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Lessons Learned From Morocco

The landscape started to look more familiar as I left Marrakech

During my first few days in Marrakech, temperatures approached 40 degrees Celsius. The noises, the smells, the dust – all compounded by the blistering, relentless heat – had begun to wear me down. I had been overseas for five months and was beginning to miss the mountains where I spent so much time while growing up in Colorado. I needed to feel a cool breeze and walk on rocky trails, so I packed my backpack and headed, tent less and stove less, toward the Atlas Mountains.

As I climbed higher, the landscape around me evolved and I felt more and more at home. It wasn’t long before I stood in alpine tundra, beneath Morocco’s highest peak, Jebel Toubkal.

After a cramped, three-hour taxi ride and a long wait in a dusty bus station I began to question my decision to leave the city. So far the countryside had been barren and dry as we careened along the potholed highway. As I began the next leg of my journey, a jammed bus ride that would hopefully take me high into the mountains, the man sitting directly in front of me began to throw up violently into a Ziploc bag. The ride passed slowly and uncomfortably until we gained a small pass and I caught my first glimpse of the mountains. They rose high and steep, purple above the brown ridges of the steep valleys we were traveling through.

Friends that I made as I traveled through the mountains

A few hours later, I stood on the outskirts of a small, mud-walled village. I wandered along the dirt road leading away from the village and climbed a steep hillside to set up my camp for the night. I laid my sleeping bag out as the sunset and took my first breaths of cool mountain air as I boiled rice over the fire in a tin can I had brought from the city.

Over the next few days, I hiked my way towards the high peaks, working my way ever higher through the different valleys and villages. I pumped water from small streams that tumbled through the thirsty landscape and greeted local farmers who road by on tired donkeys. As I climbed higher, the landscape around me evolved and I felt more and more at home. It wasn’t long before I stood in alpine tundra, beneath Morocco’s highest peak, Jebel Toubkal.

A simple meal

Sleeping under the stars that night I awoke shivering in the early morning hours. I restarted my fire and watched the suns path down the rocky peaks until it reached my camp. I quickly packed up my things and headed up the steep talus towards the peaks upper basins. Huffing my way up the steep trail, I could have been right back in Colorado, climbing a Fourteener. As the altitude increased my breathing became more labored and I couldn’t help smiling at the familiar feeling.

As I made my way off the summit, a stray snowflake whipped past. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but quickly more flakes dotted the sky and swirled about me.

By the time I reached the summit ridge, however, I was wearing every layer I had brought with me, and dark storm clouds were gathering among the peaks. A fog rolled in and the rock became slippery and cold, hindering my already slow progress. Finally, I stumbled onto the summit, where a small metal pyramid had been erected and, gasping for breath, and stared off the steep mountainside into the murky grey.

One of the villages I passed on my way to Jebel Toubkal

I sat for a moment and ogled at the fact that it could be so cold here when a few days earlier I had languished in the dusty heat of Marrekech. I stretched my cold fingers and decided I should head off the peak and out of the stiff wind that was gaining strength. As I made my way off the summit, a stray snowflake whipped past. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but quickly more flakes dotted the sky and swirled about me. I bundled up my windbreaker and tucked my hat tightly around my ears as the snow and wind grew in intensity. Slowly but surely the rocky climber’s trail in front of me began to fill with snow and I bent low to make certain I didn’t lose it.

I stood shivering and soaked to the core on the doorstep of the rock-walled building. I knocked hard at the door and was greeted by a concerned Berber man who beckoned me inside.

My initial excitement wonder at the flakes was turning to concern. I stumbled onward through the storm, convinced I would leave the clouds at a lower elevation and, miraculously, found the fork that I hoped would lead me to a high-mountain climbers refuge where I could seek shelter. The trail grew steeper now and I slipped once with my heavy pack landing hard on my tailbone.

Snapped this picture as the weather started to turn

Just as I was about to seek shelter under one of the rocky outcroppings that littered the mountainside, the snow eased up and in the valley below I spotted a brown building, nearly invisible against the identically-colored landscape. My energy renewed I headed down the trail as the snow picked back up and, within and hour, I stood shivering and soaked to the core on the doorstep of the rock-walled building. I knocked hard at the door and was greeted by a concerned Berber man who beckoned me inside.

The author, posing for a selfie

That night the sleet and wind hammered the side of the refuge as I wolfed down hot soup and dried my clothes. Just as they do in Colorado, the mountains had shown their ability to turn in an instant. A place I felt so comfortable and at home in had quickly morphed into something that could have threatened my life. But maybe the untamed nature of the mountains is exactly why we feel so comfortable among them.

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About The Author

stash member Taylor Graham

I'm a former TGR intern and adventurer who, above all, enjoys telling a good story. www.taylorbuzzellgraham.com

Great Story, Thank you for sharing it. Lesson Learned.

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