The Lost Earth Adventures Blog

A Winter Ascent of Jebel Toubkal

Posted on: March 8th, 2019 by Lost Earth Adventures

Climbing North Africa’s Highest Mountain

Climber on top of Mount ToubkalCompany Founders, Richard and Sarah Goodey worked off their Christmas dinners on a winter trekking ascent of Mt Toubkal in Morocco. Sarah writes about their adventure below.

A decade ago I found myself trekking through the Saharan desert on the back of a grumpy camel named Dolores. Morocco was a dream of mine. I yearned to sleep underneath an endless sky, with thousands upon thousands of stars and one moon amongst the shadows of the dunes. I got my wish, staying with a semi-nomadic Berber family, the owners of Dolores the Camel. In the mornings when the sun started to rise, warming the sands, its rays dancing in the dunes, it was I felt, heaven on earth.

The Moroccan desert

My concept of Morocco had always been just that; of desert, tagines, camels and dunes. It was certainly not of snow-capped peaks, challenging mountaineering routes, ice axes or crampons. Imagine my surprise and delight, when Richard suggested spending New Year’s Day climbing Jebel Toubkal (4167m), Morocco’s and indeed, North Africa’s highest summit in full winter conditions.

Marrakesh
Marrakesh. Many may consider this a love/hate type of city. All journeys into the High Atlas Mountains, home of Jebel Toubkal and a host of other 4000m+ high peaks start in Marrakesh.

Man on really cool bicycle in Marrakech souk

Maps are useless. You will get lost. More than once. Hawkers selling everything from henna to fortunes and succulent dates to aromatic, vibrant spices will vie for your attention. Tagine and Berber whisky (sweet Moroccan mint tea) reign supreme and in the city’s main square, Jemma el-Fnaa you’ll find over 50 stalls selling over 50 different varieties. Jemma el-Fnaa is where all the action is. Storytellers and musicians and acrobats and snake charmers and fortune tellers and locals and tourists collide into Africa’s largest square. Day or night it is a spectacle to behold. The ancient souqs branch off of the square. Tea pots, throw rugs, spices, paintings… you’ll find anything and everything you never knew you needed in here.

This city is electric and I err on the side of love.

Toubkal from a distance

Heading for the Hills!
After a day getting lost through the souqs of Marrakesh, we made our way to Imlil, a small settlement situated 1800m above sea level and the gateway to the High Atlas Mountains a 90-minute drive away. The first order of business was to arrange for a mule to assist on our trek from Imlil up to our basecamp at Les Mouflons, one of two refuges at the base of Toubkal. Simple!

Sort of. Richard and I walked down to the local guide’s office and met Abdul, explaining our requirements to him.

“No guide?” queried Abdul. “No guide, no mule, no luck. Not possible to have just a mule.”

This carried on for quite some time, but with a bit of back and forth we thought we may have come to an agreement. We left the office and Abdul escorted us across the road towards another building. A brand new, shiny black SUV stopped next to us. The driver of the vehicle, sharply dressed and with a serious face got out, gesturing for us to continue.

We walked up the short flight of stairs as both gentlemen followed close behind. At the top of the staircase I looked through the open door. The police station was tiny.

An officer came towards me requesting my passport which I dutifully handed over, he disappeared back into the shadows. I could see him diligently taking down my details onto a large ledger.

“Salaam Alaikum, I am Mohammed, what is your name?” The man from the SUV looked intently at me. I replied, “Salaam, my name is Sarah.” Mohammed’s eyes softened and a big, jovial grin appeared, he held his hand to his heart and told me it was “beautiful, yours is the namesake of the wife of Abraham, the mother of Isaac, a most honourable name in Islam. We are so pleased to see you here. Welcome to my home.”

It turns out the stop in the police station was just a formality as we were trekking solo. Over 90% of those attempting Jebel Toubkal come on guided expeditions. As an independent party, the police were merely recording our arrival to the region and jotting down our itinerary. We had also signed documents stating that we were competent mountaineers.

Mohammed as I came to learn, was the extremely friendly and well-connected friend-of-a-friend. He had simply arrived at the police station to meet with us and arrange for a mule up to to the refuge. He also gave us his telephone number and said to contact him if any issues arose. He was a good man to know! After a lot of handshaking we were on our way.

A Horse (Mule) with No Name

Mule and Muleteer

We met our muleteer, (another) Mohammed early the next morning after a chilly night’s sleep. Our mule was nameless so we christened him Morris, loaded him up and set off. The trek to the refuges is about 5-6 hours and has about 1400m of elevation gain. It’s a straightforward, thoroughly enjoyable journey, but the elevation is high enough to notice the thinning air. Staying overnight in Imlil and again at the refuge aids in acclimatisation.

The trail rises sharply out of Imlil, initially following the Mizane Valley. About half way up we stopped in the holy pilgrimage site of Sidi Chamarouch. A white-painted auspicious rock lies here and it is a good spot to stop for a fresh squeezed orange juice before continuing on. A short while later we reached the snowline and the end of the ‘road’ for Morris the Mule. We unpacked all of our gear and between myself, Richard and Mohammed made the final jaunt to the refuge; our home for the next few days.

Wow, what a beautiful setting! The refuges sit at the top of the valley and in the winter, are surrounded by snow-capped peaks and frozen waterfalls. Toubkal is not the only 4000m+ peak in the area. Ras Ouanoukrim and Timzguida are just at the head of the valley beyond the refuges.

View from the Mouflon RefugeWe settled in for the night in the common area of the refuge in front of an open fire. Dinner was a hearty 3-course meal of soup, tagine and fresh oranges. Our initial plan had been to spend the following day doing valley walks and acclimatisation hikes before taking on our summit attempt of Toubkal later in the week, but excitement got the best of us and we opted to go for the summit, pre-dawn the next morning.

South Col or North Col?

There are multiple routes to the top of Toubkal. The most popular and least technically demanding way to the top is via the South Col, approximately 95% of summit attempts are done via this route. The other option is the North Col, a definite step up from the south col, this is more committing and you should be very competent moving on steep ground and confident using ice axe and crampons. Upon our arrival to the huts, Richard had darted off for a pre-trip recce to the North Col, but given the altitude and my longish break from winter climbing, I didn’t feel the desire to head up via the north. So, South Col it was!

An Alpine Start

Climber in the snow at night

Our alarm went off at 3:45am. It must have been about -15 degrees Celsius in our room. I burrowed my head further into the covers, but Richard leapt out of bed like a spring chicken. The singular light of his head torch shone directly at me. It was time to get up.

After a breakfast of fresh Moroccan bread, juice and jam, we set off. The start of the route is fairly straightforward, climbing up directly from the refuges, before crossing a river and heading up a steep slope. Care is needed here. The terrain is fairly easy going but a fall would be consequential.

It was almost from the start of the journey that the altitude hit me. I walked quite slowly in the sub-zero temperatures, rests were frequent but brief due to the cold. Best to keep going, slow and steady. Although the altitude is not exceptionally high, AMS can be a reality from 2500m upwards. The best solution is to stay hydrated and pay attention to your body as you ascend higher. We offer advice on altitude.

The climb was definitely a challenge. We continued on as the sun begun to rise, alpenglow shining across the mountain tops. Eventually we reached the Tizi N Toubkal Pass (3950m), providing stunning views across the entire range. We sat here for a few moments, soaking it all in. Alpine starts are brutal, but totally worth it for moments like this.

Climbers on the summit ridge of Toubkal

Climbers on the top of Toubkal

The final push to the summit traces an awesome ridgeline with minimal scrambling, skirting a precipitous drop. Care with ice axe and crampons was definitely needed here. Slowly but surely the summit’s metal tripod came into view and Richard and I reached the top. I couldn’t believe it! We had the entire mountain to ourselves without a sole in sight. Panoramic views stretched across the Atlas Mountains and even further into the Saharan desert. Incredible!

We descended the way we came, making it back to the refuge for a well-deserved tagine and hot cups of sweet mint tea.

A Winter Wonderland

Ice climber on frozen waterfall

The next few days were spent going on valley walks and ice climbing on the region’s many waterfalls and icy outcrops. Although the temperature was chilly, there was an endless supply of blue skies and sunshine.

Climbing Toubkal showcased an entirely new side of Morocco that I had never considered before. The Atlas Mountains are beautiful, challenging and nothing short of awesome. How lucky were we to kick start our 2019 on top of North Africa’s highest mountain? Simply put, I can’t wait to go back!

If you’d like to climb North Africa’s highest mountain with us, then visit our Mount Toubkal page to start planning!

Minimising Our Impact
Water To Go gave us some of their filter bottles for our Toubkal Expedition. We care deeply about the environments that we travel in and want to preserve them so that we can share the same spirit of adventure with younger generations. We know just how significantly plastic pollution is affecting our planet and so we’re trying our hardest to reduce the amount of single use plastics we use. Our Water To Go bottles not only allow us to cut down on waste but also give us access to clean and safe drinking water, no matter where we go. From now on, we’ll be using our Water to Go filter bottles on all our expeditions. If you’d like to join us in having safe, convenient drinking water as well as cutting down your impact on the environments you’re travelling in, you can get your own Water To Go filter bottle and save 10% with Lost Earth Adventures.

If you’d like to climb North Africa’s highest mountain with us, then visit our Mount Toubkal page to start planning!

Nepal End of Season Round Up

Posted on: December 19th, 2018 by Lost Earth Adventures

Trekking Trail and Trip Updates Autumn/Winter 2018-2019

Between September and December this year, Lost Earth Adventures led 14 expeditions throughout Nepal. We trekked through the Annapurna, trotted along the trails to Everest Base Camp, crossed the remote Kang La, crossed the Larkya La twice, the Thorung La on foot and by bike, completed the entire crossing of Langtang to Helambu via Gosainkund Lakes, climbed Pikey Peak, rode the World’s Longest Descent and paddled along the wild rapids of the Marsyangdi river… as well as some others!

Crossing the Larkya La

Autumn 2018 in Numbers

  • 14 successful expeditions
  • Over 1665km trekked
  • 682km biked
  • 75km paddled on rafts and kayaks
  • 6 Guides Trained
  • A whopping 63,452m gained in elevation (that’s 7 times higher than Everest itself)
  • More Dhal Bhats than we can count
  • No Yetis yet but, we live in hope…

The Treks

Each expedition is unique and made up of lots of extraordinary and memorable moments from start to finish and we aim to make our expeditions leave you with a sense of achievement by the time you return home. We do this by helping you tackle any challenges the trails throw at you, whether they’re physical or mental. This season we even managed to help one of our trekkers finish his bike route of the Annapurna Circuit, despite a rather painful dislocated finger.

Walking around the Annapurna Circuit

‘The trek was physically and mentally challenging. However, at no point did we feel unable to complete the trek due to the support given by our guide.’ -Chris, Langtang Valley Trek

Crossing the pass of the Nar Phu Trek

Our open group treks bring together people from a diverse range of backgrounds, from all over the world. By the time our trekkers leave Nepal, they’ve formed lifelong friendships, created unique memories that will last a lifetime, and gained an infinity with the magic and hospitality that makes Nepal such an incredible country. Clients trekked with us from across the UK, Europe, North America and even Australia this season and we’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who joined us and helped to make each of our group treks an adventure to remember.

While our open group treks allow us to bring people together to share in the spirit of adventure, our private treks allow us to work our magic and make dreams come true.

Everest by Chopper and Hoofs

Seeing the Himalaya by horseback

Carolyn fulfilled a lifelong dream of trekking to Everest Base Camp, and she did it in style. She took to the trails on our very first Himalayan horse trek, staying in luxury mountain lodges en-route. Along with trotting her way to Everest Base Camp, visiting serene temples and monasteries, and exploring the Sherpa town of Namche Bazaar, Carolyn took in the best of the Himalayan scenery from the sky with helicopter flights through the Khumbu region and a brief stop at the summit of Kala Patthar to see the vista from one of the best viewpoints in the entire region.

During a scenic Everest flight in a light aircraft, she also got the chance to see the iconic Mount Everest and Lhotse from a different perspective.

Monks celebrating the Mani Rimdu festival at the Tengboche Monastery

Stopping at the Tengboche Monastery, Carolyn was lucky enough to witness the Mani Rimdu festival. Lasting 19 days, the festival involves a mix of dance, masks and fire rites as well as blessings that are bestowed on those who witness the sacred ceremonies. After taking in the best that the Everest region has to offer, Carolyn headed to the Chitwan National Park to see the majestic Nepalese wildlife. After a busy day of safaris and animal tracking, a jungle lodge was the perfect setting to relax in luxury and watch the sun set on the animals that make the forests of Chitwan their home. Carolyn’s dream trip allowed us to tailor make her ideal trek and help her tick some incredible experiences off her list.
A Nepalese holy man with long hair

Nepal to the Extreme

The season also gave us the chance to create a package full of the best adrenaline rushes that Nepal can offer. Melanie and Derek joined us for a jam-packed itinerary including canyoning, the third highest bungee jump in the world, mountain biking, rafting and paragliding along with some sightseeing and cultural experiences. Not for the faint of heart by any means but the dream trip for thrill seekers the world over.

Rafting down the Marsyangdi riverDespite all the highlights and happy trekkers, the season wasn’t without its hitches. From delayed flights to dislocated fingers, the season highlighted that despite meticulous planning and organisation, adventure travel doesn’t always go quite as smoothly as we’d hope. Nevertheless, our teams did everything possible to smooth out any bumps and our trekkers carried on, had a great time, and went home with even better tales of adventures to regale their friends with.

The Nepalese Team

Crossing the pass of the Manaslu Circuit

Our Nepal team worked tirelessly throughout the season to make everything go smoothly for our trekkers and we couldn’t possibly do what we do without them. A common theme throughout this season was just how helpful and accommodating our local guides are.

At the start of the season we ran a training session for our Nepali guides putting an emphasis on practical training to enhance the theory based knowledge they gained from the Nepali government’s scheme. This focused on first aid, leadership skills and mountaineering skills with special attention given to dealing with snowy conditions, avalanches, glaciers and rock and ice climbing techniques.

Dipak the trekking guide

One consistent shining star in our feedback from this season was our guide Dipak. Dipak was a firm favourite with our trekkers due to his immense knowledge of the local area and the diverse animals and plant life that reside within the region as well as his highly patient and conscientious attitude in looking out for everyone’s wellbeing on the trails.

‘Dipak really looked after us! With his immense knowledge of the area, flora and fauna to making sure health and food wise we were ok every step of the way, along with the support of the Porters they were a great team and he’s an asset to your company! Not only is he a great Guide, but also a great guy.’ – Daniel, Annapurna Circuit Trek

Another popular addition to our guiding team this season is Usha. Usha is one of Nepal’s first female mountain biking guides and has been a huge hit with our bikers this season as well as paving the way for women in adventure sports in Nepal.

‘Usha and Dipak were both excellent guides and I can’t find a fault with your service, or the trip package itself. The advantages of a quality guide and tour company were definitely apparent throughout the trip.’ – Dom, Hike & Bike the Annapurna Circuit

Looking to the Future

We’ve also got good news for the seasons ahead! Nepal has brought an end to its load- shedding electricity system and now has a regular electricity supply. This means people are relying less on diesel generators which is not only a great move for the environment but also means that the haze that used to fill the air in Kathmandu has cleared significantly and that mountain views from Kathmandu are now becoming a regular occurrence. This means future trekkers will be treated to a sneak preview of the legendary Nepalese mountains before they even set off on their trek.

All in all, our autumn 2018 season was the perfect way to finish off the year. We’d like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year from the whole team at Lost Earth Adventures and we hope to see you on the trail with us in 2019.

Nepal Trekking Guide Training

Posted on: October 22nd, 2018 by Lost Earth Adventures

Setting New Standards of Mountain Leadership in Nepal

Trekking guides being trained
At Lost Earth Adventures we pride ourselves on having highly skilled, experienced and qualified guides; we are continually investing in training programmes to boost their professional and personal development.

Legally, as a minimum, Nepali trekking guides are required to hold a certification awarded by the Nepalese government in order to lead people on treks. This certification, which is the standard for most leaders, is particularly basic in contrast to equivalent qualifications in the UK and does not adequately address or train guides in navigation, avalanche awareness, rope work or map/compass skills.

We have therefore actively decide to invest further in the professional development of our guides, enabling them to advance their careers and earn above-average wages. This involves delivering annual training programmes to our team of local guides, some of which we have now worked with for over 10 years. We are continually striving to be the safest and most responsible travel company we can be, and this means investing in the skills, development and happiness of our staff.
 
Guides learning map and compass skills

Technical Advice

To support this project, we have come into partnership with Steve Long and are lucky enough to have him serve as our technical and training advisor. Steve is an IFMGA certified Mountain Guide. This is the highest possible certification a guiding professional can hold worldwide and requires exceptional levels of skill and years of training to achieve. Steve also sits on the UIAA’s Training Standards Panel, has written the official UK Mountain Leader handbook and has developed the Nepali Mountain Leader Scheme.

Dawa Mountaineering Technical Advisor Mountains

Steve Long has appointed Nepalese professional mountaineer and Mountain Leader Instructor Dawa Tashi Sherpa to implement and action this course on the ground. Dawa has decades of experience leading treks to some of the most remote parts of Nepal and possesses a wealth of guiding knowledge.

Our Training

The technical expertise and knowledge we have with Steve Long and Dawa Tashi Sherpa, along with our drive to make things better for our guides, means we are able to provide annual training programmes to our staff.

First aid training with local staff

What does this entail?
Our guides are only employed after they have been vetted and interviewed by us and spent some time working as an assistant. As an assistant they will start to show their leadership and people skills and our client favourites are then selected to undergo the training course. It is a very practical course, which differs from the heavy theory-based scheme issued by the government. The programme focuses on first aid; leadership skills; mountaineering skills required for snow, avalanches and glaciers and simple rock and ice climbing which is recommended for trek leaders in high-altitude regions. Once they have proven their ability in these areas they will be qualified to lead our treks and perhaps even have the chance to work internationally at some point.

Why is this important for our clients?
It goes without saying that when heading to a remote, high-altitude destination such as the Himalaya, safety is of highest priority. Over the years this region has seen numerous avoidable tragic accidents, and not just on off-the-beaten-track routes. This is because guides have made basic errors in judgement. We pride ourselves at Lost Earth Adventures as being a mountain and Himalayan specialist, not just a travel agent.

Nepali staffWe are experts in Himalayan safety; this is our priority. We want you to enjoy every step of your journey with us and have a fantastic time, but we also want you to be confident in the knowledge that you could not be in safer hands.

Our method is not to make money by sending clients to a company with whom we have no contact. We have a duty of care to both our clients and our staff and spend a lot of time each year selecting our guides and meeting them in person. We are a company full of honest, hard-working people and we share a genuine passion for the work we do. You’re safety is also backed up by a 24/7 operations centre staffed with experienced expedition planners and leaders.

Meet the Team/See what we do

You can read all about our guides on our guides page, our technical advisors on our technical advisors page and see what we’re all out doing in the field on our Facebook page.

UK Staff

 

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