Everyone has their own life story right? Usually about how their life ended up somewhat different to what they had imagined when they was a kid. And I’m no different. At 29 going on 30 I imagined I would be settled down with a husband and kids, maybe a dog and a few of them gold fish you win at the fair. Any way, I thought by the time I was nearly 30 Id have the whole husband and kids thing, taking annual family camping holidays. However it hasn’t turned out that way. My parents divorced when I was 14 and me and my twin sister lived with our dad, and also mum for a short time to. We both moved out on our 21st birthday and rented a house together. By the time I was 24 I had moved house 14 times. I then settled with a boyfriend for 4 years but it wasnt meant to be and we split on good terms. But it hadn’t been an easy 4 years either. Unfortunately in December 2012 I lost my best friend. He died after a very short illness. I managed to stay strong on the outside but on the inside I was a mess. Devastated and heartbroken. Throwing myself into work, I embarked on a new business venture and set up my own licenced bookkeeping practice (after 3 previously failed attempts at other persuits) . I did this around my full time job, it was very exciting but left me working long hours and feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. (And still does!) But if I wanted to carry on living in the house I’d spent 4 years putting love into making a home, working hard was the only option I had. I needed something to to fill this lonely void I now found myself in..have been asked a lot recently by friends and family, what made you start climbing mountains?…..and for some it’s just simply the enjoyment of being in the great outdoors…but for me its an escape from the mayhem and chaos. The stresses of mundane life are swiftly waved good bye in a blink of an eye and instead I’m surrounded by peace and freedom! not mention a whole lot of fun!
My mountain journey begins at Snowdon. The highest peak in wales, situated in snowdonia national park. I was still with my partner of 4 years at the time, so together we decided we wanted to attempt it and I made the suggestion to some work colleagues and a plan was formed. However on the day, like a complete novice, I over filled by backpack with prosecco and tins of cider in true Kat style and geared up in a comfortable pair of non waterproof Lara croft style boots! Needless so say by the time we left the summit and started the decent I was regretting all my terrible decisions. I had pulled every muscle in my back to the point where someone needed to carry my rucksack for me, and the torrential rain had soaked through my not so great boots to the point where I felt every stone dig into the bottoms of my squelchy wet feet. At this point…I did what any strong willed person would do, I cried! That evening was spent laying flat on a bed dosed up on codine and I swore I would never climb a mountain ever again! Shortly after this trip my long term boyfriend moved out and we went our separate ways. For the first time in my adult life I was alone. I was starting to talk to myself around the house and cracking jokes in the mirror…..it was getting cringy! so I woke up one morning and like a normal, rational thinking human being, I thought to myself….today, I’m going to be Queen Elsa from frozen! So I did. I packed my bags and ran off to the mountains…to be alone. Unfortunatly I hadn’t any idea how I was going to build my ice castle with out any magical powers…but I would cross that bridge when i came to it! In my moment of madness I had decided to head back to wales. So hear I found myself arriving at my shared bunk room at the Pen y Pass youth hostel, situated at the base of Snowdon, That mountain that reduced me to tears only months before hand, I was about to climb it again, alone. Feeling quite content with the lack of wifi and phone signal I was embracing my need to be on my own to re evaluate life. I headed down stairs to Mallorys restaurant for dinner that’s evening for a meal for one. Like a pro singleton I whipped out my signature newspaper, I convinced myself it made me look quirky and interesting, as I ate alone like I’d done many times before, I was nailing the look! After feeling suitable stuffed I headed up to my room for an early night. As I sat on my bunk reading a magazine I was feeling pretty chilled. In entered roomy number 1. Assuming she would have no interest in talking to me I carried on ready my magazine and politely said hello. However after unpacking all her things she came and sat on the floor next to my bunk bed and like new BFFs we embarked on a 2 hour long chit chat. She had travelled solo all the way from Malaysia and was doing the rounds of Europe. I sudently felt a bit silly for being scared of my solo adventure 4 hours from my backdoor. She told me all about her life and travels and we had lovely evening before hitting the hay. I woke up early to begin my ascent. This time armed with a backpack full of essentials only… I had swapped alcohol for first aid kits and replaced crap boots for a pair of gortex Salomons. Some people had seen me eating alone in mallorys the evening before and had struck up a conversation with me out of curiosity I guess. I still assume they were impressed with my cool quirky newspaper look! It set the trend for the day. I spoke to many strangers on my ascent up the mountain and summited in the blissful sunshine! It was this journey that made me realise that I didn’t need to be alone, or want to be alone. Just up in the mountains having a bit of a break and taking in the sights of this wonderful new world I had just discovered. By the time I got home I had already started hatching a plan to climb Ben Nevis. I summited Ben Nevis in winter conditions with a hiking group of new faces and 2 of my good friends in tow, raising £1300 for Marie Curie! Climbing Ben Nevis was an amazing experience and I met some wonderful people. We was feeling rather epic and exhilarated on our way back down the mountain and happened to stumbled across a guy with a set of speakers attached to his backpack, playing an ecclectic array of tunes from Nirvana to Adel. The atmosphere was awesome so I filmed said guy with the tunes on my phone and made a victory post on Facebook to let my friends and family know we had done it. However I was left feeling abit narked when the guy with the tunes waltzed off at the speed of light after about half hour and ruined my jam. I had now sparked something….a craving ,a need to keep climbing mountains! I needed my next mountain fix, despite the sore legs and having to get down the stairs on my arse for a few days afterwards, it was so worth it! I won’t bore you with any more in depth details about my other UK escapades but I have since been all over the place, even climbing the notorious Crib Gogh ridge in Snowdonia and recently a trip to the French Alps.
Which now brings me to my most recent trip. I am writing this blog on a flight back from Morocco, where me and my hiking group leader Andy have just summited mount Toubkal. At 4,167m it is the highest Mountain in the North African Atlas Range. I would like to tell you about my own personal experience of this trip…in all its undigfied glory! …….. TOUBKAL
Arriving in Marrakesh on Thursday 8th June, thermometers were clocking 40 degrees, and the hustle of bustle of the place was like nothing we had ever seen before. We was surprised to find out that the language spoken in Morroco along with Arabic, was actual French. Bonus. We had not long got back from the French Alps and some of the things we learnt were still fresh in our mememory! We had 2 nights accommodation arranged in a traditional Morrocan Riad upon arival and was dropped off down the road from our riad. A morrocan chap was super eager to help us carry our bags to the riad. It was only when we got to the door we realised he wanted payment for his efforts and feeling chirpy and excited we gladly handed over 10 euros. The riad was absolutely beautiful, decorated with morraccan lamps and pots with a small pool in the central courtyard.
We spent the next two days soaking up the morroccan culture. My blond hair attracted a lot of unwanted attention, and not just with the men. A lady harassed me with her henna needle and another waffled on in Arabic at me while I was enjoying lunch, despite the fact I was appropriately dressed i.e. Skin covered as to not offend Muslim tradition. Although her face screwed up she could of been asking me for the time for all I knew! We Wondered through the small lanes of the medina, selling traditional morracan clothing, lamps and food. And the odd verbal scrap between locals! We sampled morracan tagines and kababs and also found a lovely morracan restaurant in the evening and was entertained by music and belly dancers! Andy had never in his 37 years on earth tried a cup of tea (I know right…..I thought it to, psycopath?) but he could not put down the sweet traditional morracan mint tea! It was wonderful to be in a Muslim country during Ramadan, and listen to the chants from the mosques and meet some lovely local people. Marrakesh grew on me the longer we was there and the chaos and madness of it all was somewhat endearing.
We was joined in our riad on the Friday by 4 other hikers who were to join us on the 2 day trek, more commonly spread over 3 plus days. We were collected from the riad saturday morning and were joined by 2 other hikers, and the previous morracan chap, out to grab bags again to earn a fast buck, he was starting to get irritating. We were now a trekking group of 8, and began our journey to the small village of Imlil in the Atlas mountain region. This is the starting point for hikers and climbers to begin the trek to the summit for mount Toubkal. We were welcomed with some traditional morracan mint tea and a welcome meeting with our local Muslim Berber guide, Abraham. On day one we would begin the trek to the base camp mountain refuge. Anything we wanted to take plus our water supply was transported up by our very own mule. We wasn’t told the name of the donkey but I imagined it was called Donkey, like from shrek, and he’d spend the whole journey singing ‘ain’t no stopping us now’ in his head to keep up the moral!
Unfortunately, due to our endless wondering of Marrakech over the previous days, I had acquired a rather large blister on the sole of my foot from my sandals…(nothing to do with Andy making us walk ten thousand miles!). We applied compeed patches and taped my feet up and I just hoped that it wouldn’t get the better of me. Also by this point in time, the rumbling sounds coming from my belly were ever growing, and I hoped the tagines I had consumed wasn’t going to repeat it self on me! I had never before been caught short for a wilderness number 2 up a mountain, and I hoped Toubkal wasn’t about to change that!
We set off on the 5 hour trek to the Refuge les mouflons at 3,207ft, in the mid day heat…apparently 10 degrees hotter than normal….and boy did we feel it. As we made conversation with Abraham, he told us that he was also a Muslim, practicing Ramadan, which mean he was fasting. Unable to eat or drink during day light hours it was absolutely astonishing how this man was able to guide us up this mountain in such heat….he was defiantly super human!
After 2 hours trekking we stopped at one of the few stations along route, selling anything from Coca Cola, fruit, Toubkal T-shirts and Jem stones. Hear we sat down for lunch, drenched in sweat and already feeling the wrath of this dry arid climate. We was presented with a beautiful plate of salad and cheese along with a seriously tasty Morrocan tagine of beans, onions and tomatoes.
And some more of that lovely mint tea. It was hear I decided to sample the local toilet facilities. So armed with a pack of tissues and some hand sanitiser I entered the small hollow grotto, being careful as not to bash my head on the pertruding rock that made up the toilet wall. And when I say toilet, this was no modern unit. It was a hole in the ground surrounded by a plastic step on which you needed to stand on and squat over said hole. This required some serious core strength not to wobble off the plastic structure. The smell was terrible. For some strange reason at this point in the time, the only thing I could think of whilst using every ounce of my abdominal build up, was the phrase ‘Does a bear shit in the woods?’…..I found this quite funny, probably due to the heat exhaustion making me slightly delirious, but none the less it made my experience more BEARable for the next couple of minutes ..see what I did there? Aaaany way …….refueled we set off on the last stretch to base camp, which took approximately 3 hours. We were extreamly tired when we arrived, but I jumped into the shower and got ready for dinner around 6pm. We gorged on a well deserved 3 course meal of soup for starters, followed by a beef tagine and fruit for desert. The food was fantastic but by now my stomach was bloated and I was doing a tagine fart at least once every 10 mins and gave the rest of the group the heads up! As a group we retired to our shared bunk room around 7.30pm to pack our things ready for an early start. We would be waking up at 3am ready for breakfast at 3.30 and at 4am we would start the last 3 hour stretch to the summit. I inspected my blister and reapplied tape, then changed into my trousers and base layer and desided to sleep in full summit attire, so when I awoke at 3am I was pretty much ready to go. We sat on our beds for a while and I listened to my roomys telling some stories of their amazing mountain escapades….which were pretty impressive. We also tried to identify any potential snoring perpetrators and prepared our ear plugs just in case…however this was not an issue. The main issue was after most of us had managed to drift off…..around 10pm in busts 2 other room invaders, a couple who had arrived late. For arguments sake we will call them rude arse 1 and rude arse 2. Rude arse 1 waltzed in and switched on the main light, rather than his brain, followed by rude arse 2 and loudly dumped there bags on the floor and started to rummage. This subsequently woke up our entire group. Fortunately one of our group members was braver than the rest and politely informed rude arse 1 and 2 that their actions were not tollerated in a mountain refuge when people were due to wake at 3am to attemp the summit. They obviously missed the sign that says lights out before 9pm. They then turned off the main light and proceeded to use there head torches instead. Feeling somewhat relieved we all tried to get back to sleep. However, Mr and Mrs rude arse proceeded to rummage through there bags, which one can only assume they were made of some form of tin foil, due the immense loudness and crumpling noises being omitted! Instead of organising their bedtime things outside of the room, they did this right next to us, for the next hour and a half! whilst rude arse 2 entered and exited the room around 6 times. All wishing we had used some better choice words towards these 2 we were proud of ourselves for keeping our cool at this frustrating situation. By 3am we had not got much sleep but went downstairs to a delicious hot porridge breakfast. We set off in the dark at 4am to avoid climbing this difficult section in the scorching mid day heat. We looked like a bunch of minions using our head torches to guide us up and over some large boulders . By around 5am it was light enough to remove head torches and we were able to take in the surroundings. The mountain was very steep and covered in loose scree and rubble like an old quarry. By now we were gaining some altitude and all starting to feel the effects. Complaints of fuzzy heads and jelly legs were beginning to emerge. I had never experienced altitude sickness before, but it wasn’t nice. My jelly legs slumped beneath me and I sat on the floor trying my hardest not to throw up all over Andy, who aldo also looked pretty green. Abraham reccomended a sugary snack to feel better. My snack of suggeryness was given to me by Andy and was a bag of jelly cola bottles, to match the jelly legs I guess! I did feel less sick after demolishing the entire bag but jelly legs was a thing that stuck around right to the summit. We trudged on up and soon spotted the metal triangle frame structure, we summited mount Toubkal at 7.20am. The feeling of being one of the highest people in the north of Africa was pretty awesome!! We congratulated one another and took some photographs before embarking on the 8 hour decent.
The stretch back to base camp was quite frankly the worst terrain to try and come down a mountain on. The loose scree was constantly slipping from underneath my boots and despite using my poles to try and stabilise myself I fell over about 7 times! The last fall saw my poor chubby bum cheeks take the full brunt along with a bruised wrist and hand! By this point in time the temperature was really starting to rise and we were glad to be on the way down and not up. But who should we then bump into making their accent to the summit, none other than rude arse 1 and rude arse 2, compleatly sweating one out in the rising temperatures looking abit worse for wear. Was hard not to stifle a small snigger as our reluctant ‘rising above it’ attitude had been rewarded with some sweet karma! As for me, my blister was starting scream at me as it rubbed on the bottom of my boots and after going on at my sister a few weeks previously to remember to cut her toe nails pre trek, I had only just realised I had forgotten to take my own advise. My big toe nail on my left foot was now bashing the front of my boot with full forse every step down I took, and was now becoming quite painful. And my bad luck didn’t stop there……I needed a wilderness wee…..so I found a large rock and sheilded myself away from the main path. Going for a wilderness wee was something I had done many times before so I was completely unfazed as I asked Andy to keep look out! Id just squatted down to commence number 1, when i could feel this rumbling sensation in my belly getting more intense…..i tried to hold off this feeling by singing ‘drop it like it’s hot’ by snoop dog, in my head….seemed quite appropriate, but as you have probably already guessed, this did not help. It was it this point in time that ‘Tagine arse’ became a very very real thing. Within in a second my dignity was gone, along with 4 morraccan tagines! I was so traumatised that it took me over an hour to fess up to Andy that I had done a number 2 on Toubkal. Then it accoured to me, my first ever mountain poo was on the highest peak in North Africa, I then felt a sense of pride! Arriving back at base camp and had lunch at 10.30 am then carrried on the final long stretch back to imlil. We said our thanks and good byes to Abramam and the other porters and headed back to Marrakech for a much deserved 3 course meal at our riad.
Me and Andy had good intentions for our last day in Marrakech, but feeling a bit defeated we stayed at our riad and watched 50 shades of grey and ordered a KFC! I would also like to mention that my terrible luck hadn’t quite ended. As I disembarked the bus at the long stay car park back at Luton airport, already hobbling around from pulled muscles, a blister on my foot now the size of Toubkal its self, a giant bruise on my arse and a swollen big toe, some silly person ran over my foot with their suitcase, removing one of my toe nails, but it was OK……as if I needed it anyway!! Despite my minor injuries and mishaps it was one of the most amazing and wonderful experiences of my entire life. Morroco is a fabulous place and so are the Muslim people that inhabit it, and would most certainly go back at the drop of a hat.
So to conclude my story I guess I will just say that life doesn’t always turn out the way we planned or hoped, but if we all just find our mountain and climb it, it can lead to much better things….Snowdon will always have a special place in my heart, as its where the start of my new life began. I will probably be spending my 30th birthday at the top! I now feel lucky to be traveling around world and conquering these peeks, and I get to do all this with my wonderfull boyfriend…..yes you guessed it, it’s Andy AKA ‘the guy with the tunes’ I met on Ben Nevis. Turns out he wasn’t running away from me that day he just really needed a pee! He then spent the following 3 months after Ben Nevis stalking, I mean accidently showing up at various UK national parks where I just so happened to be that day and attempted to bump into me! It worked tho…..
We plan on spending our 1 month mile stone watching films, aplying face masks to each other and going to a BBQ like a normal couple….but we have many future plans to bag some more peeks and who knows where in the world we will end up next, but for me, this is just the begining of my mountain journey………..
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