I look back on this trek with fond memories as it was good to get away from the crowds I've experienced on EBC treks.........
After the recent UIAA/REC training programme at the Kasbah du Toubkal, Helen and I spent 48hrs in Marrakech.
This album contains images from my Nikon D750.
A morning in Marrakech before our flight home. Tail end pics fo our friends at Rohan Designs Limited.
After the recent UIAA/REC training programme at the Kasbah du Toubkal, Helen and I spent 48hrs in Marrakech.
This album contains images from my Nikon D750.
January 19th - Travel from the Kasbah du Toubkal to Marrakech via the Menara Gardens.
My relationship with the Kasbah du Toubkal goes back several years when I was there to lead groups up Mt Toubkal (4167m), North Africa's highest mountain. In 2018, on a Toubkal ascent, our guide Mohamed, asked if I could provide some internationally accredited training for the local mountain guides. I discussed this with Mike McHugo at the Kasbah and this culminated in late 2018 with me going out to deliver Rescue Emergency Care (REC) First Aid Training. Covid-19 prevented further training until now when Helen Menhinick and I travelled there to deliver a UIAA Mountain Skills Course and two REC First Aid Courses as volunteers. Helen and I delivered this training through our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies which meant the local mountain guides received the training without cost to them. Many thanks to Discover Limited for facilitating this training.
JANUARY 11th: Travel to LHR and overnight at the Garden Inn Hotel at T2
Helen travelled down to Cardiff to stay the night before but had arrived in sufficient time for us to drive over to Cowbridge to visit the Rohan Designs shop where we both decided on a few new items for the trip to Morocco.
We left Cardiff after lunch and had a drive up to LHR in appalling weather conditions with heavy rain throughout the journey which made for challenging driving conditions. Arriving at T5 we dropped the car off with Purple Parking and checked in for our flights the next day before taking the Heathrow Express over to T2/T3 and the Garden Inn Hotel, by Hilton. Unknown to me there are now two Garden Inn Hotels by Hilton and I'd booked the wrong one. The front desk staff said it was happening all the time and not made clear for online bookings. The very efficient Duty Manager phoned the other hotel and cancelled our reservation and arranged for a full refund whilst we checked into the hotel where I thought I'd made our reservation. Dinner was very good before we both retired for an early night due to an early start the following morning.
JANUARY 12th: Flight to Marrakech on BA 0668 at 0925 for onward travel to the Kasbah du Toubkal
The 0530hrs Heathrow Express took us back to T5 where we were soon through formalities and into the departure lounge for breakfast before our 0925hrs flight which was slightly delayed and we took off at about 1000.
The flight was smooth and service very good all the way to Marrakech. Landing on time though, we passed through formalities with our 5 checked bags which weighed in at 111kg. The training we were to deliver required a large amount of equipment. A driver from the Kasbah du Toubkal met us and we had checked into our rooms at the Kasbah du Toubkal by 1700hrs.
Before and after dinner, we unpacked our luggage/training equipment and set up the Conference Room ready for the courses to follow.
Helen's thoughts for the day: The start of a big adventure and an amazing experience. Thanks to Alan I had been invited to be involved in this voluntary training program for the Kasbah. To have the opportunity to deliver highly reputable and accredited courses, UIAA and REC, in the Atlas Mountains to very experienced mountain guides and the Kasbah staff was one that I wasn't going to let pass - we had waited 2 years for this trip!
It was a long day but all went without hitch. The staff at the Kasbah are always friendly, welcoming and obliging and the food and facilities there are fantastic.
JANUARY 13th: UIAA Mountain Skills - Conference room based theory followed by an afternoon cultural walk
The morning introduction to UIAA Mountain Skills went well with an enjoyable lunch up on the roof terrace. The participants were 5 males and two female local mountain guides who were all a pleasure to work with.
After lunch Helen and I with seven local mountain guides left the Kasbah for an afternoon of practical skills coupled with a cultural walk of the area to the south. Throughout the course, Helen delivered most of the course content and the course participants hung on her every word and learnt so much from Helen with only some minimal content from myself.
Helen's thoughts for the day: It was great to meet all the participants - amazing people. Mostly, their first language is Berber, then Arabic, French and lastly English, but their English is pretty much faultless. They spend much of their time trekking between 1800m - 4167m altitude in snowy conditions with groups of clients from all over the world. We shared lots of stories and experiences. The guides are extremely grateful to get internationally accredited certification. Much of the course content they know and is their everyday skills - it was mostly map and compass work and navigational skills which they were very eager to learn.
UIAA Mountain Skills Syllabus: Mountain Skills Scheme & Representative Bodies - Mountain Hazards - Mountain Environment - Maps - Navigation - Route Planning - Personal Equipment - Emergency Procedures - Movement on Steeper Terrain and broken ground
Adventure Map 5 - Toubkal 1:25000 (Imlil, Mizane Valley and the Toubkal Massif) by the Oxford Alpine Club/GeoGraphics
ranger Map 4 - Toubkal 1:50000 (Imlil, Oukaimeden, Toubkal Massif and Jebel Iferouane by the Oxford Alpine Club/GeoGraphics
Participants: Sara Chakir - Latifa Asselouf - Lahcen Amerda - Abdelatif Aztat - El Houssain Ait Lmouden - Abdelaziz Aouzal - Mohamed Aziam
Route: Kasbah du Toubkal - Aremd - Kasbah du Toubkal
JANUARY 14th: UIAA Mountain Skills - Day 1 of "Trekking in Style"
Our group set out from the Kasbah du Toubkal and made frequent training stops for practical skills as we climbed away from Imlil and it's western smaller villages. The small settlement of Arhrene was so named because it means "warmth" as it was where the sun hits first as it climbed over the mountains from the south. Reaching the Tizi n'Mzik in the heat of the day for lunch, an area was set out with ground coverings and mattressses with cushions and a delicious and lengthy lunch followed.
It was all downhill from the Tizi n'Mzik after lunch with some narrow sections of trail but nothing too serious for the group or clients from the Kasbah who might opt for the "Trekking in Style" itinerary.
We paused at the Cimitiere Sidi Oussem Refallene before descending into the large village of Tizi Ouseem with it's narrow streets and having to duck under low arches which linked houses to each other. Beyond the village was the mettalled road which we followed to Ait Aissa for the short climb up to the Azzenden Trekking Lodge where Helen and I were soon settled in to our nice warm en-suite bedrooms for the next two nights.
The itinerary called for the next day for us to visit the Cascades d'Irhoulidene which would have meant a long day, back along the mettalled road to Tizi Ouseem (1836m) and beyond, up to the small settlement at Azib Tamsault (2225m) and then a further steep climb up to the waterfalls where falling water would be minimal as the snow hadn't melted. The paths would be icy and slippery in places too. With our seven local mountain guides, Helen and I agreed it simply wouldn't be worth the effort so opted for an exploration of the nearby, local villages.
Helen's thoughts for the day: Fantastic mountainous scenery! The route up to the tizi (pass/col/bwlch) was ideal for ticking off features and allowing the candidates to know where they were on the map. The lunch of course was amazing and set us up for the long downhill. The valleys are so deep, just when you think you've come down along way, there is a whole lot more to go. Compass skills were taught and put into practice to be sure the right path was taken. The accommodation at the lodge is perfect and very relaxed.
Route: Kasbah du Toubkal - Tizi n'Mzik (2479m) Pass - Cimitiere Sidi Oussem Refallene - Tizi Ouseem Village- Ait Aissa - Azzenden Trekking Lodge
JANUARY 15th: UIAA Mountain Skills - Day 2 of "Trekking in Style"
A long morning with our team was spent exploring the local villages with plenty of steep climbs and descents on local paths. We walked northwards through Agouinane before descending to Tahaliuine with it's quirky red walled very narrow passageways and more arches to duck under before crossing the valley stream where we rested. Throughout this walk, Helen delivered exceptional mountain training skills to our participants, always eager to learn from her.
Climbing up to the next village we then contoured southwards to Tizi Zougoart which was a larger village where Sara talked to the many children before we were taken into a local house with a very large, carpeted terrace where very enjoyable refreshments were served. We must have spent an hour on the terrace before heading back to our lodge with yet another steep descent and the following ensuing steep climb. Lunch at the lodge was served soon after.
A late afternoon Mountain Skills theory session on the terrace was enjoyed by all and this was followed by a day into night navigation excercise which was completed by about 2000 when dinner was served. The stars were crystal clear and I pointed out some of the ones which I could name and Helen explained the moon phases and how to identify them - essential when needing to know how it light/dark it might be at night.
Dinner turned out to be a very special dinner as our participants had clubbed together to purchase and slaughter a goat for dinner. A very tasty chicken dish was also served and the evening culminated with a very enjoyable Berber song and dance routine which Helen and I enjoyed immensely apart from having to contribute to the dancing session. The chef brought out his kitchen pans to make improvised instruments and a water drum was used as a bass drum.
Helen's thoughts for the day: A welcomed relaxed day after quite a tiring day the day before. The exploration through the houses on bedrock paths and sometimes loose footings wasn't a breeze and care was needed sometimes. It was so interesting to see the culture, people and the way they lived. The road section was ideal for introducing 'pacing' and further practices of 'setting the map' followed. On return to the lodge we layed out the maps outside on the veranda and studied map features, scales and contours.
The atmosphere at dinner was a wonderful experience. Lahcen (Front Desk Manager) from the Kasbah had driven round to join us and the cooks/muleteers were there too. It was an honour to be treated in such a special way - for them the purchase and slaughter of the goat is rare and the singing and dancing only happens for very special occasions. What an experience!!
Route: Azzenden Trekking Lodge - Agouinane - Tahaliouine - Tizi Zougouart - Azzenden Trekking Lodge
JANUARY 16th: UIAA Mountain Skills - Day 3 of "Trekking in Style"
Our final day of practical Mountain Skills training using day 3 of the "Trekking in Style" itinerary saw us leave the Azzenden Trekking Lodge after breakfast. Climbing high above the lodge with our participants navigating all the way, we passed through a small alpine-like area where crops were growing before entering a wooded area which led us up to the Tizi Oudite (2221m).
The area around the pass had remnants of ancient settlements which we looked at whilst enjoying a rest. Beyond the pass we descended through woodland before joining the new 5Km Precipice Path which had been constructed by local communities which included the local mountain guides. To be told that this impressive path had been constructed in 3 months was hard to believe but is was part of a number of path improve schemes led by the local mountain guides to improve trekking opportunities in the area. I think that this 5Km Precipice Path was my most enjoyable walk for a number of years.
Lunch was on a spur overlooking Tadert across the valley and as always, was a generous and enjoyable experience. Southwards the views were of Imlil and Mt Toubkal beyond. Before leaving we thanked our two cooks and after consulting with Sara and Lahcen, Helen and I gave them a tip.
The group split up as we arrived in Imlil as Helen wanted to browse the shops so Sara and I accompanied her before climbing back up to the Kasbah. Several of us enjoyed a coffee before the shop browsing trip commenced. The shop browsing trip was enjoyable and resulted in Helen making a few purchases and familiarising herself with a couple of good shops before she returns with her Bryn Walking for Women group next month.
Back at the Kasbah that night, Helen and I enjoyed a bottle of Tuareg white wine with dinner kindly given to us by Mike the owner.
Helen's thoughts for the day: Another amazing day. We left the lodge fairly early so that we could incorporate lots of teaching and learning on our route. We had split the group into two teams on the very first day - this worked really well which gave a relaxed competitive spirit, all in good humour. From the lodge to the tizi we did several timing exercises and compass work.
The path from the tizi needed care at times - either narrow or loose, but in general nothing worse than a UK coastal path.
Back in Imlil, going round the small shops with Sara was fun. She is well respected, well known and liked and an asset to the community.
JANUARY 17th: UIAA/REC Essential Outdoor First Aid (8hrs) for local mountain guides
Our seven Mountain Skills participants were joined by four other local mountain guides for this First Aid course which Helen and I jointly delivered over the course of the day: 6hrs of Basic First Aid followed by 2hrs of High Altitude First Aid which included an introduction to the use of a Portable Altitude Chamber (PAC). With 2% - 5% of trekkers at the high lodges suffering from altitude related illnesses then perhaps consideration should be given to having a Portable Altitude Chamber and O2 being located up there along with some basic First Aid equipment.
Helen's thoughts for the day: A great fun day with lots of participation from the group. Alan makes the course dynamic and interesting so it's very enjoyable for me to assist and be part of it.
JANUARY 18th: UIAA Mountain Skills Administration//REC Life Saver First Aid (4hrs) for Kasbah staff
The morning was intended for UIAA post-course administration and the online graduation and certification process and this was completed by about 1300hrs with five of the participants being able to become registered and complete the online course elements. Unfortunately two participants were unable to receive the UIAA invitation to register for Mountain Skills completion at all so I'll need to discuss this with Steve Long of UIAA on my return home (this has now been resolved and all participants have completed the course).
The afternoon REC Life Saver First Aid course was intended for twelve staff from the Kasbah but only seven were able to attend. Because of language details, Helen and I thought it might be best if we abandoned the formal Powerpoint presentation and go for an ad lib approach to the syllabus combining the normal course content with specific items requested by the seven participants. This wouldn't have been possible without Sara's excellent translation skills and the teamwork which she and Helen delivered to great effect during the course including the very realistic outdoor scenarios and evacuation by stretcher back into the Conference Room.
Helen and I also managed a walk down into Imlil for a last browse of the shops which resulted in me carrying her new carpet back up to the Kasbah!
I arranged a special dinner for Helen on this last night at the Kasbah du Toubkal: Lemon Chicken with Olives and Couscous with the rest of the Tuareg white wine.
Helen's thoughts for the day: The first couscous all week - thanks Alan!!
At the end of the course for the mountain guides, lunch time, Alan and I were presented with gifts to show their gratification. It was so heartfelt I completely welled up and I am as I write this. A wonderful group of people.
The afternoon course for the Kasbah staff was great fun and again Sara shone with her many skills - translating and delivering. Although I used some of the power point slide it was mainly for photographs and it was great to deliver and teach exactly what they need for their environments.
JANUARY 19th: Return to Marrakech for one night at the Riad Les Yeux Bleus
We were ready to leave the Kasbah soon after 0900hrs and walked down to the office in Imlil where we were soon approached by our driver. We'd arranged with reception in the Kasbah to stop off at the Menara Gardens on our way to the riad but this was difficult for the driver to comprehend although we did manage to achieve this for a brief walk around the lake. The main lakeside building there provides a "stunning" example of Islamic architecture which required us both to pay £5 in order to use the free toilets urgently required after our drive to Marrakech - an expensive relief!
We were soon close to the Riad Les Yeux Bleu and after being dropped off by our car, a porter with trolley transported our bags a distance of less than 100m to charge us the equivelent of £4 and we were soon checked in. The check in process was brief to say the least with no normal briefing about facilities on site. My room was available so we dumped the bags in there before heading out into the Medina.
Room 12 was compact with no walking space either side of the bed so access and exiting the very comfortable bed was via the base of the bed. The bathroom was well equipped so room 12 I considered adequate for just the one night. Helen's bigger room was available later and her's even had a heater which I hadn't had in Room 12. Room 12 was next to the small pool whilst Helen was upstairs. Music was playing constantly in all areas which wasn't necessary late at night.
On our walk into Jemaa el-Fna, the main square and market place of Marrakech we both enjoyed the various suqs we walked through and enjoyed an excellant pasta lunch on the rooftop terrace at the Restauraunt Taj Medina. The Taj Medina might make an excellent dinner venue one night next month when Helen and her group are in Marrakech after their trek. After visiting Jemma el-Fna and the nearby Koutoubia Mosque, we returned to the riad with a brief pause for a shave at a local barbers before getting back into the riad for Helen to get into her room which hadn't been ready earlier.
For the evening, we walked back to Jemmaa el-fna to watch the night food markets being set up before the cold evening air set in and we sought a suitable venue for dinner. We'd looked at several venues before decidng on the very pleasantly appointed La Table de la Koutoubia which looked out directly and very closely to the Koutoubia Mosque. We enjoyed a pleasant dinner and evening before walking back into the Jemaa el-Fna for Helen to hire a Tok Tok to get us back to the riad. After a bouncing and swerving journey through some of the night suqs, only narrowly missing people out to explore this part of the city we arrived back.
Back at the riad we sat by the pool for a short while trying to use the very poor wifi on offer before retiring for the night.
Helen's thoughts for the day: A very worthwhile trip to Marrakesh as I'll be here next month with 8 women - another trip we have waited 2 years for. The suqs are good fun but you mustn't look at anything for more than a second or catch a stall holder's eye - otherwise you'll soon be spent out.
JANUARY 20th: Flight to LHR T5 for the onward drive to Cardiff
Our 1735hrs BA 0669 flight meant we had the morning for a final walk into the Jemaa el-fna for morning coffee. Breakfast supposedly started at 0800hrs but it was more like 0820hrs before we saw any coffee although some of the breakfast food was on the table. It was so cold in the breakfast area which was alongside reception that Helen asked for heater's to be lit which we sat around in our duvet jackets but I thought the quality of breakast was to my liking.
I enjoyed this last morning in Marrakech with a light lunch before being back in the riad ready for our porter and trolley £5 for the very short distance to our vehicle and airport transfer.
Check in and formalities were effortless and we were soon in the Royal Air Maroc Lounge which was one of the worst lounges I've ever been in. Our access was because we were BA passengers and both airlines are in the One World Alliance which I'm a member of because of my frequent Qatar Airways flights who are also in the same alliance.
The flight back was good with no delays at LHR T5 for immigration and luggage and with my car ready and waiting for us, We arrived back in Cardiff before midnight.
Helen's thoughts for the day: The start of our last day wasn't really as I thought it would be - the facilities at the riad I thought were confusing and completly lacking in instruction. It was perishingly cold and nowhere to eat breakfast without being more or less outside. It was dark, cold and late on arrival. The evening before was also cold and there was nowhere communal to sit where it was warm. I hope next month will be warmer.
We had a light lunch with great views (another place I've earmarked) and we had good fun exploring the suqs once more and coffee in the main square. So all in all worthwhile.
Final thoughts: Alan - Another enjoyable CSR training trip to the fabulous Kasbah du Toubkal with Helen whose excellent skills were highly enjoyed and appreciated by our "Magnificent Seven" group of local mountain guides. A highly rewarding trip for Helen and I and it was a pleasure to work with Helen in Morocco - many thanks.
Final thoughts: Helen - I hope that this opportunity arises again. There is nothing more satisfying than feeling really appreciated and knowing that your work is really worthwhile in this remote Berber community. Working with Alan is easy and without difficulty especially in situations that could be challenging otherwise. We plan and discuss everything together every step of the way - We make a good professional team and I think the participants appreciate the relaxed and fun environment that we create to learn the important and lifesaving skills in the mountains.
Following on from retirement, more time will be available for hill and mountain walking on a personal basis with friends.