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Way back in time before the onset of adulthood I enjoyed countless days heading into the hills of Yorkshire with nothing more than a squashed sandwich & youthful sense for adventure! Despite long past youthful and work commitments keeping me in the city, the sense of adventure and love for the outdoors never left me. After digging my boots out and returning to the hills I attended a number of courses to improve my hill knowledge and skill base, during one of these courses it was suggested I join the Mountain Leader Training scheme and was delighted go on to gain the MOUNTAIN LEADER Award in April 2012. As well as spending time on the hills and mountains of the UK I have also enjoyed trips to the Nepalese Himalaya, Swiss & French Alps, Mallorca’s Tramuntana, Andorran & French Pyrenees, Morocco’s High Atlas, Tanzania’s Mt Meru & Kilimanjaro, Argentinian & Chilean Patagonia and winter expeditions to Norway’s Hardangervidda. Since gaining the ML I have also gained the SINGLE PITCH AWARD, INTERNATIONAL MOUNTAIN LEADER AWARD and the WINTER MOUNTAIN LEADER AWARD. I am now enjoying working in a freelance role whilst trying to get out climbing as much as possible.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Winter in Morocco - Oi Geldof, I Reckon There Will Be Snow In AfricaThis Christmas Time!

 The end of November saw me travel to Morocco with intention of climbing a few 4000m peaks, including Toubkal, and get my winter 2014/2015 season under way. I would be joining members of the Llanberris Mountain Rescue team and some of their friends as well as an expedition led by my 'mountain mentor' and friend (despite 4 years of unflattoring remarks about my weight!) Rob Johnson of Expedition Guide and Bryn Williams.

 Due to a deep 'kink' in the Jet Stream Morocco had experienced exceptional levels of precipitation in the weeks before we travelled  which had led to some roads having been washed away in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and the unfortunate deaths of some people washed away in flood waters, it had also led to approximately 4 metres of snow fall high up in the mountains.
 Arriving in Marakech on the Saturday afternoon we were told travelling to Imlil would be impossible that evening as rainfall had again washed part of the route away and so we headed to a riad in Marakach and spent the evening looking around the food market and medina. Travelling up to Ilmlil on Sunday morning damage from the recent weather was obvious though the road had now been repaired and we arrived after a couple of hours, as there had been a further half a metre of snowfall forecast for the mountains during Saturday it was decided that we would spend Sunday night in Ilmlil to give the snowpack time to settle before starting our walk up to the refuge Monday morning.

Monday - leaving Imlil after breakfast we set off to make our way up the mountain track that would take us to 'Refuge Les Mouflons' which would be our base in the mountains for the next week. Rising from Ilmlil at 1740m to the refuge at 3200m we would take the journey slowly to hopefully keep any symptoms of altitude sickness at bay. We found the snow line at around 2200m and the amount of snow on the ground quickly increased until we were following a track which was knee deep at the sides. The path took us under some terrain where there had been obvious avalanche activity with snow pack mainly in the form of 'sun balls' or 'point releases' ( where the sun had warmed rocks which had then led to a warming of the snow pack causing small slides) and we kept some distance apart from other member of the group whilst we passed these areas.

They had had a spot of snow at the refuge!
Tuesday - Myself, Stuart and Mountain Rescue Rob headed up following the gorge that runs through the high valley above the refuge to gain some height for acclimatisation and also to look at the snow pack. We found an area where we thought would be good to dig a snow pit to see if we could find any obvious week layers and dug a snow pit down to ground level some 2.5metres below! We found a top layer some .55m deep of fairly soft but compacted snow followed by a layes .6m deep of harder snow, below this were several layers made up of hard Icy layers and some of weak layers containing large rounded snow crystals. 
I then followed this by practicing building an emergency shelter as I will have to do during the Winter Mountain Leader assessment in February next year where a shelter big enough to provide protection from the elements has to be made within 20minutes using only an ice axe, I hope the snow is as soft in the Cairngorms as it is here this week and I have a willing client like Bob to try it for size. This simple scrape to 7minutes.
Imperial Bob gets cosy.

Bit of a snow pit!
 Wednesday - rested and acclimatised myself, 'Mountain Rescue Rob' and 'Rock Bottom Stuart' decided to head from the Refuge up the valley to the 'Tizi n Ouagane' col at a height of 3735m if possible. We would put a track in on snowshoes that we could retrace the following day if we were to attempt the summits of 'Ras' and 'Timesguida', this would also give us further benefits in relation to acclimatisation. Heading out at 9am the weather was crisp to say the least though as we continued up the col we soon began to warm up. Taking note of what was happening around us with the weather and snow we continually discussed our route and plan of action. On reaching ground which was steepening beyond the use of snowshoes we switched to crampons and ice axes before ascending up a rocky outcrop in the middle of the ascent to the col after which we found ourselves in deep snow which we all had reservations about. We were on a slope of not much over 20 degrees but the gradient ahead of us was noticbly increasing, after doing a couple of quick snow stability tests which failed easily we decided to forget making the col and return down the slope.

Mountain Rescue Rob and Rock Bottom Stuart battling the wind - I took that pic!

Thursday - with a weather report predicting a further 20cm of fresh snow to fall over night Thursday the desicion was taken to head back to Imlil later that afternoon. A fresh 20cm of snow on top of the snow pack which was starting to consolidate and form a surface crust due to being subject to the strong Moroccan sun through the day and sub zero temperatures overnight could have caused us concern if walking out the following day. We spent the morning in two groups, one looking at and practicing ice axe arrest whilst the other group built a snow shelter. Leaving the refuge at lunch time we descended along the valley following the track through the deep snow and over sections of avalanche debris until we left the snow line at approximately 2350m near the shrine at Sidi Chammharouch and reaching Imlil 4.5hrs later, unfortunately our kit would be arriving the following morning!
Siany practicing ice axe arrest.

Al gets cosy in the snow shelter.
Mountain Rescue Rob with compulsory 'man leg' pose!
Descending back to Imlil

Watch for this pair of characters in the mountains!

Over all another great trip. Despite not making any summits and in fact deciding to retreat from an acclimatisation col I took lots from the week. Summits are great and the main objective of most trips but I am at a stage where I need to be learning and experiencing the variables that can contribute to create avalanche conditions, reading books is fine but some of it actually sinks in when I'm seeing it in real time!
It was pleasure to spend the week with Rob (Expedition Guide), MTA Bryn, 'Imperial' Bob, 'Rock Bottom' Stuart, Ady & Amy, Mountain Rescue Rob & Siany, Rich & Jo, Al, Dan and Steven.

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