Climbing The Heights to Help Children
I was thrilled to be part of a team of 12 trekkers from property development company, Citygrove Securities and Legal & General Property, long term supporters of Variety, the Children’s Charity, who embarked on a five-day trek up Mount Toubkal in Morocco. Standing at 4,167metres ft. in the High Atlas Mountains, it’s North Africa’s highest mountain.
Photo: The team at the summit!
After months of training and breaking in walking boots we set off from Imi Oughlad, a small Berber village nestled in a valley. The team, accompanied by their Berber muleteers and three guides, slowly wound its way up and over passes and ravines, along winding cliff paths, through lush wheat terraces, past cornfields, springs and juniper trees. Each night the temperature dropped dramatically, the local music piped up and we enjoyed a hearty meal. The accommodation in local clay huts perched on mountain sides was basic but comfortable with spectacular views over the valleys below. It was truly breath-taking; the only things disturbing the peace were braying donkeys and the call to prayer from the local mosques.
On the fourth day the team arrived in the town of Imlil and we had our first sighting of our goal – Mount Toubkal. We enjoyed a well-deserved cup of tea in the shadow of the mountain before starting the trail. From here the paths were busy with tourists and pilgrims coming from far and wide to trek and to visit the holy shrine half way up the mountain.
Whilst walking up to the final refuge, we were all in good spirits, feeling strong, determined and possibly a bit mad! We decided to make it even more of a challenge for ourselves – to reach the summit at dawn so that we could see the sun rise over the Atlas Mountains. At 2.30am the alarms went off and the happy campers donned our gear and had a final breakfast. It was pitch black outside with only a few stars to guide us; snow had started to fall and the wind had picked up. Setting off at a steady pace we clambered over boulder fields, the remnants of a glacier which had long since disappeared and slowly melting winter ice ridges. As the hours passed the wind picked up to 60mph and the temperature dropped to -25 degrees! However, we soldiered on, remembering why we there, and reached the summit at 6.30am in time for the sunrise. After staying for a few very quick photos we began the gruelling seven-hour walk down to back to Imlil where we bid a fond farewell to Mt Toubkal.
After the five day adventure, a very tired team made our way back to Marrakech Airport and winged our way back to London happy in the knowledge that the trek raised £52,500 to fund two Variety Sunshine coaches. A few months later, the first was presented to Pioneer School Special School in Basildon, for children aged 3-19 who have severe and complex learning difficulties and shortly afterwards, we presented a coach to Shooters Hill School in South London, whose students have a wide range of significant special needs and disabilities. This coach was fitted with a tail-lift to enable access for the wheelchair users. Seeing the happiness on the faces of the children made all our efforts climbing Mt Toubkal worthwhile. In fact, we were so thrilled about the befits of our fundraising, we are now planning a Trek to Everest Base camp in 2015 and raising enough for two more coaches!
Photo: Teachers and pupils of Shooter’s Hill School and Variety Ambassador Michelle Collins, join some of the ‘climbing team’ including Bill Hughes, MD of Legal and General Property and Toby Baines, Chairman of Citygrove
Photo: Representatives from Citygrove and Legal & General are joined by Miss England (Kirsty Heslewood) and delighted pupils and teachers from Pioneer School, Basildon