An ascent to the summit of the towering 4,167-metre peak of Jebel Toubkal in southwestern Morocco was the target during Exercise Northern Atlas.
A team of 14 intrepid adventurers – 10 from The Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry and four regulars from The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards – took on the challenge of the six-day trekking expedition through the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco in April.
Expedition Leader Lt D A Sikora takes up the story after their arrival in Marrakech: “It was a quick haggle for a knuckle-whitening taxi ride through the streets where the Highway Code is less a code and more a collection of optimistic suggestions, to our hostel in the Medina.
“Although wearied by the day’s travels, there was just time to take in the sights and sounds of the Jemaa el-Fna (central square) before bed. We rose in the morning to the first of many cups of mint tea before being whisked to the small village of Imi Ourhiad in the steppes of the High Atlas Mountains where we met our guides for the trip; two members of the native Berber population named Hassan and Ibrahim.
“With the mules loaded with water, kit and equipment we headed east, bound for another small village named Tidli where we would spend the night in a basic hut or ‘gite’.
“Along the way we passed through Berber hamlets, wishing hearty bonjours to the local children as they turned out to try their luck for sweets and pens. Lunchtime was as much an equally fantastic feast for the eyes as the stomach; mint tea followed by an impressive presentation of curried beans, fresh fruit and vegetables on the banks of the Assif n’ Imenane.
“The entire group enjoyed trying a new cuisine that contrasted heavily with their usual fayre! After a brief chance to soak up the beautiful surroundings we continued on, arriving at our accommodation in time to watch the sun drift behind the valley walls and marvel at the beautiful pair of red socks it had given to Private Dalgoutte.
“The breakfast each morning was a mountaineer’s culinary fusion; the familiar elements of breads and spreads paired with the more adventurous yellow teas and fig jams, the perfect start for another day of trekking.
“We hiked up to the village of Oukaimeden, stopping briefly to barter with the locals for snacks and for Corporal Molloy to push his baggage allowance to the limit with geodes and fossils.
“The chance to interact with individuals from such a different background was an enlightening experience, particularly for those who had never ventured beyond English-speaking countries. We then descended through the Tizi nou Addi pass to Tacheddirt, where we were entertained by our guides and muleteers performing a selection of traditional singing and dancing. Not to be outdone by their hosts’ performance, the expeditionary team returned with an angelic delivery of ‘Wonderwall’.
“The next three days continued according to our acclimatisation plan; climbing high in the day and sleeping low during the night, gradually ascending to higher points with each day to get our bodies used to having to work harder in thinner air. We were certainly working harder by day six, strapping on crampons to give some traction in the last of the winter snow as we slogged up the steep incline of the Azib Tamasoult, which we elected to climb as the crow flies for the additional challenge.
“On the final day of our expedition, we set out at 5am for the summit of Jebel Toubkal. Our acclimatisation had prepared us well, and the hard work of the previous day made the final ascent much easier. We arrived at the peak to be greeted by stunning southern views of the Sahara desert.
“After much hand-shaking and selfie-taking we began our descent by the northern face back to the valley floor and then on to Imlil where we said an emotional farewell to our Berber companions and returned to Marrakech after a job well done.”