Perse students reach their peak in Morocco expedition
14 Sep 2017
Upper Sixth student Elizabeth Stephenson provides her account of the Summit 12 summer expedition to Morocco.
Getting off a plane into a country significantly warmer than the one you woke up in that morning can be a shock to the system, as some of us on Summit 12 certainly found as we walked out of Marrakech airport, laden with holdalls. The heat brought mixed feelings, trepidation about hiking in it, anticipation of warm nights out in the open, worry of sunburn and craving cold drinks!
Ahead of us lay 14 days of community project work and hiking in the North Atlas mountains. The thought of what we were going to experience over the next two weeks, whilst unknown, was incredibly exciting if a little daunting too. After one night in a very luxurious hotel, we transferred to Imlil, a village about 1,740m above sea level. In order to reach our accommodation, a gite at the highest point in the village, we were slightly surprised to discover this involved a substantial walk up an incredibly steep path that many of us came to despise!
On arrival at the gite, we were treated to a fantastic lunch of local food. Highlights included meatballs, cheese, many types of salad, and vegetables cooked in sauces that I had certainly never experienced before. Following on from this, the afternoon provided us with the essential time to settle in, have a brief about the upcoming days and recuperate from travelling.
The next day heralded the start of our community project. We completed the roughly hour and a half-long walk out to the school that we were due to be building a wall around to provide an outdoor play area. On arrival, we were quickly set to work carrying bricks and bags of sand, from the point they had been deposited further up the road. Our knowledge of that particular stretch of path was definitely ingrained by the end of the project!
We worked on the project for five days alongside some of the local contractors. Other tasks involved mixing cement and tipping it into the mould for the wall constructed from wooden slats. On two of the mornings, the girls in the group were also given the opportunity to spend time with the local women in their houses and experience their day to day life. This was an incredibly eye-opening and humbling experience as they were so welcoming to us and willing to let us partake in their daily activities, which differ quite wildly from many of ours. Few of us could imagine living alongside farm animals in our homes as they do, or carrying staggeringly huge loads of crops from higher up in in the village each morning. The role of the women in their society is quite different to that which we are accustomed to and it definitely served as an insightful and thought-provoking experience.
On completion of our time at the school, we got to meet the local children who attend the school for a morning. We spent a wonderful few hours introducing them to some of our childhood games such as musical statues, as well as learning some of theirs. It was fantastic to see the children who have benefited from the school that was built by Summit 12 three years ago and it felt very rewarding to be able to continue their work and improve the school for the children.
The next stage of our trip was probably the bit we were all the most apprehensive about – the hike! We had eight days of intense hiking ahead of us, and for many of the group it was their first experience of doing something like it.
We set off on the first day in high spirits early in the morning and made our way over the mountain pass to our first campsite, about a six-hour day in total. Little niggles were smoothed out with kit as we progressed through the days of our hike. However, the incidence of blisters unfortunately only increased. The sites we stayed at each evening were absolutely stunning and it was always a very welcome sight to see the communal tents as we came to the end of our hikes! They were lovely, however definitely not waterproof as the hour-long storms each afternoon/evening proved to us, testing our water collecting ability in mismatched pots and plates!
The tents were our space to socialise and eat all our meals in, always accompanied by copious amounts of bread and hand sanitiser in our attempts to remain members of the resistance group that did not get ill, unfortunately failed by some!
Highlights of the hike for me included washing in beautiful, if not very cold waterfalls, on the first and penultimate days of the hike, rivers on other days and in Lac D’Infii a couple of days before summit day. The stamina of the mules who carried the majority of our kit each day was astounding and we were all very grateful to the fantastic group of people who supported us and particularly the cook Omar, who served some great food. The scenery of the North Atlas mountains was absolutely stunning, and sometimes it just seemed too beautiful and too vast to be true.
Summit day itself felt very surreal, knowing that this was our last big push after all the effort we had put in over the previous five days, it felt quite odd to actually be reaching the peak of our expedition! Due to the sun, another early start was required with alarms going off at 2.40am for a 3am breakfast…..
Once we had eaten an impressive amount of porridge, bread, Laughing Cow cheese, honey, jam and Coco Pops, we headed off in the dark from the Nelta base camp up to the 4,167 m summit of Toubkal. After about five hours of walking at considerable altitude and the stunning experience of seeing the sun crest over the side of the mountains, we reached the summit. Mixed emotions of relief, exhaustion, joy and pride to name but a few were experienced by all with a few tears being shed too!
The experience of standing on such a beautiful summit, with the friends around you who you have hiked with, laughed with, supported and cried with over the last two weeks is one not to be forgotten. It feels crazy looking back on what we did and achieved together!
The elation of having summited carried us through the next two days back to Imlil, with the interlude of seeing the preparation of a goat from a live state to being on a plate providing a stimulating conversation topic. On our last day we had the delight of a farewell party and lunch with the local children from the school who we met earlier in the trip and seeing the completed wall from the community project.
It is very hard to try and convey the essence of such an incredible trip in a short article, but suffice to say it was a simply incredible experience that was certainly the peak of my PES career. The skills that you learn on trips like this will carry you very far, even if it is just knowing that you have that strength to push on when the going gets very tough.
Our guides Saaid and Mustafa cannot be thanked enough for how friendly, knowledgeable and competent they were and the effort of the mules, muleteers and cooking team put us all to shame as we hiked up far slower than them!
External staff brought a great new dynamic to the trip and getting to know Jake, Em and our legend of a doctor Chet was really lovely. They certainly brought a lot of laughs as well as their own wealth of experience to the trip. Paul had a life tip for every occasion and we learnt a lot from his experiences.