Up a Hill, But Down a Mountain
It was a long, sleepless night. By sleepless, I mean absolutely no sleep. David and Mary got two hours I think. For me, a combination of sleeping in a room with beds laid end to end and countless people there; not used to sleeping in rooms where women are present; the high altitude causing a lack of sleep; and every few minutes David shouting out "Those aren't pillows!"- meant that I was cognizent the entire night and got not a single bit of sleep. Though we were thinking of getting up early at 6, when 430 came around and everyone was awake, we all decided that we might as well get up also.
We looked out at the first leg of the journey, with the earliest risers already beginning the walk up the hill. It didn't look so bad. We couldn't have been more wrong. It must be stressed how little the picture below does justice to the actual object. Firstly, it's hard to get perspective. Let me help. If you look really closely, you can see small boulders littering the hillside. Each of those is the size of a bedroom. Secondly, it's composed of scree. Scree's not a word I'd ever heard of before this day. It evidently means "shale-like rock that is not attached to anything and is very slippery". I believe the etemology also relates to the sound you make as you slide down it. Thirdly, once you get the idea of the perspective, you may realize that the angle of this hillside is between 50-70 degrees.
But from below you could tell none of this. We were happy to begin our journey together, up the tallest mountain in North Africa. To do this you have to cross a large stream near the Refuge. Easily done by jumping across and grabbing on to a rock, and climbing over. However, I'm used to that kind of thing, so we tried to find an easier place for Mary and David. I think we found a harder way. The drop is about 4 meters below into icy cold water. Well, water and large rocks.
Then we had to simply follow the path up the hillside. 'Cept it was dark. And the path isn't that clear. They have these piles of rocks, cairns, that tell you if you are on the path. But they're not evenly spaced. So they're great for letting you feel good, that you are on the right path. They're not so great for letting you know you no longer are on that path.
It must be stressed that, had we known, we would never have attempted. And if there was a way out of it, we would have taken it. But by the time the sun rose well enough to see where we were, there was no turning back. A mountain of loose rock, tilted more toward the vertical than the horizontal, is not an easy thing to circumvent, once upon it. Believe me, I tried. But these rocks are not only loose, but sharp- sharp enough to rip a hole in pants and a gash in flesh. (Note: Not only a theoretical observation.) On looking down too, you must deal with the fear of heigths, from such a high point. Oh yeah- once on the scree mountain, there was a cliff of some 25 meters at the base of it.
So, inbetween questions on exactly who had planned this trip (Mary) we boldly made our way up the mountainside. In truth, we also expected a path to appear at any moment. We had seen other climbers before us, and it looked like they were roughly in the same position as we were. The edge of the scree loomed above us, and surely at that point we would reach a stable, horizontal surface. But minute after minute dragged by, or rather, our bodies were dragged by, and still no hope loomed in site. I began to shout down that I wanted my books to go to Joe Canner and my Biology supplies to Lisa. Oh, and that I forgive everyone everything.
I had point, looking for the cleanest trail up. Which meant that not only was I concerned about finding a handhold, but also about not knocking rocks the size of a human head down on those below. A few times there was nothing to it, and I had to yell down that rocks were coming, as I had nothing to hold on to, and no way to keep them from dropping. At times the ground was more firm, at other times it slipped continuously. You scrambled like mad, sliding down half the way you scrambled up, to the next foothold of solid rock, guessing that the rock was solid and not about to come out in your hands- and sometimes the guess was inaccurate. Then you rested from the feverish high-altitude excusion- for remember, there is a lot less oxygen at 3500 meters. Most of the time walking on two legs was out of the question. Sometimes walking on only 4 legs without the use of the stomach was out of the question. Sometimes there were no firm rocks in sight, and my only hold was achieved by digging my hands into the earth to create a crevice. Verily, verily I say unto you, Mary in the picture at left is being far more reasonable with respect to the ground than David. If you look closely, that edge just below David is the cliff. We were no longer hiking. This was a free-hand climb, where a pickaxe would no longer help for there was nothing solid to pick at.
Then, a miracle. A 2" goat path appeared in front of me, stretching far off to the left! In what must have surely appeared to be an act of extreme foolhardiness to those below me, I found I could stand straight up and walk along it. It meandered to the left, over to what suddenly arose- the true path. I yelled down to David, who like all of us was taking a break, to follow me along the path when he got to my height.
Unfortunately, he didn't see the goat path, and continued to climb up. And the others followed. From my vantage point, now across the valley, I could see that the edge we had been climbing towards was in fact no finishing line. From there, you would have to cross the entire valley on scree, double the distance I had just walked on the stable goat trail. But this was unfortunately hidden from those still trying to get up the mountain. As was my voice, evidently not carrying across the valley even when yodeling. I tried to tell David to come over, but he kept on climbing. Finally I came back down the goat trail to get their attention, from there yelling out to David, "Don't fear! Just have faith, and keep you eyes on me- pay no attention to the wind and the waves." Sadly I learned later this also was not heard...
The only way for them to get back to the goat path, and relative ease of crossing, was to surf the gravel down, on the legs and butt. Imagine again being on a 60-70 degree slope of rocks, above a 25 meter drop, with the only thing to catch you, if you can find it, are jagged rocks to hold on to. (This is when our hypothetical observations were experimentally verified, re: holes in pants.)
When everyone had surfed the rocks (Mary said it was actually fun!), and then come across on the goat path, we continued the climb a path with relative ease. We made it to the top of the 1st leg of the journey, accomplishing in only 2 hours what is normally done in 1/2 an hour. We had done it! (And I did it all in a dress, being the only warm clothing I had in the bitter cold. [Actually a Moroccan jallaba, men's clothing.])
And as a reward, there was a sign pointing us to the beginning of the trail to Tubqaal...
Me and David continued on at this point, Mary going back to prepare for our return. There was a cold protist-filled mountain stream going by us, with beautiful frozen rocks next to it, lying like diamonds ready to relieve me of school loans.
From there we walked through a field of boulders till two paths diverged in a yellow...boulder field. Unfortunately, as we had all day, we continued to take the road less traveled by. We really wanted to take the most common route, but it wasn't easy to tell from a distance. We scrambled up more rocks, and there it was in front of us- the peak right in front of Tubqaal (French Toubkal).
Then climbing through broken rocks, we were rewarded by a mountain of more scree. Countrary to what those coming down the mountain told us, it was not technically worse than what we had gone through. In the technical sense that a majority win in an election requires 51%. It was however a longer climb, climbing up a meter, sliding down 2. By the end of it I was completely exhausted, beginning to cough from altitude sickness and the lack of oxygen, and barely able to stand every few feet. The only way I could keep going was to repeat to myself the maxim, "Just put one foot, in front of, the other..."
David reached the top first, and I came up about 10 minutes later. The view from 4,167 meters was breathtaking, stretching on and on. (Well, actually, considering the lack of oxygen, breath taking was the key passtime.) Those are clouds in the far distance, in the direction of Marraksh.
We had made it. We were now men.
Yeah, other than that, there were a lot of flies at the top from orange peels left by countless prior visitors. There wasn't any shade there either, yet there was a bitterly cold wind. So there wasn't much more reason to stay. We began walking down. And that only took 3 hours.
To which we were rewarded by a very worried Mary. Evidently, Lonely Planet says it only takes 3 hours up, and 3 down. Lonely Planet is written for very young people in very good shape, who know the route very well. We left at 5 that morning, and returned around 4. And it was very touching to see Mary's concern for us- she was about to begin the hike up, in the night, with a guide, to search for her friends lost on the mountain top.
The next day we returned down to Aremd, a little closer than Imlil, while Mary eventually told us that she was tired of hearing us say, "You see that mountain? We climbed higher than that." Every step was more painful than the last, especially going down, as the new shoes I had bought were a little too big, and so slid forward with every step. My legs were solid muscle at this point; David wished that if only we could have hiked up on our stomachs. Our muleteer, Mohammed, suprised me with a polished stone keychain, a very generous gift, and completely unexpected. He was a very sweet boy.
We went to a git (B&B) that I had stayed at on a previous retreat. It was a wonderful place to relax, surrounded by greenery, with generous food portions- too generous for our tired bodies, and most of it was left untouched. We sat and read, talked, and took a short walk to the river source. As we read Psalms, like Elves on The Return, Australians, Americans, and Brits filed past us without a sound. It was a town where magical events can happen, and relationships strengthen.
As we were reading, a wasp buzzed by and sat down. But this wasp was carrying a package. Underneath was a caterpillar, and it appeared to be somehow involved with it. When ever it was approached too closely, the wasp would get up and fly a short distance away, with the caterpillar. Upon closer inspection it appeared to be squirting some liquid out of it's posterior, next to the caterpillar. I wondered if it could perhaps be from the oviducts, and if I were looking here at my first Ichneumon Wasp in real life? However, I have not found any pictures online that might match this species, and there are a number of species of Ichneumon Wasp. The Ichneumon Wasp is important especially as a famous rhetorical example, used by some as a display of how, if the world is literally and directly created, then it is either an Unintelligent Designer or an evil one. For the wasp will lay it's young inside a live caterpillar, temporarily paralyzing it in the process. Later the caterpillar will be free to roam around, until the eggs hatch. Then they digest the living caterpillar from the inside out. Of course, this is only a more recent update of the ancient Problem of Pain argument, dealth with successfully in Ecclesiastes, and the issues largely but not entirely disappear if one posits a Creator using evolution, with all it's fits and starts.
The trip back to Marraksh was uneventful, although Mary got unfortunately quite ill that morning. Happily she was feeling better on her train ride up with David. I stayed behind to welcome YCEW to Essuira, very regretfully saying goodbye to Mary. I had a great time with both of them on the trip, but Mary I knew I would not soon see in this life, for she would be shortly getting on an airplane for the States, and I would not be returning to Morocco. And I count her one of my dearest friends, so it is with great pain that I say goodbye.