Wells Mountain 1Our destination, Mount Toubkal, Morocco, in the background.

“What made me think I wanted to climb a mountain?” I asked myself out loud. We were in in Day 1, Hour 3 of the slow, extremely strenuous, even boring trudge toward the summit of Mount Toubkal in the High Atlas Mountain Range of Morocco.

But there I was, in September, with 31 others, on a physical challenge so tough my brain couldn’t have anticipated it. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were thinking more hike than climb; we should have asked more questions.

And then it started to rain—a steady non-stop deluge for six hours. No matter how much waterproofing you’ve done, in that kind of water you’re going to get wet. Very wet. Soaked through every layer of clothing, down to the skin. And even though you’re drenched through and through, you have to keep going because there’s nowhere else to go. You’re on a mountain. The Neltner Refuge, where we planned to spend the night, was hours away.

Wells Mountain 2  My “waterproof jacket and pants” soaked to the core.

Here’s how I got myself into this situation.  The TNS Global (where I work) parent company, Kantar, has a relationship with UNICEF. This trip was a fundraiser for UNICEF’s Brighter Futures, with the money slated to help children in Malawi, Bangladesh, and Bolivia. It sounded amazing and I signed up immediately. I’m happy to say that our team raised about $110,000, exceeding our goal by approximately 30 percent.

Back to the mountain climbing. We finally made it to the Neltner Refuge after about eight hours. The place was full. We slept 26 to 1 room. There were four showers, two toilets that sometimes flushed, and two of those hole-in-the-floor thingies they called toilets. We had to bring our own toilet paper.

We were greeted by a staff who came bearing gifts of mint tea and cookies before they served us a hot dinner while we sat around the fire trying to kill the bone-deep chill we had from being soaked for so long. Our grumblings eased and we actually started to have fun, getting to know each other, playing games, and comparing our day’s miseries.

Wells mountain 3 Drying our wet shoes by the only heat source in the place.

Day two started at 6:30 a.m. We were to complete the trek to Mount Toubkal’s summit in nine hours (four to five hours to reach the top and four hours to return). One guy in our group refused to go. He waited for us at the Refuge. I didn’t blame him. I (and a few others) didn’t really want to go either, but we allowed ourselves to be cajoled into it. Plus, I didn’t really come all that way not to try. I wasn’t happy, though. The weather got worse, not better. After a few hours, we were turned back by the snow, ice, and wind. Many were disappointed. I wasn’t. I was ready to turn around. In fact, a few of us turned back about an hour before the diehards did. It was dangerous. My goals had been met: raised money, climbed a mountain, and embarked on a new adventure. Reaching the top or not didn’t matter to me.

Wells Mountain 5Two of our guides, Khalid and Ibrahim

Our guides Khalid and Ibrahim were beyond amazing. They safely and with good humor led 31  first-timers up and down a mountain in some of the harshest conditions the area has had in years. I love those guys.

Can something be awesome and horrible at the same time?  Apparently, because that’s what this was for me. I really hated the climbing part; it was much, much tougher than many of us imagined it would be. But it was more awesome than it was horrible. 

And now that I’ve had a few weeks to recover in the comfortable confines of my New York City apartment, I’ve realized that I  learned a few things:

  • I don’t like mountain climbing. Not even a little bit.
  • Gross things become less gross if you spend enough time with them. Case in point: The trail was filled with donkey poo the entire way. After a few hours of trying to step around it, we began to plow right through. When I’m worried about slipping and falling off a mountain, a little (or a lot) of poo on my boots means nothing.
  • I know what it feels like to think I could die. What we were doing was dangerous and we weren’t properly trained. While I was climbing, I realized that it wouldn’t take much to lose my footing and go tumbling down, down, down. It was an odd feeling, but I felt surprisingly serene.
  • In the face of danger, I still have a sense of humor. Even about my death. As I was processing that I could die up there, I thought of the way loved ones often speak of someone who has died doing something crazy. They always say, “S/he died doing what s/he loved.” People wouldn’t have said that about me. They would have said, “WTF was Eleanore doing on a mountain, anyway”? I imagined myself lying in my coffin with a sheepish, apologetic look on my face.
  • I’m old. Most of the people on the climb were in their 20s and 30s. There were a handful in their 40s, but I was the oldest person by at least 10 years. And I couldn’t keep up. I’m in good shape but I now realize I have to modify that: I’m in good shape for a 60-year old. I ended up in the back, climbing with the sick people. There were a number of people who were having a rough time, slowed by headaches, nausea, and muscle aches. I had none of those things but they were moving at a pace much more to my liking. So those were my people.

 Wells Mountain 6During a break, pretending to be having a good time.

And now that I’ve had time to recover, I look back almost in awe. I did something pretty amazing, for a good cause, with a great group of people. I won’t do it again, but I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. What a magnificent experience—this Spinsterlicious Life!

Photos courtesy of Eleanore Wells.

 

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IMG_4697[1]By Emily Kelting. The trail became wider. We passed people coming down from the summit. “You’re close,” they said, their faces as blue/green as the glaciers. We weren’t close.

 

Hiking to Machu Picchu: Over the Hills at 60, Part II

Room serviceBy Emily Kelting. “My eyes homed into the step below as I figured out where to plant, first the trekking poles, then my feet. One misstep and there would be no way to stop the fall. Broken bones for sure, although death was not out of the question.”

 

 

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  • Mary November 25, 2014 at 6:16 am

    Hi Eleanore – what nice and heay trip. I was been in marocco some times ago, but on the sea, with beach, sun, nice hotel 🙂 your trip was more difficult. but i think you have a lot of memories for your future.

    Reply
  • Emily Kelting October 30, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Good for you, Eleanore, that you raised money (lots of it!) for a cause you believed in, even though the conditions were horrific and you were miserable. I know what it is like to do this, having climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in a blizzard, and it sure is scary! Also, going down the Inca Steps to Machu Picchu was another test of my legs and character. But I, too, proved to my 60 year-old self that I can do almost anything I set my mind on, and I also raised money for The Touch Foundation, which has been training native medical students in Tanzania. We live and learn, don’t we? Sometimes the hard way… Hope you keep writing for WVFC.

    Reply
  • Andrea October 30, 2014 at 9:04 am

    What a fabulous article. I too had a similar experience- not morocco (and no donkey poo)but a week of killer 4-5 hour hikes in Laguna beach. Your strength mentally just astounded me. In my opinion that,along with the encouragement from your companions, is what helped you complete this most amazing feat. You must have hated your guides at some point- I know I certainly did- but the bond we shared at the end of the week was something I will always remember. Congratulations on your accomplishment. Keep writing for women’s voices!!!

    Reply
  • Toni Myers October 29, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    You were incredibly brave to jump at this chance to raise money by putting yourself in terrible danger and abject misery. I love your honesty. If I’d been there (actually not a real possibility) I’d have dragged you downhill sooner.
    But I really enjoyed your story, from my comfy home.

    Reply
  • eleanore wells October 28, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Laura, thank you so much. What a nice thing to hear my voice is “missed”. (I’ve just been lazy). Your words gave me quite a lift on this very long and hard day!

    Reply
  • Laura Baudo October 28, 2014 at 8:02 am

    This made me realize just how much I’ve missed Eleanor’s voice on Women’s Voices. Even doing something outrageous, she is a class act all the way. Awesome is the word.

    Reply