Toubkal – The result

The idea was that a Belgian expedition of 10 persons with MS and their coach would go on a hiking tour to the top of a highly symbolic mountain. Toubkal, the highest point of the Atlas Mountain range in Morocco (4,167m). Trying to lead so high 10 patients of MS was quiet an expedition, a real sporting challenge, but also a first worldwide event.

The departure point was located 70 km from Marrakech, in Oukaïmeden the only Moroccan ski resort at 2600 meter altitude. This 4-day trip in the mountain, before arriving at the summit, was a challenge for all the team but mostly for the 10 MS patients. They were accompanied by 10 muleteers who carried the 400-kg of material, their luggage, their supplies but also a precious fridge.

At day 1, under the leadership of Olivier Bouquiaux (Neurologist) the expedition began a first day of preparation with a 13-km walk. Although the hikers had been training intensively during 6 months, and considering their physical condition, it was difficult, at first sight, to understand that they were suffering from a severe disorder.

Gradually, the Altas revealed its splendor. Ocher villages in terraces. Rivers that reminded us that the mountain was not far away. But the terrain was rugged and, for the group, the first hours were difficult: long runs in the heat, on a stony path.

Some hikers were in difficulty, but a guide and a doctor were constantly at their side.

The expedition had fallen behind schedule and the guides did not dare say it but they worried about the slow progress. The landscape was more and more barren, the gap between the trekkers longer. After nearly eight hours of walking the trekkers finally reached, at nightfall, the Tinherourhine refuge where they spend the night. A relief for everyone.

At day 2, despite the intense efforts of the day before, the expedition was off again. On the agenda the passage of one and only pass on a trail much more convenient. Most of the trekkers now seemed in great shape in spite of the dificulties of the day before. For most patients with MS it is difficult to imagine how a seemingly simple walk demands real efforts, running for them was almost impossible, each step in the mountain was a small performance. The trek seemed to become a pleasant walk, the patients were doing well. The bodies slowly adjusted to the mountain. In these moments of relaxation, they shared their experience, their life with the disease.

After 5 hours walking in total, the trekkers reached Aremd the last village before climbing to the Toubkal. At the end of the day some isolated themselves, the time for an injection. The patients were all under different treatment.

At day 3, immediately a first difficulty awaited the trekkers: the crossing of a river. Their equilibrium was strongly requested. The snow and the cold that lied ahead made it impossible to reach the top with wet shoes. This simple obstacle demanded a strong concentration. The nerves were sometimes put to hard trials but they all entered high mountain at a good pace. Soon after, one of the trekkers was again in difficulty. But the rest of the group progressed rapidly. In the afternoon, all passed the threshold of 3000m, a première for most of the patients. The ground beneath their feet was slipery, a new difficulty for them. At the first snow fields the mules were left behind and the trekkers had to carry their bags, sometimes very heavy. Fatigue seted up. The climb was more and more difficult.

Reaching the refuge of Toubkal was a first victory for the group. The top was 1000 meters above. The ultimate goal.

Day 4 the stress had increased. All had to put on harness and crampons, a first for most of the trekkers, and the 3 lines of roped mounteniers started the climbing and the final ascent. First obstacle: an abrupt passage that had to be climbed with the mountaineering pick. The effort was immediate and intense, the beginning of the climb was difficult but the trekkers were full of courage, thanks to their excellent physical preparation.

After walking for more than 3 hours at minus 5 degrees the trekkers kept well concentrated. At 4000 m the pace was slow, the physical effort entense, the breaving rapide but the 3 lines of roped mounteniers hanged on despite some impressive precipices.

The peak finally appeared at the turn of a last climbing. The roof of the Atlas at an altitude of 4167m was a few steps away. After finding their last resources the trekkers reached the top. This summit, the trekkers of Toubkal 2011 have climbed it as a message of hope for all other patients.