After my experiences in Peru with altitude and dehydration, and on the advice of some seasoned Kilimanjaro guides, I decided to try out another high altitude (above 3000m) trek before embarking on Kili. I recently got the all-clear from my medical team to tackle Kili so this was the last hurdle to overcome before booking the trip. When I mentioned this to someone recently, they were stunned – not that I got the all-clear, but that I have a whole medical team to look after me, not just a GP! In case you’re interested, I have a GP, a diabetes consultant, a retinal specialist, and a pump-trained DSN, all of whom I see regularly, and should I require it, I also have a chiropodist, dietician and psychiatrist at my disposal – that’s one good thing about having a serious medical condition, there are specialists hovering around your every move! Anyway, I digress. Finding a week free in my busy schedule, and wanting somewhere fairly cheap and not too far away, I decided on Mt Toubkal in Morocco. The trip involved a week in the Atlas Mountains, with the ascent of Toubkal (4216m) as the toughest part. Apparently it’s ranked #280 of 953 things to do in Morocco by Lonely Planet travellers, though I can’t imagine 279 things to do in Morocco that would be more fun.
The trek was classified by Exodus as a C grade trip, so I knew it would be tougher than the previous treks I’ve done with them, which had all been classified as B, although the most recent one was definitely (even according to the guide) more like a C grade, with long days in the mountains and a lot of ascent. This time my fears were slightly different from those on the Inca Trail. The camping aspect didn’t bother me at all, in fact I was looking forward to that above all else, and perhaps surprisingly, the altitude wasn’t a major concern as I figured I now knew how to deal with it after my Peruvian experience. All I needed to do was drink lots (of water) and then drink some more, and try not to think about the horrors of having to get out of the tent in the freezing cold at night and wander around in the dark on top of a precarious cliff edge to pee. I thought if I could avoid getting ill, everything would be fine. However, as I monitored the weather forecast in the preceding days, and saw the thermometer sitting at a toasty 45 degrees in Marrakech (an extra 10 degrees hotter than usual for this time of year) I realised that the heat could actually be my biggest problem. How was I going to keep my insulin cool on trek? And what would happen if I couldn’t? All my spare insulin would be equally hot – and ruined. Because our kitbags were being transported by mule this time, there was also the danger that something would happen to my medical supplies. What if a mule were to fall off the mountain or decide to escape? I also suspected that the muleteers would throw my bag around even more violently than the Royal Mail, so everything needed to be bomb-proof if my medical supplies were to remain intact. More about those aspects in a separate post about managing diabetes in hot weather on a mountain, but in summary, I managed what I consider to be excellent diabetes control under the circumstances (actually way better than I often get at home!).
It turned out that fitness was actually my biggest problem on the trek. Apparently we had an unusually fit group, and it was rather disconcerting to be the slowest person on the tough days, not just uphill but sometimes downhill too! I soon realised that I needed to go at my own pace, even if it meant holding up the others, but it made me feel terribly guilty to do so. On the day we summitted Toubkal (more about that in another post) I was devastated when we finally got back to base camp at the thought that I had been slowing everyone down and they were annoyed at me. I was assured by a couple of people later that this wasn’t the case, and that they were just concerned if I was OK, but I’m still not so sure. One thing though, I was definitely feeling the effects of dehydration and altitude (which oddly no one else seemed to be) despite making a conscious effort to drink a lot. Another lesson learnt. What I think is a lot of water is not nearly enough. And going to the loo in the freezing cold on the edge of a mountain in the pitch black at night with mules wandering around – no matter how many times – is still better than feeling ill from ascending a mountain when dehydrated. Even though it never feels like it at the time.
Despite the fact that summiting Toubkal was the toughest thing I think I have ever done, I’m glad I did it as it made me realise that I have some hard work to do before February, but at the same time these things are achievable if you have the right attitude. I never doubted for a minute that I would get to the top of Toubkal, no matter how long it took and how annoyed with me everyone else was for being slow. I know this is the most important thing I’ll need when climbing Kili – that determination to succeed no matter how much pain it involves. I did this trip and I’ll do Kili, not to make friends and have a good time, but for myself and for the greater good of JDRF. In addition, I learnt a lot, both about myself and about trekking up mountains, and have some wonderful memories. The thing I find hardest is remembering this and trying not to spend so much time and effort worrying about what other people think. Even if everyone hates me afterwards, well that’s the beauty of going on a trip like this with strangers – they never have to speak to me again if they have got fed up with me. I still hope they like me though.