature inside Des’s wonder shelter began to rise – it was great! The opportunity was taken to stuff down as many snacks as we had available, which we could do with warm hands, but when we’d warmed up sufficiently that we began to smell ourselves we knew it was time to move on!

Axes put to good use

Our descent from Toubkal was fairly long and relatively uneventful.  The conditions underfoot and terrain we had to cross really did make coming down easier for me as I could once again use the microprocessor controlled descent mode offered by my artificial leg to offset the workload required by my real leg.

Continuing our descent

Eventually we came to a last deep snow field which we had to traverse.  For some reason, either through fatigue or general difficulty in these conditions, I couldn’t seem to stay on my feet.  Fortunately each time I lost my balance I had a soft place to land and rather than slide the last little bit on my bum (like some others I could mention) I trudged on through the snow.

One last snowy field

The refuge in sight

Upon arriving back at the refuge we were met by our second group, who had made it to the col at 4000m, and Andy, who had bought us bottles of cola.  He just about saved my life with that kindness as I was more thirsty than I had realised.  It’s a gesture I won’t forget as it couldn’t have been easy for him watching us come back after having to sit out the day due to problems with his stump.  Although exhausted, we had all achieved some amazing things for a group of novice mountaineers lacking a full compliment of legs, so retired inside the refuge for some of Brahim’s cooked delights with a serious sense of satisfaction, and then we went to sleep!

Toubkal’s elevation profile:

Toubkal’s elevation profile

Day Six – Walk Off

Our last morning in the refuge started out pretty cold – a picture of the ice on the inside of the dorm windows was taken as evidence.

Icy window – inside!

We had been allowed a modest lie in as there were no mountains to climb that day but got moving pretty quickly as we were all keen to get back to civilisation for a proper shower and toilets.

Last crampon attachment?

I was very pleased when Des had briefed us that we were to start the day with crampons attached as I found walking so much easier with these spiky aids.  After the obligatory departure photo in front of the refuge we set off on the long descent.

Last group shot at the refuge

Looking down the valley

The snow was still frozen at this point in the day and we made rapid progress out of the mountains.  After a couple of off-again on-again crampon dilemmas when we reached the transition from snow to rock we eventually removed our crampons for the last time and continued on unaided.  Our speed dropped dramatically as we had to pick our way carefully across isolated patches of ice and snow with just boots and we were rapidly overtaken by Mules and other mountain traffic.

Overtaken by Mules

We eventually made it to the shrine for a break (more mint tea) then the last ice we would encounter was behind us and we picked up speed again with solid ground underfoot.

Tea at the shrine

After a somewhat wearying afternoon’s continued walk-down we had crossed a river flood plain and thought we had about an hour’s further walking to go when Des surprised us with a van.  He had somehow managed to persuade a friend to bring the smallest van with sufficient capacity up some pretty dodgy roads to save us the last bit of the walk – lovely man!  We all piled in and tried to avoid looking out the windows as we were driven along roads that could have been chiseled into the hillside and were bordered by seriously precipitous drops.  Thankfully our Moroccan driver knew what he was doing and we made it back to the main van in one piece, our gear was transferred, and it was back to Marrakech.

The bus to civilisation

Upon our return to the Riad we sadly said goodbye to our guides.  Des, James and Simon had looked after us in every way we could have hoped for on the mountain and managed to lead amputees safely to the the summits of two of the highest mountains in Northern Africa in some fairly severe winter conditions.  I thanked them all profusely but somehow it didn’t seem enough – we’ll have to demonstrate our appreciation by getting them to take us up some more mountains in the future!

A considerable part of the mini-bus trip back to Marrakech was spent trying to formulate a plan to acquire tonic water to go with the duty free gin purchased on our flight to Morocco which had gone untouched in the mountains.  In the end, Andy and Albert volunteered to forego immediate showers and venture forth from the Riad in this valiant quest.  To maximise the chances of Andy getting a warm shower on his return I used the minimum amount of water I could get away with to remove the aroma of Toubkal then headed to the roof terrace to meet the others.  Our selfless duo had successfully returned from their shopping trip by this point and we toasted our successful trip in true brit-abroad style – G&Ts!  We had arranged for the Riad to provide us with our evening meal and soon retired inside to reflect on events of the previous days over a couple of lovely tagines.

A deserved reward!

Elevation profile from the walk-off:

Elevation profile from the walk-off

Day Seven – Marrakech

After a surprisingly chilly nights sleep (not much warmer than the refuge), the obligatory daylight stork viewing and cake for breakfast, we set off into the craziness that is Marrakech.

Storks in the daylight

Following the traditional tourist agenda we headed for the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, and at this time of morning it was a comparatively relaxing experience (no-one else was there yet!).

Jemaa el-Fnaa in the morning

Interesting hats

Although it looked like a hot day the temperature was as surprisingly low as it had been at night so Alan guided us somewhat circuitously to a cafe he remembered from a previous visit for warming drinks and ice-cream for those that remembered this day was supposed to be a holiday!

Warming refreshments and ice-cream

Temporarily sated we headed off to see some more of Marrakech.  It was decided that this would be best achieved by partaking in a hop-on hop-off bus tour.  After finding the main stop where we could buy tickets we boarded the bus and managed to secure good seats on the open top-deck.

An authentic bus tour!

From our excellent vantage point we were treated to the delights of Marrakech, both ancient and modern, which were enjoyed more fully when the entire group realised that the headphone commentary language could be switched to English!  During our first lap of the city we spotted various places for lunch but to our shame, and as a sign of how much we were missing home, we chose a certain American-origined burger chain – I felt guilty about the choice but not for long!

After our sneaky western lunch we headed back to Jemaa el-Fnaa which was exhibiting more signs of life.  We managed to ensure no-one in the group took a furtive picture of the snake charmers as none of us fancied a public confrontation then headed into the souks, which were now properly open, and whiled away the afternoon looking for unique souvenirs and bargains.

The souks

Somehow I didn’t think live baby turtles would be approved by customs and I didn’t want a wooden snake. Laura seemed to be the most successful shopper and headed back to the rhiad contemplating further excess baggage charges for tomorrow’s return flight.

Favourite hawker line: “It’s fake but cheap!”

Continuing in the non-local eating theme we headed to a recommended italian restaurant for our evening meal then returned once again to Jemaa el-Fnaa to witness its delights in the dark.  After a final coffee / ice cream in the square we returned to the rhiad worn out by a surfeit of local culture!

A spice stall at night

Day Eight – Coming Home

After a second cake-themed breakfast we grabbed our gear, trudged out to the nearest road and waited for the nice man with a bus to take us to the airport.

Waiting for the mini-bus

I had very sensibly decided not to risk my spare prosthetic leg in hold luggage so attached it to my day pack for the flight.  For some reason the rest of the group thought this was amusing and proceeded to take numerous photos of me in the check-in queue – I’m not sure why!

Queuing for check-in

What’s funny?!

We had been pre-warned of potential flight delays due to snow in the UK but were not really expecting any problems whilst going through security.

Putting up with the delay

Six hours later we boarded the plane with only slightly dulled spirits as Alan had maintained our morale with liberal applications of toblerone.  Tired but satisfied we made it back to snowy London and sadly said our goodbyes.  Our next challenge will be a somewhat different 100km walk across the south downs in July.  I wonder when I’ll next be needing crampons?