By Ellie Joye, HAF-UVA Student Intern
On the first day of climbing Toubkal, Hallie and I were flying up the mountain. It was so cloudy that we could barely see the hand in front of our faces, but we were hardly deterred from our ultimate goal: the summit. As we raced ahead, our group became a little speck behind us. At that moment, I felt deeply in tune with nature: all the rolling hills, the valleys, and the peak of Toubkal off into the distance.
Time flew by, and soon we made it to base camp. Upon first entering base camp, we noticed travelers from around the world dining over a meal of stale bread and salty Tagine. The food, as unappetizing as it seemed, was not the most shocking part of the base camp. We climbed up the steps to see our new home for the night. What we saw were bunk beds pushed right beside each other with families, children, and solo wanderers all sleeping together. To say the least, I did not sleep all night for fear of falling off the bed, the incessant snoring, and the anticipation of the next day.
“Beep, beep, beep” sounds my alarm at the bright and early time of 3am. I grudgingly awake to hikers scrambling for their headlamps, snow coats, and granola bars. The only thing keeping me awake was the adrenaline rush of knowing that within a few hours, I would be on the summit. After pulling on my boots, we raced to meet the group to begin the final stretch.
In my mind, the final 6 miles was going to be nothing. We had already done 10 yesterday, and I barely felt tired. With a glance up at the stars and the shadowy horizon, my feet began to carry me along the rocky path toward my final destination. Within the first 30 minutes, Hallie and I had already managed to lose our group and guide. Hardly discouraged, we found a group of Australians to summit with. Unbeknownst to me, these Australians were in tip-top shape and had already been backpacking for 4 months. Soon, I felt my breath faltering as the Australians continued to push the pace, and every step felt like 100 miles. The only sense of encouragement was the metal spike in the distance signaling the end was near.
Over my shoulder, I glanced as the sun began to rise with colors of cotton-candy pink and glowing orange. Eyes only on the sun, I trudged on: numb toes, freezing fingers, nonexistent oxygen, and all. The metal spike of glory came closer and closer until it seemed nearly within reach, and with a last final push; finally, we had made it.
At that moment, my head was in the clouds: literally and figuratively. Standing on a rock overlooking the cloudy landscape, I felt a sense of immense accomplishment and pride. The previous moments of pain faded away, and all I could think about was how I had made it. At that moment, I felt like I could do and achieve anything on my own and that limits were meant to be pushed and conquered.
This newfound theory was immediately challenged to say the least. After climbing back down the mountain, Hallie and I went straight into the rural stay. On the first day, I was already not feeling my best. That night I had gotten food poisoning, and my entire body ached with the pain from the previous days. Because of this, I could barely participate in the discussions or activities.
Sometimes limits are meant to be pushed, and you must go on to achieve a goal. I have no regrets for mustering up every remaining strength in my body to get to the top of Toubkal. On the other hand, you must also recognize that those limits are in place for a reason. It took a lot for me to admit that I was sick during the rural stay and couldn’t possibly juggle everything at once. This was an important lesson for me in that I can not and will not be able to do everything on my own.