Tuesday, May 15, 2007

2007 Mgoun trek

There was something great about the Mgoun trek I did last year in 2006. Despite travelling in the same beautiful region, seeing the same snow-capped mountains and towering rocky gorges, this years trek rarely compared to the previous excursion.

Three days before we left Rabat, eight people were signed up for the trek. On the day the trek started, there were only three of us and we planned to meet a fourth enroute. We never did meet up with the fourth, apparantly just missing him.

I'm dissappointed because, after meticulous planning and replanning, half the people who said they'd go, bailed out. But I'm also frustrated that, later on, I let the more pessimistic feelings in the group dictate the terms on more than one occasion.

The fourth trekker was supposed to meet us in a Berber village two hours hike from our campsite. I arrived at the scheduled time, waiting in a large clearance uphill from the babbling mountain creek. The village square, if an open rocky hill could be called that, was where we sat. Berber children asked for stylos and bonbons. A small mosque behind us belted out the mid-day call to prayer.
We waited for four hours, until a Mercedes truck pulled into town without our fourth trekker. I wanted to wait longer - even though he was four hours late, and even if it meant walking back to the campsite in the dark.
"You go back," I said to the others. "I'll wait until I'm sure he's not coming and then head back with my flashlight."
"No," said the pessimistic group member. "We all head back together before dark. If he's not here, he's not coming."
Eventually I gave in and followed them back.

After the trek finished, I found out the other trekker pulled into the village less than an hour after we'd left.
I should have waited.

Lack of another avid trekker threw the following day off as well. In the gorge we started into, I needed another experienced hiker who was in better shape than I was. Someone to help find routes and plod ahead.

Instead, the burden fell on me. The first time I climbed up the steep sides of the gorge to find a different route, the pessimistic member of the group, waiting below next to the fast-flowing stream, nearly had a fit. I'd been searching for an hour, although was out of sight for only about fifteen minutes before he started screaming from the gorge. "Daaaaaaaan! Daaaaaaan!"

The route I figured to be the correct one lay a few minutes further up a rocky scree and out of site along a ledge. If I continued, I'd be out of site for another ten minutes at least.

"Daaaaaaaan! Daaaaaaaan!" The panic increased in his voice. "Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!"...

"WHAT?" I screamed back, straining my voice.

"Daaaaaaaaaan! Fouad's dead." Fouad being my brother in law, and the third trekker. The words took me a moment to comprehend. "What?" There was no way I could continue now. I had to climb back down just to make sure I'd heard wrong.
Had my brother-in-law tried to follow me and slipped? My heart hammered with panic and I felt a sickly stone settling into the pit of my stomach.
Had Anouar come across his battered corpse? Or had he seen him tumble down the cliff like a bloody ragdoll?
It was my fault, I'd choosen a route too difficult.
What the hell was happening?

I scurried back down to the plateau where I could see Anouar, he was alone. "Where's Fouad?" I shouted.
"Fouad's dead!" he shouted back. He seemed animated and angry, but not crying like I'd expect him to be. My worst fears were confirmed. I'd fucked up, big time. My arrogance at organising a hike had led to disaster.
"There," he pointed to a local Berber shepherd walking toward me from the cliff. The man wore rubber boots and a earth-brown Jalaba. "Go with him!"
As he said it, Fouad walked around a bend in the crags. The fear that had left me sick to my stomach was replaced by immense relief.

The rest of the day went by in a blur. I was too tired to scurry all the way back up the scree and make sure it was the correct escape route - and after thinking Fouad had died trying, I wasn't about to ask someone else to do it. The Berber shepherd, who'd somehow heard us shouting to communicate from miles off, offered a way out. He described an alternate route up a steep hill to the North less than a kilometer behind us. We followed him, and made it up above the gorge and to the campsite just after dark.

Apparantly, during the screaming conversation, I'd heard wrong. "Are you dead?" and later, "We thought you were dead." is what he claims to have said. I'm still convinced that's not the case.

That episode ruined what was supposed to be one of the best days of the entire trip. It breeched the trust of the group and left me on edge. For the following two days, I was almost talked out of doing the exciting last day that I'd planned - an exit through the Arous Gorge. After I thought about things, the continued pessimism only increased my conviction to do it.
At one point I was told, "The muleteers say we should take the safer route, that there's too much water to exit through the Arous gorge."

"I don't believe them," I said. In fact, I didn't believe him. I knew enough Arabic to have followed the conversation earlier that day. That wasn't what the muleteers had said. They had said that they'd never taken the route.

We did exit through the Arous gorge. I said I would do it alone if I had to. It was wet. We repelled through one waterfall and down the side of another one. We walked through frigid water up to our knees for several minutes at a time. Rocky cliffs soared hundreds of metres above us, and at times stood so close together you could touch one side with with each hand. We got soaked. There was uncertainty and there was challenge, and that's exactly what made the final day the best of the trek.

Lessons learned for the next big trek.
Plan a few smaller weekend trips to find out who is committed to their word.
Take at least one other experienced hiker/climber, preferrably more than one, and make sure they know that either they are in, or the trip is off.
Stick to your guns and don't let others pessimism and fear ruin the day. And perhaps, bring a small set of walkie talkies.

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