Extreme Suffering

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Endurance training this week – four days hiking in the High AtlasOver Mountains with the indomitable Noureddine Bachar of Epic Morocco www.epicmorocco.co.uk . If I had done this trip before I had signed up for the Marathon Des Sables (MdS), I may not have signed up! It has brought home just how brutal this challenge is going to be.
The distances don’t look too horrific but add in altitude, rocks, rivers, ascent and strong sun and I was a broken woman at the end of it.
DAY 1 – 22 km. Ouarzazt to the Yagour Plateau. Began at 1,680 m and ended at 2,400 m. The terrain was very typical Morocco – rocky with some steep ups and downs and a strong push up to the Plateau. Wild flowers everywhere and lush grasslands at the top.
Grazing on the plateau is shared by the villages in the area who all have their own patch and who agree a date every year that they will take their herds there for the summer. We were to pass several migrating herds, making a noisy, smelly progress.The newborn kids are carried either by the shepherds or in a big basket on a mule with a mother goat in a basket on the other side to keep them from getting nervous.
By the end of the day my tendons were screaming from keeping my feet stabilised on the rocky ground and the ups and downs.
We arrived at Hussein and Rqiyya’s house unannounced early in the evening. Nouri had not seen them for 7 years but they welcomed us as long lost friends and put us up for the night with typical Berber generosity, giving us the guest room and preparing a big celebratory couscous. Rqiyya’s kitchen quickly filled up with the extended family as we sat and chatted and she cooked. Nouri beguiled the children with his magic tricks and I was beguiled by the warmth, humour and openheartedness of the family.
DAY 2 – 34 km. Over the Tizi N’Outfi Pass at 2,600 m then on to Taghouzirt in the Zat Valley. After a glorious morning send off, we quickly got up over the pass and then a long, steep down to the valley. The sun was at its hottest as we went up a dirt road for several kms. Nouri marched ahead and I panted along as fast as I could, thinking, “good training, good training.”
The rest of the day was through the Zat river which is sparkling and beautiful. Halfway up we detoured to some waterfalls and couldn’t resist a swim – the boots were wet anyway. But then I started to get really tired and feel all the various pains in my feet and legs from walking through a rocky river. My neck was also groaning from the weight of my pack – 10 kg, what it will be for the Marathon Des Sables. I was feeling pretty rough by the time we got to the Gite, and kept thinking, “If this was the MdS, I would have another 8km to go and it would be 13 degrees hotter.” Not a happy concept.
DAY 3 – 28 km. Along the Zat River then up 800 near-vertical metres over the Tizi N’Tilst Pass at 3,000 m and down to Tourcht. 800 metres just doesnt’ sound that bad and so I was hoping for a relatively easy day. How wrong I was. We were out for 12 hours and by about 8 hours in, my legs had stiffened up so much I couldn’t actually bend them so was walking like a zombie. This was not useful on a near vertical descent down scree.
The hike up to the pass was very, very steep. I was walking ten steps and then resting, it reminded me a little of Kilimanjaro. But it was the down that did it for me. I am tentative on scree and rocks anyway but this was unlike anything I have encountered. I had to hang on to Nouri for dear life and at one point was obsessively chanting, “Okay, okay, okay,” to try and persuade myself that it was. But at last it ended and we were on the last 5 km up to the village. The joy when the suffering stops!
We slept on Idar’s roof after another hospitable family meal and searched the Milky Way for shooting stars. The idyll was only marred by a cacophony of cockerels at about 3 am vying for the prize of “loudest crow in the village”. They all shut up when the Muezzin sounded the call to prayer, though. Either they are religious birds or they know when they are beaten.
DAY 4 – 10 km. Easy walk to Sitti Fatma and plenty of time to think about the challenge to come. I need to ramp up the training. I always think my endurance is good but this has made me think again. I really suffered and I wasn’t covering nearly the distances I will be doing or in the heat I’ll be facing come next April.

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