Jul 31, 2012

The People You Meet: The 1948 Olympian Diver, Actor, Singer, Father, Peter Elliott

If I'm ever fortunate enough to live healthy and strong to a ripe old age, I want to be like the legendary Peter Elliott. I am inspired by Peter Elliott as one of the people that I've met along the way as Peter has the spirit, the energy and the 'groove' of a 30-year old in an 81 year old's body. In fact, when I first met Peter, he was wearing tap-dancing shoes with his black-tie on his way to an Olympic ball. "What do you think" he asked me as he did a full turn with a 'clickety-click' closed out with a dashing smile in our living room.  Charming, sophisticated and a friend to all I can't imagine a better dinner date and dance partner..!  Proud father to DJ Lora, my uber-talented flatmate, I've been fortunate enough to have gleaned from Peter's wealth of experiences, travels, adventures and absolutely brilliant sense of humour.

Among his many accolades including actor, stunt-man, dancer and singer are that at the age of 17, he was the youngest Briton ­in the 1948 Olympics which were also hosted in London. He is only one of a handful of survivors from those Games alive today. I couldn't help but think of Peter as I watched the crowds of athletes walking into the spectacular venue at the opening ceremonies here in London last night... This is how he recalls his experience from 1948 walking into the opening ceremony at Wembley, representing team GB with a blazer that was too tight, an unfashionable beret and frustrated by the long rehearsals for the march-past. As he entered the stadium, he found his partner, a six-foot-six wrestler, crying.

“Tears were rolling down his cheeks. I was thinking, what’s he crying for? But then I heard the roar of the crowd and I started crying, too. In 1948, the nation felt it was a great honour to host the games. We had come through a terrible war and we felt, ‘Wow, we have not done too badly have we?’

Last weekend I went to Malta for a short holiday to meet up with friends including Laura and her father Peter. Once again, I looked on in awe from the comfort of my deckchair as I watched Peter curl his toes on the edge of the pool, hum the tune to, 'Don't worry, be happy' and dive gracefully into the water, resurfacing with a quick flick of his hair and a gigantic smile. It was enough to have me put down my Hello magazine in astonishment..!

Peter has been been a great supporter and a wonderful friend, and, among so many other things, has reminded me of the importance of of believing in yourself, staying fit and healthy and remembering to live each day to its fullest..

Enjoying the sun in Malta with Peter, Tom, Laura and Eloise

The People You Meet: The Inspirational Christine Mills, MBE

I was first introduced to the tremendously inspirational Christine Mills and, subsequently to the charity, Hope for Tomorrow, by my dear friend David English. I was being picky and particular and looking for a charity with which I could develop a long-term relationship for my many adventure projects - a charity that was big enough to make an impact but small enough to still have that 'personal touch' - where local and national fundraising initiatives are conducted with passion, dedication and a hands-on approach. One with a tangible output. I knew of David's involvement with numerous charities so rang him with an overview of my very consultant-esque approach and 'charity selection criteria'... About half-way through my first sentence he bellowed down the phone, 

"Heath, call Chrissie Mills. She's the founder of a wonderful charity called Hope for Tomorrow. She is an amazing woman and you will find great inspiration from her for your journey. Definitely call her - it's a perfect combination..."

 And, as the saying goes, the rest is history..!

From Sea Level to 3000m in 30 seconds...

I place a clear plastic surgical mask against my face and try to relax and type this blog entry. The mask is linked via an omnious thin tube to a greyish white box about two-foot square called a "hypoxicator"... which sounds rather scientific and scary. My immediate reaction is a panic wondering if it had been a good idea to attempt my first Intermittent Hypoxic Training (IHT) session of the year without supervision...

I blink quietly with the surgical mask on my face as the white box humms and whirrs in the corner of the room. The entire scenario had a ‘Darth Vader-heavy-breathing’ like quality about it...

I resist the urge to lower my voice and mumble 'Luke <insert shallow breathing sound here>, I am your father...' through the mask.

As the anxiety ebbs away and I regain control of my imagination, my first five-minute hypoxic session passes without incident. As soon as I take the mask off and began to breathe normal room air the reading on my pulse oximeter indicates my oxygen saturation levels have returned back to its base line score of 99%.

Intermittent Hypoxic Training has been proven that hypoxic training (5-minute sessions of inhaling air that has been filtered to reduce its oxygen content) significantly improves oxygen metabolism in the body and stimulates the body’s defence mechanisms with beneficial responses in our physiology. The remarkable claims made in favour IHT treatment include helping with weight loss, sleeplessness, migraines and asthma attacks.  Many top-level athletes in endurance sports such as the Tour du France train at simulated altitude. The Altitude Centre in London from whom I have rented my Hypoxic Tent and IHT equipment are especially busy at the moment with Olympic athletes.

The normal level of oxygen in air at sea level is 21 per cent and during a 'hypoxic session' it is taken steadily down to 9 per cent, the equivalent of the air you would breathe at 21,500 feet / 6400m. If you can be more efficient with your breathing, it takes a load off your body.

Your body’s response to the lack of oxygen is that it stimulates the production of red blood cells, giving the blood better oxygen-carrying capacity and lowering the heart-rate. It takes the body more than two weeks to produce new red-blood cells, so in order for intermittent hypoxic training to be effective, treatment involves daily hour-long sessions spread over a 21-day period.

The strategy is that with this ‘pre-acclimatisaton’, my initial few weeks on Cho Oyu will, from an acclimatization perspective, be more comfortable as I will be ‘pre-acclimatised’ to the lack of oxygen at altitude. This will leave my body to focus more on getting stronger rather than needing time for the production of increased red blood cells.

Hypoxicator (size of a small beer fridge)

Jul 30, 2012

Ensuite Camping

I have a particularly distinct memory of attempting to set up a tent with my father. At the time, we nearly had what can be referred to as, ‘a domestic’. We’re both ‘experts’ when it comes to setting up tents. I’d like to think of myself as a modern-day female version of ‘Bear Grylls’ and my father considers himself a more ‘refinded’ and dignified McGuyver. So, let your imaginations run wild in a scenario of Bear Grylls and McGuyver setting up a tent in deepest, darkest Canada in the pouring rain with two ‘experts’ that have a way of making something relatively simple seem infinitely more complicated than it should. After about 1.5 hours the tent was erected and my Dad and I shared a beer to celebrate our success.
Today I found myself with another tent-related challenge – setting up an altitude tent ‘over’ my bed in the comfort of central London. It wasn’t a very elegant process with poles, arms, mattresses and duvets flailing about. I admit it took about an hour longer than it should have and my flatmate did intervene and call me mad.... But I did it. On my own (referring to the instruction manual only after the 3rd unsuccessful attempt!) 

The tent is made of a special grade nylon with 4 clear vinyl windows and a small ‘mesh’ roof for air exchange. My mattress fits inside of the tent and serves as the tent base. Next I add the goose-down duvet, the 400-threadcount bedding and decorative pillows… It looks like a sultan’s lair and my mind boggles with 'pick up line' potential!!

This ‘portable altitude training sleep system’ will help with the Cho Oyu pre-acclimatisation process by simulating sleeping at 3800m and maximizing the physiological benefits associated with altitude training while sleeping or resting. About 45 minutes before I go to bed I turn on the ‘hypoxicator’ (small machine about the size of a microwave or a small beer fridge) and set it to the desired altitude. The tube running from the machine into the tent then pumps in the air filtered to reduce its oxygen content.

I admit, I’d prefer training high in the Swiss Alps by day in a gorgeous chalet with a fantastic mountain view by night while eating cheese fondue and enjoying the positive effects of altitude but sometimes in life I’ve learned to make compromises….

Bear Grylls and McGuyver Complete Hour 1 of Tent Challenge (2009)
Bear Grylls in Action (2009)
McGuyver adding the final touches (2009)

The People You Meet: The Sisterhood - Ordinary Girls Achieving Extraordinary Things

One of the highlights of my time in London has been joining The Sisterhood. Monday evenings were always something to be dreaded, the Monday evening hangover and the start of a long week. After an invitation from one of the Sisterhood girls, I found myself donning my Hunter boots and looking forward to Mondays and the weekly paddling sessions on the Thames, where gossip, smiles, and encouragement is exchanged over an evening of exercise and fun with a fabulous and fearless group of inspirational women.

The Sisterhood was launched in 2006 after a bet with a group of overly competitive alpha males to race across the English Channel. The 'Hood' is made up of a team of 60 aspirational women from a variety of professions and sporting backgrounds, ranging from professional athletes to women who have not taken part in sport for over 10 years to royalty to modern celebrities. They have spent the past 6 years bonding in some rather character-building adventures taking part in international regattas, adventure races, triathlons, international dragon boat races, raft races, swimming oceans, running ultra marathons, climbing mountains including Everest and Kilimanjaro, rafting the Amazon, trekking Antarctica and other events round the world. 

The Sisterhood are united in their goal to raise £100,000 per year for The Royal Marsden Cancer Campaign.

I'm tremendously grateful to the girls of the Sisterhood for all of their support and encouragement - both in dealing with the 'curve-balls' that life sometimes throws our way and through my climbing ambitions and adventures in general. I've spent more than a few evenings humming and hawing over a giant latte or laughing over glass of wine, solving the worlds problems. It's through these inspirational women that made some of the most genuine friendships and am truly inspired by their passion and spirit..! 

To many more paddles, adventures and challenges to come! x

The Sisterhood Cowes Week boat (August 2012)

The Sisterhood Ball (2011)

Piers Morgan & Freddie Flintoff meet the Sisterhood (July 2012)

At the Venice Vongalonga (May 2012)
Christmas Paddle (December 2010)

Making Headlines...

Jul 24, 2012

Jimmy Choo, meet Millet Everest

I can't say that I've ever been a 'fashionista' but I do recognise the difference between 'fashion' and 'fashion-faux-pas'. I'm sad to say that on Cho Oyu I will not be receiving any Vogue-style-points or make it onto any 'Best Dressed' lists in the glossy pages of Hello and Grazia magazine over the course of the expedition... 
I will even go as far as to pre-warn you that I will fall victim to the 'fashion-faux-pas to end all faux-pas'... "Crocs with Socks" (followed a close second by sandles with socks... *shudder*...). 

Having said that I have come to appreciate the true utilitarian quality of the not-so-fashionable mountain hardwear and have embraced with giant, down clad arms the advances in climbing technology since the original ‘puffa jacket’ was developed by George Ingle-Finch in the 1920s and since George Mallory and Andrew Irvine set out for eternal Everest glory in their hob-nail boots.

Jul 22, 2012

A Leap of Faith - The Aiguillette d'Argentiere, Chamonix, France

 As much as I love the training at the Westway and the Castle, indoor climbing walls here in London, there’s only so much training that can be done indoors. The best training, by far, is to get out there into the mountains, out and about, up-up and away. Yesterday, under a glorious blue sky and sunshine, Isabelle, Magda, Alex and I did a super fun climbing route called the Aiguillette d’Argentiere, a needle of rock at around 1900m overhanging the Chamonix Valley floor. There’s a drop of around a thousand meters or so down to the village of Argentiere below... so it wasn't a climb for the faint hearted!! To make the walk in a bit more of a work-out I decided to take up a pair of skis which certainly got the other climbers heading up the route scratching their heads in curiosity..!

Our day began with a drive up the valley to the small village called Argentiere, on the outskirts of Chamonix.  Strapping the skis onto my pack, we started up the 1.5 hour walk to the base of the Aiguillette. It was an absolutely spectacular day – blue skies, sunshine with mini-raspberries lining the path.

I was super excited about the climb but was much less excited about putting my rock-shoes back on as my toes were still recovering from yesterday’s climb in Italy. The prospect of lounging in the warmth of the sunshine and enjoying the views was quite appealing..!

The Aiguillette is a granite ‘needle’ or ‘stack’ at about 1900m. It’s a 1-pitch bolted climb with quite a few routes on it. Its popularity is due primarily to the spectacular views from the top and, of course, the amazing photo opportunities which it presents.

Isa led the first part of the climb up an initial smaller stack to the right of the main needle or stack. I knew that it was not going to be as straightforward as I’d hoped when Isabelle started to talk about this special move that you had to do to move  from the smaller stack onto the main stack – it required, “letting yourself go” and almost falling onto the bigger stack through a giant leap of faith. I watched slightly nervously as she began to rig up a system whereby you could move onto the bigger rock without falling to your death thousands of feet below. Gulp. Carabiners, slings, knots… and a leap of faith. Yup. No problem. A typical Sunday morning… Isabelle led the climb while Magda and I looked on from our perch. She made it look easy and moved with grace and strength – a granite climbing ballerina.  About 4 minutes later, she was safe and secure on the top of the needle, enjoying the view and topping up her tan.

Now it was my turn. I looked nervously at my chipped red nails and wondered when I’d have the chance to give myself a new manicure. I tried desperately to wriggle my toes which were slowly losing all sense of feeling in my tight rock shoes. I wondered whether it might be a bad time to send my final ‘Tweet’ in the event that I fell to my death on the Aiguillette d’Argentiere…

And so I went…to the top of the smaller stack, holding onto the well-worn granite rock with every ounce of strength that I had left. I clipped onto one of the bolts with my ‘cows tail’ and then took some time to assess the situation. I stuck my left leg into mid-air out towards the bigger stack. It was too far to ‘step’ across to which meant that I’d have to be a bit more creative in my approach. About 5 minutes later, (although it genuinely seemed like an eternity!), I managed to make it across – I have no idea how it happened as it was a bit of a blur which involved lots of deep breathing and flailing with both hands and feet; and yes, a leap of faith was involved - for about .005 seconds I found myself suspended in mid-air. Needless to say, when I finally reached the top of the stack and took the opportunity to take in the absolutely spectacular views of Mont Blanc and the Mont Blanc range, it was completely worth it..!  Alexandre had rigged up a rope on one of the cliff faces opposite the Aiguillette so took the opportunity to take some stunning photos.

I’ve always been a bit nervous about heights and exposure and found that this really tested me – even though my brain knew I was safe – tied in with ropes on pillar top that is about 4 feet by 3 feet my body still needed some convincing..! It did get better the more I pushed myself to relax and it was an excellent test of mind-over matter..!

Magda came up next making it look easy. Isa, Magda and I then stood on the top of the pillar watching another team come up a different route on the North face of the pillar. Some lighthearted banter was exchanged as we made our way down from the stack to allow them the space to bask in the sunshine and take in the well deserved views..!

We continued to climb different routes on the stack and on the neighboring granite walls  for the rest of the day and made our way back down at around 4pm. A fantastic day and a perfect end to a great weekend.

Enjoying fresh raspberries on the trail

Hiking up to the base of the Aiguillette
On top of the Aiguillette
Trying to start a high-altitude cricket match

The People You Meet: The Outdoor Adventure Photographer Alexandre Buisse

The amazingly talented mountain photographer, Alexandre Buisse, was introduced to me by a talented mountaineer, Jon Gupta (who is currently braving the Snow Leopard challenge on some of the former Soviet-Union’s unpronounceable peaks). I was looking for a photographer with whom could work to get some proper ‘action shots’ in the Alps – partly to help raise awareness about my forthcoming charity challenges and party to provide evidence to myself that I was actually climbing some pretty cool stuff!

I did the legwork a-la ‘google’ to get a feel for Alexandre’s style and was immediately struck by his passion for the mountains, his interest in adventure photography and strong climbing skills - all of which shone through his stunning photography. Based out of Chamonix (my ‘heaven on earth’) he managed to capture the beauty and ruggedness of the mountain landscape and the passion of those who enjoy and plan in this vertical world – whether in harness, on rope, on skis and even via paraglider! His talent has been recognised globally as his photographs have been published in several books and he has been commissioned to photograph for some of the biggest brands in the outdoor industry.

Alex, his climbing partner, Isabelle and I met on Saturday and headed over to Courmayeur, Italy ready to tackle an action packed itinerary. It was an absolutely STUNNING day – the kind you dream of as a climber or a skier – blue skies, blazing sunshine, gorgeous breeze and zero crowds! Heaven! We decided to start on the Dent du Geant…

‘Work it baby!’ ‘Smashing baby’..! ‘Oh bbeee-have…!’…!...........................Ok, not quite an Austin Powers but close!!

Isabelle and I started a slow and gradual plod up a giant snowy ridge and were pinching ourselves (between gasps of air!) about how lucky we were with the glorious weather and how well our clothing coordinated and contrasted against the insanely blue sky. We were more than happy to stop and pose for Alex who had climbed high up on a ridge to get some great shots.

This is when disaster struck... and Alexs' camera decided to go on an epic adventure of its own – unfortunately it’s last!!!

The D700 and attached Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 II broke off the camera-harness bounced around on the rock and ice slope, until the lens disappeared in a crevasse field. Amazingly, the camera stopped 150m lower and Alexandre managed to retrieve what was left of it... (key words, what was left of it)

The full damage (I call it camera porn) can be seen via his blog entry which provides a more comprehensive account of the damage: http://www.alexandrebuisse.org/blog/Broken

I felt terrible for Alex as we surved the damage – a completely smashed lens, beat-up body, cracked frame… Having said that, I very much admired the way that Alex handled losing his most prized possession - his 'baby' – he was calm, optimistic about the prospect of retrieving photos from the memory card and demonstrated his flexibility by offering to continue shooting the day with my Cannon G12 camera instead - and apologising profusely in the process (for something that hadn't been his fault to start with!). I happily obliged and we continued on to have an absolutely fantastic day on the super fun Aiguille d'Entrèves Traverse.

The traverse offers a fun route on exposed rock, never extreme but always interesting. The views of the Tour Ronde, the south side of Mont Blanc du Tacul and the Brenva face on Mont Blanc were exceptional and it proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable day. 

Alex demonstrated his fantastic eye for photography when he shared the edited G12 with me the following day – they were gorgeous and was absolutely delighted with the results.

Alexandre Buisse is definitely one of the amazingly talented and inspirational people that I’ve met along the way. I admire the passion he has for the mountains and the way that he has combined his strong climbing and photography skills to capturing both the sheer beauty and power of the vertical world and the spirit of those who enjoy it. I also admire his patience, eye for safety and his extensive climbing experience.

We have since gone climbing again – this time with the replacement Nikon D700 camera – and did a subsequent shoot on the Aiguille d’Argentiere. Another fabulous day out which he captured brilliantly in-harness, under blue skies and sunshine…

Yeah baby yeah..!

Jul 21, 2012

Time for a manicure on Titans Wall, Courmayeur, Italy

Jul 18, 2012

The People You Meet: Dr. David English, MBE, CBE, OSCA

Dr. David English, MBE, CBE, OSCA
David English is one of those people you meet along the way that leaves a lasting impression and echoes of infectious laughter that you won't soon forget.  As Eric Clapton once told him, 'Arfur, you're larger than life.'

His all-embracing personality serves to remind me of the vivacity, unexpectedness and countless opportunities in life... how life should be celebrated regularly, daily... at every opportunity with vivacity and passion. Reading David's autobiography and spending an afternoon in his company, you begin to realise just how much you can actually fit into the short time we have on this planet of ours -  particularly if you embrace the opportunities presents and never look back.

From scoring a century at Lord's and raising millions of pounds for charity, to writing songs with the Bee Gees, Eric Clapton, Elton John and George Harrison, to being the official court jester of the Prince of Brunei - David English is a man with a story and more than a few jokes to tell. As president of RSO records he helped create the most successful independent records label in the world (they once had an unprecedented five singles in the American Top 10 in one week). As a budding film actor he taught Robert Redford the intricacies of cricket on the set of A Bridge too Far (as well as tormenting Anthony Hopkins with terrible jokes). As pal of English cricket legend, Ian Botham he joined Beefy on his leukaemia charity walks, and hosted the renowned Botham and Viv Richard roadshows. As founder of the Bunbury Cricket Club, who else could persuade Bill Wyman to bat against the bowling of Gary Lineker, whilst Phil Collins wicket-keeps... 

Most importantly, it was David who introduced me to the charity, Hope for Tomorrow, of which he is a Patron. 

I had the pleasure of meeting David for the first time one sunny afternoon in June 2012 at Lords Cricket Ground where I was watching my first ever game of cricket. It was the same day that I asked Sir Viv Richards what he did for a hobby (open mouth, insert foot!). It's strange to reflect back on that day and think how it has become one of the 'markers' of the past year of my life particularly considering that I hadn't even planned to go to the match. Meeting David, I was immediately 'bowled over' (to use a cricket pun!) by his charm and charisma and infectious sense of humour.  From that first meeting, I found and continue to be inspired by his genuine interest in people, his dedication and passion for working with those less fortunate, and tireless commitment to others to enable them to achieve their dreams.

There's a paragraph in his 1st autobiography, "Mad Dogs & The Englishmanwhich details one of his many song-writing adventures with the legendary Barry Gibb that really struck a chord....

"The fact is that people always seem to live and work within the confines of being comfortable. Never stretching themselves, never daring to explore every path to fulfil their promise and dreams. Just think of all those people go who to their grave saying, 'I do wish I had done this or that'. Too late - the chance would have been presented to them but nullified for fear of faulure. Content to read about other people's adventures in the pages of a colour supplement. Not me! If everybody felt that way Everest would never have been conquered, penicillin discovered, Harry Potter written and Ian Botham would not have trudged 5,000 weary miles for Leukaemia Research"

A brief biography of his eventful and roller-coaster life and absolutely extraordinary CV. It's definitely worth a read. You can find it online by clicking here. If you're captivated by the CV then I would certainly recommend reading his autobiography for a chaotic and entertaining journey through an unbelievably eventful life.

The people you meet...

DJ Lora being inducted into the Bunburys....

Jul 12, 2012

Weekend Adventure Fix - Climbing Mt. Toubkal, North Africa's Highest Peak

As the rain lashed down on the plane I smiled excitedly to myself – finally an escape from the dismal English weather. I was enroute to Marrakech to climb Mount Toubkal (4167m), the highest peak in North Africa. Toubkal is due south of the 1000-year-old pink walled city of Marrakech. Whilst it’s snow-covered throughout the winter, Toubkal is usually clear of snow by mid-summer and presents nothing more than a steep hike on a well-marked trail across scree and rock in the Atlas Mountains.

I climbed Toubkal in the summer of 2011 as a way to get fit in advance of my Trailwalker Challenge (walking 100kms over the South Downs in 24hours). What I love about this little adventure-fix is the sense of satisfaction that you get on Monday morning when you’re sitting back in the office and people ask what you did over the weekend…. apart from go to Morocco and climb a 4000m mountain..!! Perhaps it’s because both the geography is so different from ours but the weekend break genuinely feels like a week long holiday.

From the colourful souks of Marrakech, with their vendors of spices, carpets and leather goods, to the pretty stone-built villages of the Berber people, I was very much looking forward to re-experiencing Morocco at its most authentic and getting in a good dose of exercise at the same time. As the pilot announced that it was a balmy 27 degrees in Marrakech I began to mentally prepare to bask in the sunshine and enjoy my cheeky escape.

Day 1: Drive to Imlil and trek to the Neltner Refuge below Toubkal

After breakfast, we set off on a spectacular 1.5 hour drive southwards out of the city with the peaks of the Atlas Mountains ahead of us to the start point of our trek. We stopped at the bazaar town of Asni, where I took a quick walk through the market and was absolutely overwhelmed by the plethora of vibrant colors of the wide array of fruits and vegetables being sold by the locals – apples, oranges, melons of every size, shape and color, nectarines, grapes, lemons, limes, plums… and on and on and on. Leaving Asni, we turned off of the main road and began the stunning climb into trail..!

Little had changed over the course of the year since my last visit. As I began the climb up the first gradual hill as the sun beat down overhead I spent some time in quiet reflection thinking of the year gone by and the many challenges that the future holds in the months ahead – work, expeditions, family, friends…. The sun was soon replaced by some thick and rather ominous looking clouds and I reached for my umbrella. Sure enough, the heavens opened just as we reached the seasonal village and holy shrine of Sidi Chamharouch (2310m) which is surrounded by rocky peaks. A huge white-painted boulder marks the spot where, legend has it, a holy man lies entombed.

Hiding from the rain in a small local hut we had a delicious lunch made up of some fresh vegetables and then set off again for a steady climb of about 3 hours to reach the Neltner Refuge (3207m) where we would spend the night. Operated by the Club Alpin Francais this hut was only completed in 2000 and has been designed to (loosely) resemble a Berber fortified dwelling. The hut sleeps around 80 people in dormitory accommodation. The refuge is a very basic mountain hut but it does have bathrooms and showers, plus a couple of large dining areas and a lounge with an open fire. By the time we reached the hut the sun was shining again. I found a comfy spot in the sun on the roof of the refuge and fell asleep only to awake to the rolling of thunder overhead. The weather was certainly tempramental today or perhaps the mountain gods were sending us a clear signal..!

After a fantastic tagine dinner with lamb Mstafa gave us a thorough briefing on the history and geography of Morocco and also provided some interesting thoughts on Arab Springs, one of the key events that had taken place since my last visit. It was a great overview and certainly provided me with a greater appreciation of the history and geography of the country and its people. In true mountian form, by the time 9pm rolled around my eyes were drooping and my sleeping bag beckoned..!

Day 2: Ascent of Mount Toubkal
After a 5am breakfast, we set off on the steep-ish ascent of Toubkal. Our route zig-zagged eastwards, directly above the hut across scree and boulders, before passing between two rocky guardian peaks to reach a high corrie. The temperature was mild and I ended up layering down to my Engineered Climate Mapping berry-colored baselayer. We continued upwards across more scree, with the views becoming more expansive as we reached the ridge-line which dropped off steeply to the east. At 8.30am, we arrived at the distinctive metal and brightly spray-painted tripod which marks Toubkal’s summit. At 4167m, you can definitely notice breathlessness due to the altitude but it was a feeling that I was more than familiar with and was happy that my body quickly remembered how to adapt.

No matter how many times I stand on the summit of a hill or peak or cross over a high mountain pass, I can’t help but feel a great sense of awe, satisfaction and feeling of freedom. As I tried to absorb the breathtaking views of the peaks of the High Atlas away to the north-east and of the Anti Atlas (Jebel Sirwa prominent) and the Sahara to the south I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have had the opportunity to be part of these adventures and experience the hospitality of such an old and traditional culture.

Taking a steeper ‘alternative route’ down, we began our 2300m descent back to Imlil and back to Marrakech. Reaching the hotel at 6pm I must admit, I was absolutely exhausted and struggled to keep my eyes open. A lovely roof-top dinner closed the evening where we reflected on the fantastic weekend and looked forward to future adventures and travels. 

Jul 1, 2012

Why I climb...

Mountaineering is the by-product a passion for the outdoors instilled in me by my rural Canadian roots, combined with an inherent sense of ‘wanderlust’.  Being outside in the fresh air, under blue skies and surrounded by soaring mountain faces – be they Himalayan peaks, Canadian Rockies or the Alps – is where I often find myself filled with an overwhelming sense of awe and inspiration. I love the mountains because they put so much of life into perspective and allow you to open up to new experiences, new journeys and people who inspire you every step along the way.