Tenderfoots on Toubkal

By Cosima Schelfhout

Rabat - After living in the Maghreb for almost four months, we had one weekend left, and we wanted to make the most of it. Our female pack of 6 squeezed into a manual VW Jetta, and drove south, towards Toubkal National Park. We, with our windbreakers, Nikes and naïve enthusiasm, were going to hike the tallest mountain in North Africa. We left on a Thursday, and expected to return 2 days later, refreshed and invigorated.

After collectively figuring out the stick shift, we joked about the power of our “united feminine force”. We didn’t know how often we’d invoke this self-ascribed power over the next few days.

Tenderfoots on ToubkalTenderfoots on Toubkal

It began to get dark once we passed Marrakech, and only the driver and I were awake by the time we reached the mountains. As we climbed, each turn was blinder, and each gear jolt louder. I wondered for the first time if we had bitten off more than we could chew.

It was almost 2am by the time we reach Imlil, a small village at the base of the National Park, so we opted for a later wake-up call, and fell into fleece-blanketed beds. It was colder than we thought it would be.

 The next morning, we planned our trek over instant coffee and khobz. We’d make it halfway up Toubkal the fist day, and summit and return the next. On our way out, our hostel owner looked quizzically at our worn-out sneakers and convinced us to invest in crampons, strap-on spikes that keep shoes secure in ice and snow. While skeptical we’d need them, we clipped the detachable footwear onto our backpacks, and set out.

We ran into trouble within the first hour: the cool air and steep incline had triggered a group member’s asthma. As we felt we had time to spare, we decided to slow the pace. As we took breaks under the shade of jagged stone, and sipped cool orange juice made fresh at wobbly, cliff-side stands, we could see Toubkal’s white peak in the distance. We reached the Refuge, a bare-bones camp planted 1,000 feet beneath the summit, 7 hours later.

Tenderfoots on ToubkalTenderfoots on Toubkal

As we huddled in the dark cool lobby, we poked at the taught, sun-crisped skin of our foreheads, and explored the ache in our limbs. Later, over the steam of two tagines, we eyed groups of European hikers, clad in glossy ski-gear, bustling around the check-in desk; they were overwhelmingly male, mostly middle-aged, and seemed to know what they were doing.

Before bed, we combatted self-doubt and general exhaustion with affirmations of our youthful determination, and collective female power.

The next morning, we layered on all the clothing we had, stuffed our pockets with “La Vache Qui Rit” cheese packets we’d stolen from breakfast, and ventured out. While the sun hadn’t yet risen, we could see the practiced European mountaineers, with their ice axes and guides, well in the distance. After crossing an icy stream at the foot of the Refuge, we strapped on our crampons, and marched the first of many, steep snowy slopes. We were wearier with each plateau, but also more innovative; we stripped off extra pairs off socks to wear as gloves and rotated our daypacks to alleviate the most fatigued. In staggered breaths, we yelled encouraging phrases at one another, and tried to find comedy in our unpreparedness

Tenderfoots on Toubkal

After four hours in the snow, we reach the rocky serpentine paths that circle Toubkal’s summit. Adrenaline kicked in as we caught sight of the Tripod that marks the peak, and in the face of foreboding comments by returning hikers, we marched onwards with new energy. One by one, we stumbled onto Toubkal’s uppermost ridge, and took in the impressive views that an altitude of 13,671' affords; a sea of sharp, white mountain tops with dust colored villages nestled in its shallows. We imagined we could see the Sahara’s sands to the East, and hear the Atlantic’s break to our West.

But we weren’t finished, Imlil, our car, and the rest of our belongings were a 7-hour hike away. After half-walking, half-falling our way down to the Refuge, we realized we wouldn’t beat the sun; we had 5 hours to go and it would be dark in 2. So with our blistered feet, wet socks, and frozen fingers, we hunkered down for another night at the base camp.

In the fear we wouldn’t return our rented car on time, we got up before five the next morning, and raced down the rest of the mountain. As we watched groups of sporty young men pass us on their way up, we began to feel the weight of our accomplishment. With groggy eyes and soiled clothes, we cheered, “Good luck!” and informed them that “the views were really something”.  We donned advice like expert adventures, and in a sense, we were.  We didn’t have the equipment, or the experience, but we did have a solid dose of group spirit- an ingredient we agreed later was the most important to our success.

Though, upon arriving in Rabat, I wondered if it might have been something else too; maybe our naivety was also a key to our triumph. Would it have been an adventure, if we’d been fully prepared? And would we have taken the first step, if we had known how many would follow?




  • The Moroccan Gold Eldorado

    The Moroccan Gold Eldorado, a Myth or a Reality?

    Rabat - Recently, a conspiracy theory video about a large gold discovery in Morocco is making rounds online. The video claims that a substantial gold reserve was discovered and is being extracted by a Canadian mining company called Maya Gold and Silver. We Moroccans are very proud human beings, we love our country and cherish...

  • Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani

    Qatar: How the Tables Are Turning in The Gulf

    Rabat - Amidst harsh sanctions and a long list of demands from its neighbors, Qatar’s ability to thrive under pressure may prove to be problematic for Saudi Arabia. As Saudi Arabia and its coalition attempt to wait out Qatar, the recent spat in the Gulf continues to become more and more global, and severely against...

  • FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2015 file photo, a plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, N.H. If the nation doesn’t do more, the U.S. probably won’t quite meet the dramatic heat-trapping gas reduction goal it promised in last year’s Paris agreement to battle climate change, according to a new study. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

    Climate Change : If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Fix It

    Chefchaouen - Climate change is happening at home and around the world. Chefchaouen is doing its part by embracing clean energy climate solutions and engaging its citizens in climate action. When it comes to fighting climate change, cities and local leaders are best positioned to lead that charge. Local leaders from coastal to landlocked communities are...

  • 20

    India Orders Internal Probe into Mistaken Use of Morocco-Spain Border Picture

    Hyderabad - The Indian Ministry of Interior on Wednesday ordered an internal investigation to find out how a picture of Morocco-Spain border was used in its annual report to show floodlights along the India-Pakistan border. What is most embarrassing is that the annual report of previous years was tabled during the Budget Session of Indian...

  • Amid Growing Tension, Thousands of Moroccans Stage Pro-Rif March in Rabat

    Neglect in Harsh Soil: The Deep Roots of the Rif Crisis

    Rabat - The ongoing protests in northern Morocco started almost eight months ago, but they have their origin in nearly a century of violent repression by the state. The Rif has, in spite of itself, got involved into a peaceful revolt since the death of the fishmonger Mohcine Fikri at the end of October 2016, a...

  • Tamim Bin Hamad al Thani emir of Qatar

    The Qatar Crisis: What Does It Mean?

    Rabat - The recent diplomatic fallout between Qatar and the rest of the Middle East could have serious economic and geopolitical consequences across the globe. Earlier this week, Qatar’s diplomatic crisis took an extreme turn as several Arab states severed diplomatic ties with the Gulf nation.  The original list of countries in the coalition against...

  • Moroccans spend Laylat al-Qadr, the 26th day of Ramadan, at the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca.

    Ramadan: Not just Abstinence from Daily Intakes 

    By Abdellatif Oudra Rabat - The observance of Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, compels Muslims to fast from sunrise to sunset. But it is not just about abstaining from food or drink.  Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is observed in commemoration of the revelation of Qur’an to the prophet Mohammad,...

  • Morocco Threatens to Terminate Agriculture Agreement with Europe

    Morocco and the EU: Managing the Future

    Rabat - Morocco enjoys proximity to Europe and is at an advantage of being favoured by the European Union as a close partner on political, economic, and cultural levels. Historical archives and political legacies tie Morocco directly with at least three influential European countries: France, Spain, and England. Demography, kinship, and immigration compel other EU...

  • The Educational and Cultural Implications of the Arab Spring

    The Educational and Cultural Implications of the Arab 'Spring'

    Rabat - In the last ten years or so, the Arab world has seen unprecedented collapses in the realms of politics and economy, among others. World NGOs regularly release area-specific rankings, in which Arab nations commonly rank at the bottom of lists in education, human rights, and income for instance while they top those of...

  • Thousands Hold Peaceful Demonstration in Memory of Mouhcine Fikri

    Al Hoceima and the Pedagogical Exercise

    Ottawa - What makes a democracy different from non-democracy? This is the classical and historical question asked by philosophers over the centuries and deeply questioned in the discipline of political science. Democracy cannot prevent inequality as the case in the United States where inequality is the highest globally. Democracy cannot stop corruption like in Brazil...