Read time – 4 minutes
My Facebook feed was full of people asking the same sort of question. “Shall I do Tough Mudder this year?” “Is this the year I actually try to run a marathon?” People were looking for a challenge.
It was January. It was cold, the daylight hours were short and the gluttony of Christmas had taken its toll. We were all seeking something to look forward to, something to make this year special, extraordinary. It felt like the moment.
I put a post on my Facebook timeline, wondering whether anyone would answer.
Climbing the Highest Mountain in North Africa
My hope was to get together enough nice folk to run a tailormade adventure – a small group of me and my friends, to go on an Exodus-style group holiday, but just us. I wasn’t even sure whether I’d realistically get the five people I needed to be able to run it, let alone the ninth member of our party that would make my place free of charge (it’s a special offer we run on all private adventures).
So it was a bit of a shock when, three weeks later, I had to start turning people away as our group got bigger and bigger. Suddenly, I had 23 people wanting to climb the highest mountain in North Africa. Who knew I had 22 friends, let alone 22 who wanted to climb a mountain with me?!
The whole idea had just sparked lots of people’s imaginations. I think the fact that I was organising it, and everyone knew I’m an ordinary working mum of three, made it all feel a bit more accessible – a lot of them hadn’t tackled anything like this before, yet somehow, I ended up with a wait list!
As we gathered in Gatwick ready to fly out – a motley crew of yoga instructors, doctors, bakers, hedge-fund managers, graphic designers and police inspectors – I realised most of the people here didn’t know anyone but me.
Meeting the Group
There were people who were married (although no one brought another half with them), single, gay, straight, tall, short, and from 27 to 69 years of age. The vibe was amazing – I think when you allow people to self-select into something like this, you end up only with the most positive, up-for-it people, who are determined to make it a success.
As we waited in departures, I handed round a sheet of paper with everyone’s picture on it, and a few details about them. It was supposed to break the ice, something to read on the four-hour flight, but most people were happily chatting away unaided already. It took no time at all for us all to gel.
Yoga Warm Up
It’s a day’s walk from the start of the trek in Imlil to the Toubkal refuge, or “Base Camp” where you stay the night before summit day. By the time we’d made our way through the hot, dry valley and up into the mountains to the refuge, we’d become a team – so much so we ended up doing a yoga class together!
Yoga teacher Katie eased our aches and made sure we were as prepared as possible for the summit attempt the following day. As soon as we’d arranged our sleeping bags sardine-like along the long communal bunkhouse sleeping platform, she gave us an entirely improvised “bed yoga” class to stretch out all our weary muscles.
Admittedly, I think the muscles most stretched were our stomach muscles from stifling giggles as everyone bashed each other with hands, tangled legs and knocked the ceiling with whichever limb was heading in that direction! It was the most fun yoga session I’ve ever had, and I genuinely think stretching everything helped me feel less stiff the next morning.
The next day was a huge challenge. Seventeen of us decided to go for the summit that day, seventeen of us who reluctantly wriggled out of bed at 4.30am to brave the cold mountain air – and, I’m thrilled to say, seventeen of us all made the summit six hours later.
Five hours in, and for Julie, my best friend from nursery and now a hospital consultant, the climb was taking its toll. We had started a number system for how we were doing, a scale of one to ten depending on how we were coping.
Most people would reply, “About a 7 I think, was 5 a few minutes ago, but I can feel the sun on my back now and I’m pulling myself together.” Suddenly as we were stumbling over a particularly tough bit Julie just cried out, “I’m a two!” We knew what to do.
Everyone rallied, calling out encouragement, and I reminded her of her four children, who had covered her kitbag in felt tip “Good luck Mum!” and “You can do it!” before she left. She dug deep and found the resilience to carry on.
Moments later, the summit came into view. We all paused, quietly contemplating our goal which was suddenly within reach. Then, out of the silence of the mountainside, we heard a phone ring. It was Julie. As she fumbled with her pockets we joked it would be a PPI call, but it wasn’t. It was her husband Pete, with impeccable timing.
“I’m going to do it Pete!” Julie said. “It’s so emotional, it’s been so hard, but we’re nearly at the top!” The connection held just long enough for him to reply, “Of course you are, love.” before cutting off. I think everyone had tears in their eyes, and it was exactly the boost she needed to hit that summit.
Since I returned, my Facebook feed has been full of pride – people posting photos saying it was the most emotionally and physically challenging thing they’d ever done, and they couldn’t be more chuffed to have achieved it.
Every single one makes me smile, and I feel glad that I pressed the button on that post in January. I’ve had a small part in making a lot of new friendships, amazing memories and dinner party stories. Lucky me!
Your Adventure, Your Way
With a tailormade adventure, you can choose your own exclusive group of family members or close friends, pick your own dates of travel, customise one of our itineraries to be just right for you, and still benefit from the expertise and experience of a highly qualified Exodus leader. Call our specialist team to find out how they can create your dream family adventure!
If this has inspired you to climb Mount Toubkal, see our tours below and set off on your own adventure.