Be­come a week­end ad­ven­turer

Epic jour­neys are more ac­ces­si­ble than you might think. All you need is a free week­end and a sense of ad­ven­ture

Men's Fitness - - Contents - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy Glen Bur­rows

We climb Mount Toubkal in Morocco over a long week­end to prove epic ad­ven­tures are highly ac­ces­si­ble

When some­one asks you, “Up to much this week­end?” they prob­a­bly aren’t ex­pect­ing you to re­ply, “Oh, you know - just go­ing to climb the high­est moun­tain in north Africa.” But that, thanks to Short Haul Ad­ven­ture, a com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in trips that pack max­i­mum ac­tion into min­i­mum time, is a re­sponse you’re now able to give. The mini-epic in ques­tion in­volves fly­ing to Morocco on a Fri­day to climb Mount Toubkal – at 4,167m, the high­est peak in north Africa – then head­ing back to the UK on Mon­day.

The idea came about when per­sonal trainer and out­door en­thu­si­ast Lau­rence Daw­son wanted an ad­ven­ture that fit­ted into an un­for­giv­ing sched­ule. “About six years ago I was work­ing to­wards my Moun­tain Leader Award,” says Daw­son. “I couldn’t af­ford to take much time off work, but I was keen to get a broad view of the re­mote moun­tain­ous ar­eas of the Bri­tish Isles, Eu­rope and be­yond. I soon dis­cov­ered that I was able to ex­plore some very re­mote and serene land­scapes within a day’s jour­ney from my Lon­don home that I’d ini­tially thought were be­yond my reach.”

Now Daw­son of­fers the trips as stand­alone ad­ven­tures as well as in­cen­tives to his long-term per­sonal train­ing clients. “Be­ing able to of­fer an ad­ven­ture to a client is an ex­cit­ing and novel al­ter­na­tive to the more tra­di­tional goals of los­ing fat.” He can

do that too, if that’s your main aim. “There is some­thing very re­ward­ing, both phys­i­cally and men­tally, in the act of walk­ing from one place to an­other while car­ry­ing a heavy back pack.”

Daw­son also says the prospect of this kind of chal­lenge has a pow­er­ful and ob­vi­ous ef­fect on his clients. “There’s noth­ing like a dead­line to get you mo­ti­vated,” he says. “Es­pe­cially when you’re trav­el­ling as part of a small group that’s un­der­tak­ing an ar­du­ous phys­i­cal ad­ven­ture.” No-one wants to let the team down, af­ter all. Least of all MF when we take on the Toubkal chal­lenge. HEAD FOR HEIGHTS Our flight from Gatwick ar­rives in Mar­rakech, the ma­jor city just 65km from Toubkal, at 7pm. Rather than head­ing for the colour­ful chaos of the city cen­tre, we pile into a car and drive to the small town of Imlil at the foot of the At­las moun­tain range. Af­ter a tagine feast at Ho­tel Dar Imlil we or­gan­ise our kit and get our heads down for the night.

We leave the ho­tel at 8am and meet a guide at the ap­pro­pri­ately named Bureau des Guides. You can do the trip un­escorted, but their lo­cal knowl­edge will make your trip smoother and safer. We make our way out of Imlil and on to the stony in­clines of Toubkal.

The first sec­tion of the route is pretty easy and we zigzag up a hill­side be­fore cross­ing a dry riverbed where coarse bushes give way to mixed ter­rain and then bar­ren rock. As we move on­wards the in­cline in­creases and the ter­rain gets more chal­leng­ing. I’m glad I fol­lowed Daw­son’s

pre-trip train­ing plan (see the box on p56-57). I’m breath­ing harder than I would be at sea level and as we pass 2,500m I cal­cu­late that my heart rate is over 160bpm.

At about 2,600m above sea level we reach the snow line. We de­bate the need for cram­pons and de­cide against, be­cause the white stuff here is nice and com­pacted. What is re­quired, how­ever, is con­cen­tra­tion be­cause the path is nar­row and ex­posed. One care­less foot­step could re­sult in a tum­ble down the moun­tain­side. For that rea­son, Daw­son gives me an ice axe and we go through var­i­ous axe ar­rest po­si­tions de­signed to break your fall if you lose your foot­ing.

By now the peaks ris­ing be­fore us are cov­ered in a serene blan­ket of un­touched snow, and we can see the refuge up ahead where we’ll be spend­ing the night. The fi­nal hour of the day is the hard­est, with my heart rate soar­ing and the tem­per­a­ture plum­met­ing. It’s about -8°C as we shuf­fle into the Mou­flons refuge with the sun set­ting. The dorm rooms and beds are ba­sic but clean and af­ter a day of walk­ing up­hill, any flat comfy sur­face feels like lux­ury.

TAKE MY BREATH AWAY

Our plan is to set off for the sum­mit at about 8am. Some groups choose to leave the refuge pre-dawn but that means you end up as­cend­ing the moun­tain with head­torches. You might beat the crowds but you also miss out on some of the spec­tac­u­lar views.

As we be­gin our as­sault on the sum­mit the con­di­tions are per­fect and there’s a beau­ti­ful soft light hit­ting the moun­tain­side. To­day does call for cram­pons, but we’ve left most of our kit at the refuge so we’re trav­el­ling light. It’s not a tech­ni­cal as­cent but it still pays to use an ice axe to steady your progress. The trick is to hook the axe into the hill­side so you use it as an im­pro­vised walk­ing stick. In fact, so many peo­ple have walked up there be­fore us that there are al­most a se­ries of ice steps to guide your path.

We’re ap­proach­ing the end of a long snow-cov­ered scree slope that looks like it’s the sum­mit, but when we get to top of the sec­tion there’s an ex­tra zigzag climb to the top. Or­di­nar­ily that false fin­ish would be de­mor­al­is­ing but you’re re­warded with an as­ton­ish­ing view of the At­las mountains. If you had any ex­tra breath that sight would take it away but it’s now -15°C and the air is dry and thin.

The fi­nal sec­tion in­volves a mini-break about ev­ery ten paces. Even­tu­ally we reach the sum­mit and, sud­denly, with a cel­e­bra­tory bar of choco­late in hand, it feels in­cred­i­bly calm and peace­ful. Then the el­e­ments de­cide we’ve had it too easy and the sky be­gins to darken as clouds form above us.

Go­ing down is sig­nif­i­cantly eas­ier, and we use a run­nings­lid­ing hy­brid to “ski” down over the snow and scree that gets us back to the refuge in an hour. As well as eat­ing lunch there, we do a se­ries of mo­bil­ity and stretch­ing drills. Some brave in­di­vid­u­als are at­tempt­ing an­other sum­mit but we opt for an af­ter­noon of re­lax­ation at the refuge be­fore a fi­nal night in the mountains.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing a sense of achieve­ment seems to give each step on the gen­tle de­cline back to Imlil ex­tra en­ergy. Step­ping off the plane in the UK, on the other hand, brings MF back to real­ity. It’s hard to be­lieve that just 24 hours ear­lier I was in the rugged and dra­matic north African wilder­ness.

“Been any­where nice?” the taxi driver asks. Well…

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