Friday, September 21, 2018

Morocco Mount Toubkal Climb - Day 2

Day 2 started with early breakfast from the always faithful Abdullah and also met Stewart and Simon who made part of the team we were going to be in. 

At 7am the van came to pick us up and we left for a mini Marrakech tour to pick up other team members, 7 Portughes, 2 girls from London and a Croatian living in Germany with a fantastic character! This done we headed for the 2hr drive to Imlil. 

On arrival at Imlil we met Ibrahim and Hussein who were going to be our guides. They checked if we needed any extra gear (which they can provide) and then asked us to leave our additional items so that they can be taken to the refuge by mule. Here was my first mistake - I thought I was light enough and Ibrahim made it a point that my pack was too much. I insisted it was fine, but clearly it wasn’t!!

View of the High Atlas from Imlil

We left towards the refuge which is an 18km trek, but Imlil standing at 1800m and the refuge at 3200m that’s an xxxm climb. 

The initial part of the trek was actually pleasant through trees and running water, makes you think more of the alps then morocco, but when the tree cover opened it became an ultimate furnace! I was simply soaking wet which I guess I added an extra kilo to my pack, but we pushed on. 

The views are spectacular and on the way you meet lots o locals and tourists on the way or back from the mountain trail. Also you come across small shack like shops selling orange juice and water and obviously food. In fact we stopped for lunch in a place near the river shrine for a nice vegetable tagine and some tasty fish in tomato sauce. 

Whilst enjoying lunch, the weather changed and it started raining. By the time we left it was pouring. Yes waterproofs, pack cover etc I was still soaking wet, sometimes feeling cold sometimes hot - but I know that’s part of it when you’re out in the wilderness so surely not complaining. After around another 3hr trek we arrived at the refuge - rain still pouring! 

Me - already looking not 100%

We were offered mint tea, popcorn and biscuits and then showed to our accommodations, which was a room with a wall full of bunks ready to accommodate all of us. Here you have to say goodbye to comfort and just dig in your pack to get out warm dry clothes. The bathroom situation was basic, but hey there was a toilet!!

View of base camp

After finally dry we went down for dinner, which included Soup (harira) and a mix of veg and meat tagines. To end the dinner in style Ibrahim advised us that we will be leaving to the mountain at 3am - so that was it alarm at 2am 

Here I must say I started already feeling the effects of altitude. 

Harira - a yummy Moroccan soup

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Morocco - Mount Toubkal Climb - Day 1

Traveling alone has its benefits - you get to do things faster: checking in, getting through security, getting a drink and chilling smoking a cigarette and even if you are too early (which usually I am) no one is there to ask you why and you can simply read, answer mails or write a blog like I am doing now. 

On the other hand, it has its learning curve and can also get boring sometimes. I love my me time, but it’s also great to have company and the ability to chat and share with like minded people. 

Today I am in Marrakech and this is my first time in Morocco. I landed in Casablanca and for comfort sake I had pre booked a taxi to take me for the near 3 hour drive. I met Kamal just out of the terminal and was amazed by his great command of English, which he proudly (and don’t blame him) announced is self thought! It was a long drive but actually very pleasant with ongoing conversations about tourism, politics, culture and even touched on the sensitive subject of women drivers!! 

Around 11pm (since we even stopped for a coffee) Kamal left me in the hands of Abdullah who came to greet me and escort me to the Riad. Here I just had a couple of relaxed minutes on the outside terrace and then headed to bed. 

In the morning - 5am - I was woken by the soft but intense chant. Someone was praying. Whatever I don’t mind and I tried to sleep again, but after an hour I was up again ready to start the day. Breakfast, shower and out (a bit later as these guys seem to take it easy in the morning). 

Morning view from the roof of Riad Quartier des Palais - Marrakech
Breakfast at Riad Quartier des Palais - Marrakech

I headed towards the infamous Jema el-fnaa, the market square of Marrakech. Yes I was early and kind of surprised the shop keepers when they were still cleaning the outside perimeter of their shops. Still the expected, “hello sir, come see my shop” was inevitable, but a simple “shukran” and a smile went a long way with these guys. 

I had no plan. I just felt like walking around the tiny winding roads of the Mรฉdina and be happy of not getting lost, or extremely lost (mind you if you feel lost, follow the largest fast flow of people going towards one direction- that’s usually towards the main square again. 

Koutoubia - This large 12th-century Almohad-style mosque features a plaza with gardens & a fountain.

After sometime, I decided to try what seems to be the national pastime- “people watching”. Now I never understood how people managed to sit for hours in cafes in Sliema, simply watching the day go by, but here I decided to try. So spotted a cafe, targeted a table with a good view of the square and ordered some mint tea. Now here mint tea, means mint tea, that is a glass with tea and a tree of mint stuck in! I am not complaining, although hot, its amazingly refreshing and very much needed when temperature is going over the 30’s. 

Mint tea - glass of tea and a tree of mint inside :)
Well my “people watching” attempt lasted for about an hour and a half (include another cup of ultra strong coffee). So I headed out again towards the Souk to see what oddities I might spot. 

Well after lunchtime, decided to stop for a snack and settled for a simple meatball and peas in tomato sauce dish served with some amazing local fresh bread. 

A Kefta tagine with peas

Lunch done, I opted for a break in the airconditioned comfort of my Riad, also bearing in mind the next day I had the start of the Toubkal climb - which will be about 5hrs, so resting was also on my agenda.

Sunset from the Riad's roof

Friday, June 22, 2018

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - 8 - Summit Night

On the 6th Day (if you are doing the Machame Route), you will arrive to Barufu Camp, which is the last Camp site before reaching Kilimanjaro's summit.

Saying it plainly, Barufu Camp is not one of the nicest camps on this mountain and these are some points to illustrate what I mean:
  • Its very crowded, since a lot of groups meet there for their attempt to summit. 
  • It's situated on a slope so your tent will basically be at an angle.
  • There are a lot of loose rocks, some looking like slate and one needs to walk with caution (its very depressing getting hurt just hours before your push to the summit!) 
Barufu Camp - Kilimanjaro - Photo Credit Sacha Cutajar
Well, grumbling aside, still it offers great views (everywhere has great views on this mountain!) and also, I think this was the most "emotional" camp, since you will arrive quite early, eat lunch and your guides will immediately suggest that you go to sleep to be up again at 11:30pm to start up for summit. This can have a profound effect and it did on some of our group members.

Barufu Camp - Kilimanjaro - Photo Credit Sacha Cutajar

One suggestion I can give is to prepare all before you go to sleep.

If you want to wash (or simply feel fresher by the use of wet wipes) do so now, wear your summit gear and prepare your back pack for summit, before you actually sleep. You will be rudely awoken at 1130pm so you will not be in a great mood to prep, thus having all ready is a plus! Also its good to wake up in your summit gear ready to go! Oh Have your Head Torch ready!!

Barufu Camp - Kilimanjaro - Photo Credit Sacha Cutajar
The trek to the summit for me is actually like a dream. Maybe it is just because I was not fully awake when we started out or the over exhaustion afterwards, my brain seems to just have kept the best bits.

You will be seeing a lot of groups trekking up. Mainly you will see their head-torches and you will see some that are a long way higher than you - don't let this put you down. Trust in your guide and yourself and always remember "Pole Pole" does it - slowly slowly. We actually encountered groups that zoomed next to us and we felt like "hey those guys are amazing", only to see them being rushed down with some guides as altitude sickness kicked in on one or two of them. It's really not a nice site to see, but you need to be aware that it does happen! Also no one in the guidebooks, websites and videos told me how many people I will see (or just hear due to the darkness), puking - but yes its a reality, so do use your head-torch well and check where you will sit or against what you will rest your back to avoid nasty surprises.

Eventually after what seems an eternity (honestly I was kind of on autopilot and just kept going on), we reached Stella Point which is the first "peak" on Kibo to say so.

Stella Point - Mount Kilimanjaro
Some people just simply stop here but we wanted to do the full thing and headed to Kibo, the highest point of the mountain.

This is a video showing extracts of the last trek to reach Uhuru peak - unfortunately the GoP Battery died before we arrived!

But we did make it! And I urge anyone who is reading this - just go for it and climb a mountain, it will definitely change your life! 

Me at Uhuru Peak - Mount Kilimanjaro

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - 7 - The Campsites

If you are a weathered adventure seeker or a total outdoors junkie, then this will be a breeze for your, but for someone like me, who loves the outdoors, training and exploring, but was kinda stuck in a bit of too much of a comfort zone, then its a different story.

My camping experience and knowledge before doing Kilimanjaro was down to, well, zero - so this was going to be an entirely new experience for me and I must say it was one of the scariest, obviously since it was an unknown factor.

What I can say is that its not that bad. If you go with a good and reputable company, the camps are usually very good quality and one thing I noticed is that the porters assigned to you and your tent mate (unless you decide to stay solo), will do their best to place your tent in the best and the flattest place possible. The latter is very important, since a rock under your back is not a nice feeling when you're trying to get some rest!

In my case we had rental sleeping bags (top tip: take a sleeping bag liner - its more hygienic and does add a layer of insulation) and sleeping mats. The sleeping mat was just a simple foam mat, it did the trick but others of the group who had an air mattress did boast of added luxury, so next time camping I might actually check these out.

When you arrive at your next camp, after a 5 hour or so trek, you will find you group's mini camp town (which will have neighbouring camp towns all around the campsite) made up of guest tents, tents for the porters and guides, dining tents and in some cases communal tents. Your porter will be waiting for you to show you the location of your tent. One thing I found very handy is to "mark" the tent with a piece of coloured string or fabric to identify it, since all the tents are the same and if you are out at night for a quick loo visit and cannot find your tent its no fun when the temperatures are at minus something!

One suggestion is to keep all your belongings in your tent at night. This is mostly to avoid getting your shoes or any other gear totally wet at night, the other is (although not much is reported on Kili) to avoid ending missing your trekking shoes in the morning - you never know!

Overall you shouldn't be scared, the first two nights might be a bit tough, but you will get used to it and you will be calling your tiny tent home in no time! Just let your hair down and go with the flow :)

Our Campsite at Shira Camp

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - 6 - Weather & Clothing - what to expect

Before embarking on the feat to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, I had read a lot about it, watched videos and listened to the experiences of other "Kilimanjaro Challenge" Participants who had done it before me. What I can conclude is that ever experience is different and mine was different from theirs too!

Here I will mention things which are generic situations and tips & tricks, which normally everyone will feel and experience, but for the rest it will be your personal experience when climbing that will make your adventure unique and completely yours.

I will start with the Weather and the clothing approach for the climb

The Weather. 
The mountain has its own weather system, so weather actually is kind of unpredictable, but there are some typical patterns including :

Start (jungle area)
Hot / Humid / Wet, but turns colder when reaching higher altitude (towards Machame Camp)

Mid Section camps
Still can be very warm (remember you will be walking), but turns nippy quickly and might even rain or hail - so always Layer up and have your waterproofs handy and easily accessible in your day sack - in our case it even snowed, so you get the idea ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

Higher Camps
Here it starts getting colder indeed! But again the best strategy is to layer your clothing. Since you will be walking a great deal, you are going to be creating body warmth and you do not want to overheat, so having the ability to remove and/or add clothing easily is key.

Here you will be starting off at around midnight, so be prepared for cold, but yet again make sure that your summit clothing layers, give you the ability to open and vent. Also here have good head gear to keep your head warm and also good UV protect sunglasses or ski goggles, since when the sun goes up its bright, very bright!

At Night
In the tents, it can turn cold even with the sleeping bag, so best is to layer up also at night. If you are not using your own sleeping bag (you got a rental) get yourself a bag liner, this gives it a higher sense of hygiene plus it does add to warmth! Also have your jacket handy next to you just in case you have to get out to pee..... or if you're a bit lazy and its fine with your tent mate use a pee bottle! (Mind you the latter is easier for males!!)

In Summary
  • Have different clothes you can layer up. (these include both uppers and pants - you can also opt for warmers underneath, but be careful you do not overheat!) 
  • Get your self a good overall waterproof jacket and pants
  • Sun block cream (or spray - its easier to apply). 
  • Good UV protect Sun Glasses or Ski Goggles.
  • Head gear - from running beanie to heavy wool beanie.
  • Buffs - the more the merrier (plus they add colour) 
  • Socks & liners - have spares in a waterproof bag - your feet are the most important thing you got here!
  • Pack your Summit clothes (inc. Socks) in a waterproof bag and use ONLY on summit night! Better safe knowing you have dry summit clothes!

Sorting all the gear

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - 5 - Day 3 (Starting the climb)

No alarm clock required - 530am was up - excitement, edginess you would say - yes but mainly I just needed to pee yet again (thanks Diamox!).

By 730am I was all ready from breakfast and went for my duffle bag weighing in and to fill my water bottles and in the main yard of the hotel there was a “controlled” chaos - people running around with bags, supplies, crates etc. How many people will be with us?!? Well we found out that we had about 60 accompanying us from guides (6) to kitchen staff, porters etc. since we were such a big group.

Weighing In
When all the team members had their gear checked by the crew, the owner of the Marangu hotel introduced our guides and each and then we were asked to find our personal porter who had a paper with our name on. My porter was Frank, a thin, young chap, for whom immediately I felt kind of sorry that he had to carry my stuff all the way up a mountain - could he do it? He looked so frail - but looks are deceiving and Frank was going to show me this all through our trip. 

Meeting the guides and the porters
“Hellos” over - we were asked to go to the main parking lot where we we found a scene from an apocalypse movie. Jeeps, vans and an ex military truck with people climbing on top shoving gear and bags all over the place. I was speechless - which is quite something for me! 

Loading the vehicles
On the way to our starting point of the “Machame Route”, the Machame Gate, we had the opportunity to chat with one of our guides (Reggie) and he gave us a bit of an insight of how they work, how the porters work and well the not so easy life they lead - but that the mountain is a “provider” for them and that’s why they respect it so much. 

Machame Gate
On arrival we were offered a packed lunch which was an introduction to the Avocado sandwich (you’ll see a lot of those!) and after some final group photos we started off towards our first camp. 
First lunch on the Mountain
The track towards Machame Camp is mainly jungle and you are walking uphill all the time. It’s a very well maintained pathway some of it with makeshift stairs made of wood. It’s not extremely difficult, but it’s hot and humid and long, very long, some 7 hours long!

On the way to Machame Camp
My suggestion is to start light and layer up accordingly, mostly when the sun start going down like that you are comfortable. Also have your head torch handy since at dusk it gets dark quick due to the vegetation and you definitely need to watch your step here!! (The route image below is thanks to Sacha Cutajar our teammate who logged everything {and I mean everything} during this adventure!)

Route to Machame Camp - Credit to Sacha Cutajar 
We arrived at 8pm (left around 1pm) at camp and after sorting our gear in our tents we sat for dinner and that was simply amazing! It actually felt good to eat Soup and a nice warm meal.

Personally I was a bit "agitated" since it was my first time sleeping in a camp, but this was made so much simpler by my great tent mate, Seb, who made all look so easy. Honestly I was tired, so the camp actually looked fantastically inviting and comfy. So in we went to sleep and rest for another long day the next day.

Getting ready for bed in Machame Camp

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - 4 - Day 2 (Orientation in Marangu)

The day started off with me trying to switch a "birds' call" iPhone alarm, only to realise it was an actual bird just out of our window!

Anyway - was a good start and after a shower went up to the hotel's dining room for breakfast - Glorious!!! Fruit, cereals, toast, eggs to order and some strange looking but tasty bacon & sausage - the basic staples, but all amazingly fresh. I must stress on the fruit. In Tanzania the Papaya & Mangos are to die for and I simply couldn't stop eating (that also might explain some rush trips to the bathroom later on when thinking about it!).

First Marangu Breakfast
The Fruit ๐Ÿ˜
After breakfast, we all got ready to go for a walk around Marangu, but before managed to get some basic Swahili words :

Thank you          : Asante
You’re welcome : Karibu 
Good morning   : Habari 
Water                 : Madi
Hello                  : Jumbo  (Don't mix this with Jamba since the latter means "fart" and can be embarrassing!!)

Before leaving I managed to get a quick glimpse of the mountain, since when we had arrived the day before it was always covered in clouds. This was a shock! It was huge and I couldn't help thinking "how the hell will I manage to go up there!?"

A small glimpse of the mountain
When you are training in Malta, its easy to loose perspective of what it means to climb a mountain. The highest point on the islands is 253m (830ft), so its very hard for us to imagine what 5,985m looks like - not to mention how completely unknown is the reaction altitude would have on us! (That was one of my major concerns.)

When we all gathered, our guides (these are guys which will be waiting outside the hotel grounds to see if anyone wants some guided tour - easy to find, cheap and they are quite knowledgable indeed)

The target location was "Ndoro" (meaning Waterfall) and it is found through some winding paths between banana plantations and coffee bean fields, which are quite abundant in the area. The guides told us that the waterfall is a living proof of how important Kilimanjaro is for the people, since the water coming from its glaciers makes the land so fertile. This immediately makes me wonder how things would change if, or mostly when, the glacier would vanish, since unfortunately this is receding with an amazingly alarming rate. 

Pathway to the waterfall
After nearly a 45min (or so) walking we reached a steep staircase down to the valley and here the guides suggested we avail of walking sticks being offered by some local guys at a makeshift bar (which after we had to tip obviously), to ensure we do not tumble or hurt ourselves just before our climb which was starting the next day. Due to being extra cautious, we took quite some time to get down next to the river, but when the waterfall revealed itself it was oh so worth the walk.

The river - yes you come down from up there!
It didn't take long at all for us to simply decide "let's swim!" and thats where the fun started. The water was freezing and the rocks extremely slippy, but this was an amazing and refreshing (pun intended) experience.

Ndoro Waterfall
Well, we actually needed more refreshing after the climb up, which wasn't at all easy and in fact some of the team opted for a quick transfer to our lunch destination by van.

Our lunch venue was a restaurant near the Marangu Market area. Well the place was a room furnished with plastic chairs and tables and here we were offered a meal of BBQ meat and bananas. Honestly, the meat wasn't great and the banana, the way it was cooked, I guess its very much an acquired taste.

Helping ourselves to BBQ meat & bananas
food Marangu Tanzania
Slightly charred meat and grilled banana :) 
But yet again the fruit saved the day and I think a picture says a thousand words so......

Avocado, Pineapple, Mango & Watermelon
After lunch, we headed back to the hotel and after a quick refuelling at the bar we were summoned for the main climbing briefing. 

Here we were given the instructions for the next day (early morning) as follows:

  • 7am sharp Breakfast. 
  • Have all things ready - Day Pack and Duffle Bag. The latter cannot be more than 15kg and is thoroughly weighed - anything extra you need to carry in your day pack (which is more than fair!
  • Prepare luggage with extra stuff to be kept in hotels luggage room.
  • Prepare water bottles and ensure you have 3. These are to be filled with filtered water (which is very safe, but you can always use sterilisation tabs to be sure. Important to try these before as the taste can be somewhat strange
  • Meet the Guides and the Porters. 
  • Ensure a last dash to the bathrooms since the drive is long (& you won't be seeing one for 7 days!)

Also, we were explained our route and we were given lots of tips and "warnings", which actually come very handy during the climb. One very important instruction is the pace. You will hear the guides saying a lot "Pole Pole" (read Po-Le, Po-Le) which simply means SLOW DOWN. This is very important due to the altitude. Yes you take longer, but you tire a lot less. One experiment you should do to see the effects of altitude is to try to run for a couple of metres and see how this effects you - trust me, I tried and its not nice! 

Another important tip is Hydration. You need to drink lots of water, frequent sips to keep the fluid intake constant. This is essential to counter the effects of altitude.

Then we discussed Diamox. This is a pharmaceutical which aids breathing in high altitude situations. The issue with Diamox is that there are many different schools of thought how to use it. The suggestion we were given was to start that evening with half a pill and continue with half pills for the next 2 days, then switch to a whole pill when we reach the +3K meter mark. Obviously you can get professional help and advise from a doctor or pharmacist on this, but my suggestion is always try this first before travelling to ensure it doesn't has any side effects. Two side effects which seem to hit everyone are tingling of extremities (toes and fingers) and excessive urination - yes you pee a lot! This also means that apart from the increased amount of water intake you need due to the altitude - you need to also compensate for the extra urination - that's why 3 bottles of water are better than 2! 

The Briefing
Well, we were all excited now, pumped up and ready to, ermm....... relax a bit and have a beer ๐Ÿ˜‡

Post Briefing relaxation
Serengeti Beer

Morocco Mount Toubkal Climb - Day 2

Day 2 started with early breakfast from the always faithful Abdullah and also met Stewart and Simon who made part of the team we were ...