A Trek Through The Moroccan Atlas Mountains: Episode 4
This stage started in the Atlas Mountains. I love the snow and was looking forward to this ~ my team mates however were not!
When the teams took off from the starting line we were in the wave that left just after No Limits and the Football players. What I did not know, until he told me later, was that Jeff from No Limits chose to take a super steep ascent up the mountain in hopes of everyone following his lead and burning them out.
Jeff, Erik and even Ike were really in their element starting this stage. They are all experienced mountain climbers and work super well as a team. Many of the inexperienced teams followed his lead ~ It worked!
At this point the Gypsies were leading with No Limits on their tail. We were upper middle of the pack and were all slowed down by having to travel in single file path which made passing difficult.
At this point in the race just about every team was suffering from injury. Jim was struggling from a knee injury. He kept this pretty quiet and never complained.
A few days earlier in the Mountains Jim was carrying two backpacks, one on his back and another slung backwards on his front. The front backpack obscured his vision and he fell straight into a rock twisting his leg. The result was a torn meniscus. [After the competition, stateside he later had surgery to repair it.]
Anyway back to the mountain. . . Jim was struggling with his knee having to travel in the “knee-deep” snow and all three of us were feeling the 10,600 foot altitude. Because of Jim’s knee injury, I was carrying most of the teams’ weight in my pack that day. it was fitting and I tried not to complain since the reason Jim was injured happened when he was carrying two packs….. I just remember my lungs were working extra hard that day!
Arriving at the summit we had to designate one team member to throw a grappling hook and catch cages ~ looking for a key. We were all wearing parachute bracelets and had to unravel them and join all three together to make one rope. That took time!
By this point almost all of the teams were converging on the challenge. None of the teams had left the challenge yet but that was soon to change. Challenges like these are definitely a way for teams to gain ground – we gained on a team and lost on another.
After the challenge we had to ascend another summit to unlock our instructions to the finish camp. From there we raced down hill, through thigh high, melting snow to the camp.
Going down hill was tougher on Jim than uphill and by this time he was not feeling well at all. I hesitate to call it altitude sickness but when we hit camp he crawled into his sleeping bag and fell asleep leaving Dani and me to set up the tents and dry out our wet clothes and boots.
That night for dinner we ate goat cooked on an open fire pit. I remember it being a heavy greasy meat.
I have a fair amount of winter camping and mountaineering experience so the whole hike / camp experience for me was fun. I’m betting that most of the teams felt that the over night camp was terrible.
One thing I remember vividly was how loud the tarps were in the wind. I couldn’t sleep so I dragged my sleeping kit outside about 30 feet away from everyone and slept under the stars. The Moroccan sky is the most beautiful I have ever seen. So many stars were visible it was amazing. I had to will myself to close my eyes and go to sleep.
Many times on the first leg of each race we had to erect our own camps. During these times the all-girl teams often asked for or needed help setting up their tents. Lacking knowledge of camping skills could take its toll on this trip.
On this eve the California Girls had a real tough time at the challenge, came in late and went straight to bed. None of them used their thermorests sleeping pads to insulate them or their Gortex bivouac sack to block the wind. As a result they had a sleepless, shivering night. . . I on the other hand slept great in my boxers, a thermal top and hat.
The next morning Brit from the Cali Girls told me she was considering leaving. After talking we convinced her that the snow was behind her and to stick it out! I’m glad they did, she was just tired.
Leaving the snow the next day was bitter sweet. I was enjoying it but my teammates hated it. Jim was feeling better and as always was ready to go, go, go.
We hiked up and out of the riverbed valley and then down to a lush green valley. Absolutely stunning scenery is the only way to describe it. There were a series of amazing terrace- farming systems with irrigation ducts that were very old and still supplying water.
The back drop of the Atlas Mountains behind these terraces was amazing and I wish the television showed more of that.
We arrived at a village and a young girl led us through mule paths and foot paths to the beginning of the largest set of switch backs I’ve ever seen. We paid her for her generosity with an energy bar. . . By this point the sun was high and it was hot. Many of us were still wearing clothing for the Atlas Mountains.
At the challenge we received instructions to pick up a plow and a mule and head off. Before leaving we were offered Moroccan tea, which consisted of mint leaves and a lot of sugar. For Moroccans tea is a way of life! It is part of their rules of hospitality and daily ritual. I loved the tea….. And at that point needed it too!
Climbing up the switch backs with our mule, who Dani named “FRANK,” was pretty grueling. It was very hot and we were running out of water. The entire time on the switchbacks I was watching the snow slowly retreat up the Atlas Mountains, our viewpoint was epic!
Pretty much everyone got beat up on the switchbacks which eventually lead us to the plowing challenge. We ended up plowing our field twice and lost a lead to two teams. That was frustrating.
Plowing was WAY harder than it looked and as much as I like to call Dani and Jim “jackasses” they were not very good at pulling the plow!
After finding the container and leaving for the finish line, Dani observed that all the plows left by the other teams were in the exact same spot. Turns out all of the containers were hidden in the same spot on each field – go figure?
We finished in the middle of the pack but behind where we felt we should be. Camp was especially hot that day…. See you next week.
Check out my friend posts:
Erik’s Blog at www.touchthetop.com ,
Jeff’s Blog www.mountain-vision.com
Gypsies blog www.themoderngypsies.com