Volunteers wanted to climb Mt Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains…
I was in from the moment the email arrived on a dull, cold December day, asking for volunteers to climb Mt Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains. I didn’t need to think twice, so I signed up immediately. A new country to explore, an adventure, motivation to get fitter and a chance to fundraise for charity, this was ticking a whole lot of boxes for me.
Then reality sunk in
I’m over 50, I’m ridiculously unfit and the summit of Mt Toubkal is at 4,167 metres (13,671 ft). The only time in the last 40 years I’ve been at that altitude is in an airplane!
But, I live for adventures and new challenges, so I settled down to find out everything about the trek before booking.
So What’s The Travel Plan?
- When are we going? September 2019
- Where are we flying to? Marrakesh
- How long is the trip? 4 days
- How long will we trek for each day? Approx 6 hours each day, but up to 11 hours on “summit day”!!
- Where will we stay? Secure mountain refuges, in dorm style rooms
- What’s the temperature range? From 25 celsius in Marrakesh to -10 celsius at the summit!
The three big worries I had about heading off to the Atlas Mountains were
- security for visitors to Morocco
- avoiding altitude sickness
- getting fit enough to manage the trip
Security For Visitors to Morocco
In December 2018, two young female backpackers were brutally murdered while camping in the Atlas Mountains. These brave young Scandinavian women, Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, were knifed and beheaded on camera while camping in a remote area of the Atlas Mountains in what appears to have been an ISIS terrorist attack.
Current travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth office is that most of the 650,000 tourist visits to Morocco every year are trouble free. I’ve taken comfort from the fact that I’ll be travelling with a highly reputable, experienced company with knowlegeable local guides. I’ll also continue to check the Foreign and Commonwealth office advice, in case the situation changes.
I’ve also made sure to insure my trip comprehensively with my go-to travel insurance provider World Nomads.
Avoiding Altitude Sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness)
I’ve sought advice about altitude sickness, learned about the symptoms and how to avoid it. The best advice I found was on the NHS site here. Altitude sickness can affect anyone, but taking time to acclimatise to high altitude over a couple of days is what’s important. I’ll also be taking a first aid kit with me with medication including:
- acetazolamide to prevent and treat high altitude sickness
- ibuprofen and paracetamol for headaches
- anti-sickness medication, like promethazine, for nausea
Getting Fit for the Trek
With such a significant trek planned, I definitely can’t leave my fitness preparation to the last minute and I won’t be just winging it either! I’ve taken advice from a friend who is a personal trainer and he’s told me to build up to the trek over at least six months. Fortunately, I have just over seven months before we travel! I’m nowhere near as physically fit as I’d like to be and I know that the outdoor elements combined with changes in the altitude will affect my body and put me at risk of injury if I’m not well prepared for it.
Here’s How I’m Planning to Train For Elevation
- My trainer has advised me that the best preparation is to get outside and hike on real trails, rather than pounding the treadmill. That’s music to my ears as I loathe the gym, but love to walk outdoors!
- I’ll be matching every indoor workout with aerobic outdoor exercise including running, swimming, and biking. (Makes me sound like a triathlete, but I’m far from those lofty heights).
- I’ve just completed my first two 5k parkruns and will continue with these, while making sure that I walk at least ten thousands steps EVERY day – something that’s often a challenge as I usually drive a desk from 8am until 6pm!
- My saving grace is that I live in glorious North Yorkshire, with fabulous hilly terrain right on my doorstep. I’ve started taking long hikes on uneven rocky terrain, and I run up and down the stairs at home like a maniac, much to the amusement of my teenager. I know that climbing requires more endurance than strength, so I’m focusing on increasing the time I exercise for, rather than on building muscle or power. My trainer’s advice is to build up to taking a filled up day pack out with me too, so I can get used to the weight of the two to three litres of water I’ll be carrying on the trek.
- Finally, I go to a weekly circuit training class with the fantastic Matt Swift at SwiftFitPT which includes squats, lunges, and mountain climbers. It’s a beast of a class, but I’m feeling and seeing the results already and it’s fun too.
I won’t be chancing it in high altitudes
I’m confident that I’m taking all the right training steps and precautions, so I can have a totally awesome trip. Have you been on a high altitude trek? What advice can you share with me? I’d love to get your comments.
I have to organise my kit for the trek!