Trekking in the Atlas Mountains- Day One

Looking through some old photos recently it occurred to me that there have been some walking trips I have taken that I have not written about, so if you would like to indulge me I will set about rectifying this little oversight over the coming weeks…

Some trips may not get written up for a while as the photographs predate digital photography so I will need to get them turned into jpgs. So the first trip to be written up is a walking holiday I took with Explore in 2007- a two-week circuit of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco with an ascent of North Africa’s highest mountain, Jebel Toubkal. I remember choosing this trip partly because I was training for the Marathon des Sables, which would also be in Morocco, and partly because it was cheap!

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Marathon des Sables- After The Race

100_2654All that was left was our final night in the desert and then boarding the coaches back to  Ouarzazate. I felt even worse next day and had to abandon attempts to be part of the giant ‘24’ to celebrate the 24th Marathon des Sables and allow myself to be frogmarched back to the tent by my friend as I was about to lose consciousness. The diarrhoea had cleared up but I felt really sick and ached all over.

As we waited to board the coaches many of the officials set off the spare flares and the sky was filled with little pink lights. I picked one up- it looked just like a plug attached to a parachute.

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Marathon des Sables Stage Three; The Longest Day

Marathon des Sables Stage Three; Erg Znaigui to Aferdou Nsooalhine- 57 Miles

I scrabbled up the slab of rock in front of me, rising like a broken tooth out of the darkness. I had lost all trace of the route and had no idea where I was, I only knew that I had to climb this mountain, but I was so very tired and my ability to balance had completely deserted me…

Head swimming from fatigue and loss of balance I reached for the top, feeling the rough stone beneath my hands- only to see yet another slab rise up in front of me. My foot slipped and I heard a rock dislodge and tumble down into the inky blackness. I had lost my friend and there was nobody else in sight. I knew the most sensible thing would be to descend but the only though my brain was capable of processing was to keep ascending… if I reached the top then surely I’d be able to see the glow sticks marking the route and get back on track…

I reached the top of the next slab only to see a sheer wall rise in front of me. This was it. I was lost- my race was surely over. After two years of preparation, hard training and the disappointment of the floods, the Marathon des Sables had beaten me. I started to cry- tears of fear and frustration.

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Marathon des Sables Stage One; Erg Chebbi to Erg Znaigui- 19.5 Miles

I lay in bed feeling a tinge of excitement and more than a tinge of nervousness. This was it- after two years of preparation, floods, torrential rain, mud and disappointment we were actually going to start the Marathon des Sables!!

As we waited for the coaches to arrive to take us to the start I was relieved to see that it was a nice day- sunny and dry but not overbearingly hot and more importantly no clouds in sight. Oddly enough, I had mixed feelings about this- the cooler weather would make for easier walking, but I felt that we weren’t going to be as challenged by the heat as we should have been and wondered whether I would feel cheated as a result.

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Hell And High Water On The MdS!

“You are lucky”, our coach driver informed us, “It hasn’t rained here for twelve years!”

We certainly didn’t feel lucky as we peered through the rain streaked windows at the desolate scene before us- a darkly threatening sky with torrential rain driven by the winds into horizontal sheets, turning the desert sands into thick, sticky mud.

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So… What Is The Marathon Des Sables?

Every year, around March or April, around 1000 ultra runners and endurance athletes gather in the Sahara desert hoping to complete the Marathon des Sables, otherwise known as the ‘Toughest Footrace on Earth’. I first heard about the Marathon des Sables (or MdS as it’s more commonly known) around 8 years ago, when flicking between channels I caught a documentary about it. My initial reaction was ‘no way could run that!’ but then I noticed something… many of the competitors were actually walking through the desert rather than running. I remember thinking that if I didn’t have to run it all then it could quite possibly be achievable- and a little obsession was suddenly born…

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