The Atlas Mountains

At the end of November, after spending two months in London, I decided it was time to go back to the mountains! Morocco seemed to be the perfect place to go; only a three and a half hour flight away, fairly cheap, and some big mountains!

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A few days later, I landed in Marrakech where I got ripped off by a taxi driver as any good tourist would do ;). Fortunately, the second taxi driver was much more genuine and took me to Imlil at 1800m where my hotel was. The road leading to the Atlas Mountains didn’t disappoint, the sceneries were breath-taking.

My initial plan was to climb up Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa culminating at 4200m after a couple of days of acclimatisation; but after my first run I was kindly reminded by my legs that running on the flat in London wasn’t the perfect prep for the mountains. Going to such altitude is no walk in the park and requires a good level of fitness – well at least if you want to enjoy the hike!

Since I wanted to summit Toubkal at a decent pace and have fun while doing so, I decided to wait a few days for my legs to get back to ‘mountain-speed’ before heading out. The trails there are unbelievably beautiful! Some really nice hard-packed rocky and dusty trails with endless routes and circuits to choose from! Even if I was there in late-November the temperatures were very nice (15-20°C). Hot enough to run in short shorts and t-shirts, but cool enough not to overheat.  It was a bit chilly during the evenings though but hey you can’t have it all 🙂

TOUBKAL!!!

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After these few days of training and acclimatising, I felt ready to go. The round trip to the top from Imlil is around 35k with 2500m of climbing. The first part of the route up to the basecamp (3200m) is really enjoyable as the gradient allows you to jog up without too much effort; the section from the refuge to the top is another story 😉 This last section is much steeper and technical. The altitude as well starts to play its part and so settling into a fast hike is more comfortable – at least it was for me. Once you get to the top, the views are utterly unbelievable. There is a spectacular 360° view looking over the surrounding mountains, the only downside is the steel structure marking the top. It’s simply ugly to be honest… After summiting, the run back down is great with lots of runnable descents and only few tricky bits.

The round trip took me 5:45 hours. The people from the hotel thought I was a bit crazy 😉 They are probably not completely wrong…

It took me a few days to fully recover from running up Toubkal. Spending time at high altitude always takes a lot out of the body even if it’s not very technical.

A few days later, my Dad came and met me in the Atlas Mountains. He likes to join me on my adventures around the world whenever he can. So far he has come to Chile and Nepal, and now Morocco! He is not a runner but we both enjoy spending time hiking in the mountains together even if he talks too much for my taste 😉

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The plan was to hike up Toubkal together, this time in two days as my father slows me down ;-), staying one night at the basecamp.

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On the first day, we went for a gentle hike so he could acclimatise. The next day, we made our way to the basecamp. My Dad usually responds quite well to altitude, which is handy as he usually only meets me for few days. Day three was the day of the big climb but the weather was not looking very good. It was cloudy and very windy. Rain was also forecasted for the afternoon so we set off early in the morning in order to avoid getting wet. The wind made the temperature drop and it was getting very cold. Nevertheless, we put all our layers on and went for it.

Everything was going well until about halfway when my Dad started to struggle to keep up with my pace and I couldn’t really slow down as I was already quite cold. My Dad started to doubt he could make it to the top. I knew it was the altitude that had started to play tricks on his mind so I told him to keep pushing but he was still dropping the pace so we had to take drastic measures. I told him to hold on to my backpack and I would pull him up to the top, we didn’t make it all the way here to turn round! So he grabbed my bag and we forged on. My quads were on fire, but there was no way I would let him down – we had to go to the top! At least, I wasn’t cold anymore.

When we arrived at the summit, we both felt really happy we made it and my Dad started to feel better; having had experience with altitude before, I knew it was his mind messing  with him. I was very proud of him for not giving up! The way back down went well and we made it back to the hostel in one piece. Well, my Dad stumbled and fell a few times but nothing unusual here…

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This was our last day in the Atlas Mountains… I really didn’t think that the trails here would be so amazing. The weather at this time of year was just perfect. I loved it and will definitely go back. It is roughly the same price as going to the Alps and it allows you to train higher which can be a great advantage.

Ultra Chamois

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