Children of winter never grow old.
(Warren Miller Entertainment)
Instruct a man, you instruct an individual. Instruct a woman, you instruct a nation. (Moroccan proverb)
Checking into Morocco: The trip to Morocco didn’t get off too well when my flight from Munich was delayed the evening before leaving me with only two or three hours of sleep between repacking and a 6am flight from Stansted. It did work out in the end and Ryanair’s service levels didn’t fail to remind that you should not use them unless there is really no alternative. The flight was smooth and we landed a bit ahead of time leaving just the border to clear. Easier said than done. All foreigners have to fill a landing card, but there was zero pens available. So put a smile on and borrow one. Took me 20min in total (good I wasn’t in a rush I guess). Next stop was my rental car. At €50 for the two days plus petrol it seemed a good choice. Avoids having to go the center to get a lift for same or more fare in some dodgy old car. Especially on the way back the additional flexibility should come handy. The funny thing was first that you have to return the car with a quarter of the tank full and secondly cars needs to be clean in and outside. Given the state of the roads to Imlil (base village for Toubkal hikers) this means I need to get a car wash sorted prior to return or just pay some €12 for them to do it (I am certain that this add-on is a firm part of their profit margin ;o).
Getting to Imlil: With data on my BT mobile priced at £5/mb (!) I had little desire to use google maps or any data for that matter. So normal navigation by asking actual people (that don’t speak English all that well) was on the menu. Unusual these days. The signposts were close to useless due to lack of signs or them being all in Arabic. However, a petrol warden drew me a simple map that worked spot on. The 75-80km from Marrakech airport to Imlil to me about 90mins and allowed for a start at 1.15pm.
Hiking up to ‘Refuge du Toubkal‘: I had some bread first given I hadn’t had a proper meal since my Schnitzel at Munich airport last night and got water. Off we go and this time not with a crazy heavy bag, but say 15kg (the new camera & go pro & batteries adding back some of the saved weight from new equipment). Overall it required a moderate 4h 45min total to hike up ~1,500m over 10km distance to reach the refuge at 3,207m. This time I arrived at 6pm and hence before sunset. Many of the people I passed on the way would arrive 2h later or I didn’t see them at all (one English couple/friends I asked if they had torches given their speed would mean they finish in darkness and can end in tears).
The weather looked initially worse than back in December as it was snowing in Imlil already (1,740m altitude). However, not as much gusty wind and no comparison to the rain/snow storm last time. Views were limited to say the least given the precipitation. Most importantly though given the again tight timetable of two days, the forecasts were for fine weather Tuesday am and only little new snow (vs 25cm last time). Next bigger snow is only expected Wednesday pm (10-15cm). It was very cold though closer to the refuge (-10 degrees?) and even my ice climbing gloves didn’t cut the mustard. Good to have mitts as back-up though I will try the Muntain Hardwear ice climbing gloves to start.
Recharging batteries at the refuge: After check-in and some hot tea, I had to rest for a good hour to recoup strength. Been a long day. After a solid dinner (chicken, potato, carrots, soup, bread, tea) it was time to prepare for tomorrow (about 2.2km distance in steep upwards terrrain including just under 1,000m altitude gain to the summit at 4,167m). Breakfast at 6.30am. Not early enough for sunrise, but before the snow gets warm. Most importantly … I hope my watch will fix the navigation aspect this time (having failed miserably once before). The Toubkal route was the first thing I programmed when I got my Suunto Ambit Peak 3 recently.
One tip – don’t forget your passport: A Dutch / Moroccan couple left their passports in their Imlil hotel when they decided to go hiking at short notice. She had to get her mum to confirm passport details or be refused to stay at the refuge. That’s pretty stupid of the refuge people to say the least. You are a refuge for a reason and sending unprepared hikers back down in darkness is only asking for trouble. Not really an issue for international travellers, but be warned still.
Reaching North Africa’s highest peak: After a brief breakfast I set out at 7am. I think only the english bloke who also stayed in my room left earlier (5.30ish). This time I took the correct valley up and since it was daylight already it was hard to miss. Soon after me five Italian ski mountaineers followed suit as well as a British group of three hikers. The snowfall hadn’t been too bad though there was some trail-breaking required on the less frozen parts of the route. Here the Italians on their ski’s had a much faster pace. Weather wise there were some clear patches early on, but soon clouds arrived, wind set in and temperatures dropped well below zero (eventually I had to put on my mitts). The route is pretty much a straight line up te valley until you reach the ridge, which you follow for anothwr 30mins to the summit. My pace was relatively moderate, but steady and I reached the top at 11.30am after 4,5h for the 1,000m altitude gain. Mission accomplished! Both the Italians and the English team beat me to it, but that’s not important (they went to bed after while I felt in strong condition to push all the way down). Thinner air was a headwind while physical fitness was rock solid. After an uneventful 30mins at the summit (for there was little to see unfortunately) and a few refreshments, I made my way back down and reached the refuge 13.45. Parts of the way down you can actually slide on your bum and I once more appreciated the GPS on my Suunto that gave confidence even when visibility dropped to 5-10m.
Get me out of here! My desire to spend more time at the refuge (I had considered lunch) dropped significantly when I realised that ‘someone’ had opened the two dry bags I left behind (probably the same guy that charged me €2 for one cup of tea!). Nothing was missing (I took my money with me), but it’s just sad. I did let the guys know that this not cool, but the response only I got was that i should have put my stuff in (their) locker. Very helpful. This and the rip-off culture of Marrakesh really leave a bad image of Morocco (I have been advised since that outside Marrakesh its much better). By 2pm I was back on the trail, which remained largely snow-covered and new snow kept on coming. Without a single stop (apart from a few conversations with hikers heading up) it took 3h back to the car in Imlil.
Lost in Marrakesh: Driving the 80km back were uneventful. Life got a little trickier when I drove into the city center without a map or clue (still without mobile data). I found a parking space near the great square and took it gladly (€7/night were a rip-off, but I didn’t care after 10hours hiking and two hours driving today). Then quickly across the bazar and into the medina (old town) to hopefully find the Cafe Arabic that firstly sells a much desired cold beer (otherwise really hard to come by) and secondly has decent wi-fi. The latter was important as I still needed a place to sleep (it was 8.30pm by now). The issue is to find your way round the medina. Not even google maps works here. After trying my luck alone I ended up tipping a guy to get me there. Within 30mins I had my beer, spaghetti carbonara, booked a great hostel nearby and had caught up with events. Prices in this cafe are very much like home (i.e. expensive), food quality very average and the guests almost exclusively expats and tourists. But its nice and a welcome refuge from the craze of the buzzing markets. From there the maze continued and I needed one more guy to get me to the hostel (I paid him €4 to do so … so pretty much like an ‘Uber’ minimum fare (£5 in London) or a 15min taxi ride to the airport (MAD40) … but he wasnt happy still!).
Quality time at Equity Point Hostel: I checked in around 9pm. The value deal was for €9/night including breakfast. Respect though I would miss breakfast that is only served 8am to 10am. As most places in the old town, the building looks rather shabby from the outside. Once you get in, you’ll find plenty of space, a pool, a roof top and a bar (even showing Champions league with City beating Monaco 5:3 & selling drinks). The best thing about hostels is that you usually meet people and equity point didn’t let me down. After a quick shower I met 4 of my 6 room mates in the bar. On one hand two brothers from New Zealand (not that I would have guessed, Nico and Deniro?). Nico is an engineer involved in the new Tottenham stadium (to make some money for the next travel I gathered) and the other a lawyer who is about to start a 6mth job with HSBC in Hong Kong. They had managed to get hold of two local coats from €35 each today and now blended in well into the streets of Marrakesh. On the other there were two French girls who are teachers as I understood and just spent 3 weeks working in Southern Morocco (Clo & Julie). Over a few bottles of wine we touched probably on every main topic there is. Politics (in Europe, US and even NZ), refugees, religion, backgrounds (the brothers have been travelling a lot over the years), favorite travel destinations, socialism vs capitalism, Australian binge drinking and aggression, global warming, London’s drug culture (list not exhaustive by any means!) … you name it! One of the brothers had trekked to Everest base camp in January this year and so we had a good amount of chat on mountains and Nepal too. Loved every moment and really hope our paths’ will cross again!
The three arabic words I picked up …
‘BsaHa’ – cheers / May god give you health
‘Jamal’ = Camel
‘Djellaba’ – Traditional Berber robe (what the two kiwi’s wear in the picture)
Key takeaways: Visit this place in central turkey (I forget the name Clo ;o), Brasil (Julie lived there for a year also teaching i believe), New Orleans (best nightlife ever according to Nico), don’t work for Australian farmers (they rip you off apparently though farm work doubles the length of your stay I learned), take a solar charger to Nepal and buy a local SIM.
After six hours sleep and an actually painless transfer to the airport (I even had time to get the car washed … out of principle) it was time to say good-bye. I guess I have to come back to see the ‘other Morocco’ one day.
(‘wadaeaan’ – goodbye)
‘Great minds discuss ideas, average people discuss events, small minds discuss people’ (chalk board in Francesco’s kitchen)
It is now the second year that we stop over for a weekend in Munich at my sisters place after our family ski trip. Partly this is related to flights into Munich being more affordable around half-term school holidays (than say Salzburg or Innsbruck), but part is also that it’s actually a nice place to spend some time especially if you have as lovely a sister living there as I do.
We arrived around midday on Saturday having managed to avoid overly bad traffic out of Austria (our parents weren’t quite as lucky). Steve helped us carry up the luggage and, to my positive surprise, this time the elevator in my sister’s house was actually functioning. Steve then left to drop off the rental at the airport and we loosely aimed to meet up for dinner at the Hofbräuhaus (tourist trap, but fun).
Toy museum, Viktualienmarkt & Hofbräuhaus
After a little rest and some dress-up action of Alex & aunty Frances we set out to visit the ‘Deutsches Museum’ (German museum, bit like science museum in London). However, we then figured 3pm was a little late in the day given the museum closes 5pm and so we headed for the toy museum instead.
As we left the subway at ‘Sendlinger Tor’ we headed over to Marienplatz where an anti NATO / war demonstration was in full swing and plenty of police about. The demonstration was aimed at the security conference that takes place annually here at the Bayerischer Hof hotel (I hope they have refurbished the place by now!). We glanced at some of the banners, but then swiftly left the noisy pack behind us and dived into toy history instead.
The museum is situated in a tower-like building with a circular staircase leading you up (no prams allowed though, which does question how family friendly the place really is). Exhibited are historical toys on the 2nd, 3rd and 5th floor. You find items like trains (e.g. the old Merklin brand), loads of Barbie’s, regular dolls, doll houses, robots, ships, regional German toys such from the Erzgebirge (known for their craftsmanship manufacturing Christmas decoration of all sorts) etc. After an hour or so we were done, but didn’t leave before buying two old-fashioned children books for Alex: ‘Max & Moritz’ and the ‘Der Struwelpeter’ (he loved the first one immediately when we read it to him later).
After the museum we continued our stroll through the city center across the famous Viktualienmarkt. Essentially something like Borough market with a lot of local and European food such as veggies, fruit, sausages, cheese, oil, truffles etc. It’s always nice to hang out there. In the end we headed to ‘Eataly’ … as the name suggests an Italian dedicated lifestyle shopping spot. Alex got a Nutella crepe to satisfy his cravings while we enjoyed some nice Italian wine and chatted about life. Alex even rediscovered his love for books when I read the stories of ‘Max & Moritz’ to him. He could literally not get enough (well, there is only 7 stories …).
In the evening we met Steve and Robert (they are uni friends from their time in Dresden). Originally from the northern island of Rügen, Robert now lives in Munich. Some good times ensued as we all feasted traditional Bavarian food amidst good beer, live music and a hyperactive Alex (well, Robert took it easy as he was still digesting the previous night out and had some commitments Sunday a.m.). In the end, I decided to stay with the boys for a night out and so Frances and Alex went home alone.
A boys night out …
The night kicked off fairly civilised at the flat of an Italian mate of Robert called Francesco. We spent a good hour discussing the European project and touched on each others backgrounds a bit before we left for a pretty posh bar (called ‘Brenner’) close to Munich’s famous Maximilianstrasse. The prices seemed reasonable though with cocktails going for EUR9ish. Once at the bar, we met two female Italian friends of Francesco who both work in Munich (logistics or so). We didn’t talk too much, but it transpired that the girls were actively looking for a husband here. I guess they look for someone with money. Apparently two guys had already fit the criteria of one of the girls, but I didn’t get much detail as to what their requirements are (‘he must be cool’).
Not really a place we felt was right for us and so we went to an Irish pub instead and got the party going. Kilkenny beers and the occasional Jaegermeister were sufficient that by 2am we had to retreat (after the mandatory stop at McD). It turned out to be a noisy finale as we all rediscovered our singing voices and football chants! Apologies if anyone woke up to that sound ;o) Anyway, some good vibes with the boys and well deserved rest on my sisters sofa.
Visit at Munich zoo and a first taste of spring
Sunday weather was as pleasant as forecast and looked very much like an early day in spring. We had decided to visit the zoo and were joined by Frances’ mate Peter (or Pidi). He is a die-heart FC Cologne supporter, works in sport sponsoring for a living and lives a single life just like my sister. Alex dressed in a Cologne fan scarf made for a flying start (he remains committed to Chelsea though). Alex found some further excitement in the Polaroid camera my sister has got (so now both dad and son were busy taking pics with their toys).
Our trip was then slightly delayed by a lengthy hunt for a parking spot. Clearly we weren’t the only folks that wanted to make use of such fine weather. Once in, I reckon we made it almost all the way round the zoo. But I let the pictures speak. Nice Sunday out anyway.
Then it was already time to say good-bye from Frances and Steve (back to Copenhagen) and for me time to think ahead for the upcoming trip to Marrakesh (at 6am!) where climbing training will resume in the Atlas mountains.
It was a fun finale after our ski trip. Danke Schwesterchen!
Other than my winter ascent (Winter ascent & bivouac Totenkirchl, Austria (2,190m)) in preparation for Nepal (Lhotse summit success: Climbing up (includes 3D video of ascent) we had loads of fun as a family … thanks go to my lovely sister for producing this clip of our Kirchberg week in Feb’17.
‘The adventure starts where experience ends’
(Paul Koller, Austrian Mountain Guide)
I wanted to use some of my time on family ski holiday to prepare for Lhotse, pick up some new skills and expand my comfort zone somewhat. I turned to the Austrian alpine guides and ended up on a two-day tour with a very seasoned, local guide Paul Koller. He had been on Broad Peak, Cho Oyu and Everest (3 of 14 8,000m peaks) and completed the 7 summit series (several peaks multiple times). Born and bred in the Kaiser-mountain range he took me to his favorite peak – Totenkirchl (100+ ascents and has ascended & descended from Stripsenjochhaus top summit in one hour). The trip left no wishes open …
We set out from his home after checking the gear. From my original pack I left my soft shell trousers, ridgerest and one of the axes behind … but added a tent instead. Best guess about 20kg were waiting to be carried up the hill. The starting point of the route is the ‘Griesneralm’ at about 1,000m (leaving 1,200 to climb). We used snow shoes throughout the first day (make MSR are best in Paul’s view … funny enough Irish made though US origin … as was the stove & tent of the same brand – https://www.msrgear.com/ie/). Its great walking in these with their broad step and spikes though it took me a while to get fully used to them. Particularly some steep sections required some trust in the gear, as I was tempted to swap snowshoes & ski poles for crampons & axe.
The hike took us about 3,5hours for 2.2km until we reached our ‘camping ground’ right underneath the guide fingers at 4pm. There was, however, a lack of snow leaving too small a platform to put the tent. We enlarged it manually by shovelling more snow from above. Once the tent was up the usual procedure of melting snow, re-hydrate and eat began. I was terribly hungry and it felt that I ate most of my provisions including a pack for two of Tortelloni. By 6pm it was getting dark and we began to prepare for the night. Paul took some great pics of our orange shelter glowing in the night.
Next morning we started neither too early nor too late though seemingly a bit behind Paul’s agenda. By 7.30am we were walking. This time equipped with crampons and axe to maneuver the steep terrain and the technical climbing beyond (i.e. we would definitely need it). It would turn into a hard, but fulfilling day that certainly expanded my comfort zone significantly. Be it to trust the frozen snow, climbing with crampons on rock, abseiling. What Paul lead-climbed looked spectacular to say the least and left me feeling comfortable all the time.
We reached the peak at around 1pm. An hour behind schedule. The views were spectacular and together with a bit of sun made for a nice resting place. We also entered our names into the summit book. The last entry was from 30 October 2016 making this the first winter ascent of the season. Then came the abseiling. It has been a while since I did this with crampons (takes me back to Mt. Blanc I believe), but slowly I got the hang of it. We abseiled down the steep rock, but Paul also showed me a light version of abseiling used to descent from high camps quicker than walking the zig-zag in crampons. The whole trip took us 8h 30mins. Once back at the Alm, we enjoyed a good meal, beer and an ‘Obstler’ on the house.
… and here the go pro cut … bit shaky at times, but some good footage too! Enjoy.
Thank you Paul. Hopefully we meet again soon and I can pick up a few more skills after a really good session on Totenkirchl. There is plenty to catch up after all ;o)