Friday, 27 January 2012

Sorry for the lack of posts. We had some difficulty with phone connections once Asti got into the mountains due to lack of signal, occasional lack of electricity, and the solar storm. We were able to exchange texts.

On the 25th, having done a lot of trekking, Asti was heading back to civilization with a 4 hour trek back to the last village and a session in the hammam. About 7 pm she surprised me with a text that she had worked some magic and kept on trekking to arrive back in Marrakesh a day early. She managed to stop off at a Berber women's collective on the way and bought argan oil.
Yesterday, the 26th back to the Souk and other interesting places in Marrakesh.
This morning we texted packing details and stuff.
Asti's return flight is due into Heathrow at 5:55 pm. Alan & I will be meeting her at Arrivals and driving her home.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Mobile connectivity in the Atlas Mountains is poor and I haven't been able to talk with Asti since yesterday (and even then the signal was choppy, drifting in and out). We were able to exchange a few texts.

Saturday 21 Jan, Climbing in the Atlas. Slept at 1945 meters
7 am - Sunday 22, Jan Climbing in the Atlas Mts, Up early for the 7 hour trek to Base Camp refuge at 3200 meters. Food and accommodations have been surprisingly good so far. Hot water and electricity!
5:30pm - Made it to Base Camp. Having pain in her hip so will try to take it a bit easier tomorrow.

Friday, 20 January 2012

On the Road to Marrakesh

Astrid's flight from Heathrow was at 8:55am this morning. Alan and I picked her up from home and arrived at curbside drop-off by 6:45 - amazing how quickly one can cross and recross London when there's no traffic to fight.

At 2pm she'd arrived safely in Morocco, settled into her hotel (who she reports is nice), had already seen camels, and was going for a stroll in the Souk. I'll leave it to her to report further on the Souk and whether the bar she was heading out to later was interesting.


Thursday, 19 January 2012


Oh god, I hate packing.

So my list is:

Marmot sleeping bag - rated to -15C or down to -35C survival
self-inflating mattress
silk liner
ice axe
walking sticks
1 pair salopettes
2 pair snow pants
4 pairs hiking trousers
2 pairs thermals
6 merino tops
6 pairs merino undies
8 pairs heavy hiking socks
2 complete sets of gloves - liner, inner, then waterproof insulated outer. Plus a pair of boiled wool mittens
ski goggles - light activated bronze lenses from Scott
sponge bag with appropriate bits and bobs
6 packs of tissues
4 packs antiseptic wipes
1 liter water bottle
500ml vacuum flask
2 hats
3 very warm mid-layers
1 North Face down jacket
1 Rab Alpine microlight down jacket
2 waterproof jackets
1:50,000 map in waterproof thingy
wind-up torch
1st Aid kit


Weather in Toubkal - Late January

So I'm off to Morocco Friday morning and in order to do my final packing I looked at the weather. O.M.G. I confess that I'd figured there would be snow on the summit but never dreamt I would be dealing with such consistently cold temperatures. 

Now I'm really glad I bought extra cold weather gear on Sunday because now I can see that I'm really going to need it.

Oh, just an FYI: There will not be internet connectivity so I've spoken to my mother Barb and she will try to call me at 7pm every day. That way I can give her a verbal report so she can update the blog (and know that I'm safe), and I will post my pics and write-up when I get back. This will just have to be the way of it until I get a satellite phone I think.

I've also checked the UK Foreign Office website to check the current state of affairs and registered with the US Travel Office so that they know that I'm travelling.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Last minute shopping for Toubkal

I hit Cotswold and Ellis Brigham on Sunday to get some last minute bits and bobs.

First off I got a kit bag - The Berghaus Mule 120 because the baggage will be transported by mule to the Base Camp so I don't have to use a rucksack for that.

I also picked up a crampon bag and some new walking sticks

And treated myself to a mid-layer from Spyder. It was so yummy that I couldn't help myself, plus the Rab Microlight. I'm trying to shave as many grams as possible from my daypack you see.

Anyone feel like donating or sponsoring a satellite phone? I'll happily produce a review in exchange!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Day 2 - The Big Push

Sunday morning was initially much the same as Saturday. I made sure to hit the kit store and get better gloves as well as a vacuum flask. I was NOT going o have cold hands today and I also wanted to have some hot tea with me.

This time we went to the parking lot where the ski lodge is but made a sharp right and then headed out across the landscape for about 3-4 kilometres. While it was warmer than the previous day (which had been -1C with wind chill down to -18) the wind was gusting up to 60 which was enough to completely sweep me off of my feet even in crampons several times.

Anyway, after a godawful long walk we finally settled in at a spot and slapped on the crampons then spent a while learning to walk in them. Then we had a practical session on avalanches and dug avalanche pits. That's our instructor Matt in the photo.

Next we walked across the to the mountain face and learned various ways to ascend with our crampons as well as going side to side and descending. Then that was it, we were up the gully. In this photo, you can see it right in the middle of the pic. And here is a pic from halfway up. And another one looking up

I'll tell you the truth boys and girls. I only got about 3/4 of the way up before the weather  started getting really nasty and I had to get down.

Actually it was really tight getting back. Luckily I had pre booked a taxi but it meant that I basically ran back to my room and grabbed my other bag and then ran for the cab. I couldn't even shower and change so I had to go to the airport like that. Oh well, I just showered when I got home. What can you do? Anyway, Inverness Airport is adorable with just 2 gates. And ladies watch out, there's a fabulous shop airside with all sorts of cute little tweed jackets and cashmere scarves. In the more reasonable range you can pick up a sweet tartan wool utility rug for only £35 and they will ship for free if you spend over £100 so you don't have to worry about carrying extra stuff onto easy jet.

So here I am, aching from head to toe. I'm really glad I took this course. It was really professionally done and I can't believe how much I learned. Facilities are basic but this is  a government thing that's part of sportscotland and they seem to spend the money on the important things like safety and equipment. I'll definitely be taking courses at the Glenmore Lodge again!

Day 1 - Ice Axe Extravaganza

An early start - we got up at 6:30am. Eleanor took the shower while I forayed out to get tea and have a fag. The kettle in our room didn't work. By 7:30 we were in the dining room. Breakfast was eggs and weird things like haggis, black pudding and Lorne sausage. For those of us without the fortitude to sample the delights of scottish breakfast meats, there was also hot porridge or cold cereal.

We took our packed lunches and headed off to get ready for the 8:30am orientation.

Then it was off to get into our gear, making sure that our crampons fit where it was warm and dry rather than trying to do it in the cold and wet when we got to the mountain.

Then it was into the vans and we were off.

We went to a parking lot near an abandoned ski lift. Don't ask me where, I can't pronounce or spell any of the locations up there. :-(

Welcome to hell. We had our first dropout no more than 15 minutes in.

First lesson was how to walk in snow. Don't try to fit your steps into the ones of the person ahead of you. Instead step in the back half of the step thus expanding the trail, making it easier for the person behind you.

Next lesson, kicking into the snow to ascend and descend both forward and sideways. Next was self-belay with the ice axe. This entailed flinging oneself down in the snow both feet first and head first, on front and on back, being pushed down the slope and learning which way to turn and how to hold ones body to (hopefully) safely stop yourself with the axe.

A note to the ladies, I strongly recommend wearing a well padded sports bra. Nuff said, eh?

Then there was some orienteering until the sun started to set at which point we made back for the van in the gathering darkness.

When we got back there was time to rinse off the kit and put it in the drying room then get showered and human. There was also tea and some outrageously delicious carrot cake ready in the dining room. Then it was off to a lecture on avalanches. I now know far more than I had ever planned to on the subject but it's wise to pay attention because it could save your life.

Next up was actually quite a good dinner. There was a gorgeous pumpkin & ginger soup then quite a tasty steak and ale pie with lots of veg and red cabbage on the side. Right up my alley. I didn't bother with the dessert.

Then yet another lecture, this time on orienteering includng how to calculate paces and timing. Frankly I only made it about 45 minutes in before I had to go to my room and pass out. It was a hard day and I really needed my bed.

Glenmore Lodge

I got to Glenmore Lodge on Friday, January 6th.

So, first of all, using public transportation can be problematic and expensive. I flew in to Iverness Airport on the 9:05 from Gatwick which arrived at about 10:30. I then took a taxi to Inverness rail station which cost ~£12 + tip. Then I discovered that the train to Aviemore only ran every 2 hours at that time so I had to wait 1 1/2 hours. So I took the 12:46 to Aviemore and arrived there about 1:30. There was a bit of a wait for a taxi and the cost to the lodge was also about £12 + tip.

Unfortunately, when I got to the lodge I discovered that check-in time is 5pm and that there is no food available until then either. The nearest place to eat is at the national forest visitor centre. I was a little miffed at having to walk 1/2 a mile down an isolated back country road to get food, especially when I saw a lodge van come down the road. It would have been nice if they had offered me a lift. Nonetheless, the food at the visitor centre was really good and I strongly recommend the rare beef sandwich with horseradish sauce.

Also next door to the visitor centre is the Reindeer House where you can  go on a visit to the UK's only herd of reindeer.

Anyway, having checked in I was somewhat surprised to discover that I would be sharing a room. I don't think there is an option to have a room alone - I certainly wasn't the only person to get surprised like that!

But at least the rooms in the south wing (where I was) have en suite bathrooms. The ones in the North Wing don't although I hear there are plans to change that and extend into another building as well. Most important is that although the room is basic, the bathroom was fresh and new with lots of hot water and fabulous water pressure. Just what you need after a hard day on the slopes.

Dinner the first night was in the pub upstairs. Over the course of the evening a group of us gravitated to the open gas fire and drank far too late. I would say that the average age was in their 40s which was surprising and that most of them were regular hill walkers, living in areas like snowdonia and the Peak District.

That night around 8pm the kit store opened and we queued up to borrow equipment that we would need the next day. I only borrowed a helmet and a rucksack. If needed, you could also borrow plastic boots, crampons, ice axe, waterproofs, maps, etc. Although they encouraged me to borrow their stuff I stuck with my own because I needed to make sure that the gear I have for Morocco will be up to the task. That way I will have a chance to get something different if needed.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Let it Snow!

I've just checked the forecast for this weekend and it looks perfect for the course in Scotland. It'll even be snowing on Saturday which will be good for the class and clear on Sunday which will be good for getting home!

I got all of my kit together over the weekend so that when I get home Thursday I can go through my checklist and pack. I had also wanted to get some maps today but didn't get the chance to go to the shops so I'll have to buy them when I'm up there. I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't get some other kit while I'm up there like a helmet, maybe a new sleeping bag. I've also got some YakTrax that I'm looking forward to testing out.

The other thing that I need to do is to sort out my insurance. The BMC offer a very reasonable annual policy that covers multiple trips up to 45 consecutive days for trekking worldwide and includes emergency medical evacuation for only £141/year. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Ooh, and I must charge my camera battery. I plan to take plenty of pics and blog from the course so expect a play-by-play over the weekend.