Ski Africa – A Goal Accomplished
As the sunscreen seeped into our pores, a slight breeze wafted through the breathable mesh backpanels of our Osprey packs and the blazing, African sun beat down seemingly through our skin. It was 9:45 am on February 14th, and at an elevation of 6,500 feet, we started our six-hour trek from the Berber village of Imlil to the mountain hut, Les Mouflons de Toubkal—at an elevation of 10,500 feet, to officially ride and ski Africa.
Having lived at 6,500 feet in Utah for three years, Sean and I considered at that moment perhaps the only downside of moving to Montana… living at a meager 3,500 feet. The risk of AMS, or Acute Mountain Sickness was a real one, especially having been at sea level for the week prior to this trek and allowing no time to acclimate. To make matters more complicated, getting help isn’t as easy as calling search and rescue out here. In fact, “search and rescue” doesn’t exist beyond a porter (guy who carries stuff) and a mule (donkey). With our senses on high alert and with enough food, water and electrolytes to keep our bodies in check, we began the ascent to what would be our base camp.
Stopping for a blood sugar check for Sean. Sean has T1D, an autoimmune disease, that requires him to monitor blood glucose levels and administer insulin via an Omnipod insulin pump in order to sustain life. T1D, is a completely different disease then the commonly heard about type 2 diabetes. It’s not the “diabetes” you hear about on TV, but rather a form that he didn’t do anything to cause, or didn’t eat too much of anything to “get.” Essentially, his body turned against itself and attacked and destroyed an organ called the pancreas which produces insulin.
Winding on a back road through the last of “civilization,” we reached a massive dried up riverbed composed of loose rocks. We followed the mule and porters who were assisting with the transport of our supplies through the maze and started to ascend into the mountains from there. Two hours in, we stopped for lunch at a tiny village called Sidi Chamharouch (pronounced see-dee sha-ma-rouge). In addition to the heat, Sean was feeling some typical symptoms—dizziness, loss of appetite, and fatigue. These are not descriptors I would use to describe Sean on an expedition. After a day of peak bagging, Sean is the guy asking, “Who wants to go out for another?” However, fluctuating blood sugars can wreak havoc on a body.
Sean, looking rough:
Those last four miles were intense with the altitude and the sun. Being this close to the equator makes that orange fireball in the sky so much hotter. In addition, at higher altitudes the sun reflects off the snow, burning the roof of your mouth if you hike and breathe (like me) with your mouth wide open.
Case in point:
We pushed ourselves forward fighting the body’s response of releasing copious amounts of sweat, rich with electrolytes. But after coming around a corner, about a mile from Les Mouflons de Toubkal, we could see our destination ahead, and it was a matter of “eyes on the prize” to the end. Shade is hard to come by in this part of Africa.
Around 3:30, we arrived at the hut — weary, but in good spirits. We cozied up to the fire crackling in stove of the common area, with sweet mint tea being served by our chronically kind cook, Aziz. I pulled out my phone to check the time, and I looked up and smiled. “Happy Valentine’s Day, honey. We made it.
Mint tea, a Moroccan treat:
That night, after bread, tajines of fresh vegetables, and pasta, we settled into our private room (with double beds – how modest for Valentine’s Day!) which had no source of heat. Somehow, a mountain of blankets on top of us in our sleeping bags did the trick.
The following day, still feeling some body chaos from the altitude, we roused the energy to put in some backcountry turns on the African crust near the route up to the summit of Mt. Toubkal. Not the most epic snow we’ve ridden, but again… This is Africa (and the terrain is SICK!).
Sean making an emotional phone call to family and friends after accomplishing his goal to backcountry snowboard all seven continents (thank you, SatellitePhone.com!). Also, the first person with T1D to backcountry snowboard all 7 continents.
With treacherous weather and gale force winds coming in sooner than we expected, we made the decision to leave the refuge one day early and head up another mountain valley to check out another zone. Here’s Sean with Aziz (right) and the refuge caretaker, Abdul (left), before making the trek down on Sunday.
I am in love with my traditional tie-dye Berber scarf from Sidi Chamharouch. Morocco steez.