Transformational Travel – Gary’s Story

Gary was a solo traveller who joined a group climbing the Atlas mountains hosted by Epic and our expert mountain guides, it was a memorable trip and Gary took a lot away with him which he has incorporated into daily life.

“On the side of that mountain I learned the power of meditation – it’s the meditation, the breathing and staying present and focussing on each step that got me through, that and the feeling of teamwork. I’ve taken that away with me, and I still practise meditation now”

How did this trip come about?

I seem to have a lot of weddings abroad, and I try and tack on some holiday on the way. I had the chance to go to Africa and I’d never been, it wasn’t something I’d contemplated doing before, but I wanted a bit of an adventure, a short break. I love the mountains, I go snow-boarding every year, the mountains are the big draw for me more than adventure, I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the Rockies, the Andies, the Alps and the mountains of New Zealand.

Why Morocco?

“It was the opportunity to try Africa en-route to somewhere else.”

Tell us about the trip.

“It was five years ago, I was a lone traveller joining in with a group of other people who wanted to do the same thing, we were doing the Ice Climb of Jebel Erdouz as part of a three-day adventure break.”

What was it like?

“The first day we arrived in Marrakech was ‘insane’ we spent a little while orientating ourselves, then transferred to the High Atlas which was a lot colder than Marrakech.

We spent the first night in a refuge in the mountains, one of the first tasks was to catch a goat, one of the Aussies in the group ran out and grabbed one and hauled it up around his shoulders, he’s quite used to farming so surprised the local guides with his speed and agility.

The climb itself the next day was more intense than I thought it would be, it was snowing and freezing cold which was a surprise after the warmth of Marrakech. It took longer than usual because of a snow fall, at times I was literally waist deep in snow. I must say the epic team were incredibly knowledgeable and the caring the atmosphere was brilliant, you felt safe at all times, the people were very competent and it was the sense of team that made the difference. At one point, I got cramping so they gave me a hot sugar and salt solution – it wasn’t nice but it did the job, you just felt safe in their hands.

To be honest I found it hard, at one point I wanted to go back down, a fellow traveller from New Zealand helped me, on the side of that mountain I learned the power of meditation – it’s the meditation, the breathing and staying present and focussing on each step that got me through, and the feeling of team work. I’ve taken that away with me, I still practise meditation now – I used it recently instead of pain relief and ditched the pills and it really works.

The reward was the top of the mountain view, the clouds thinned, the wind died down and the view was spectacular. Then we started the descent – getting down was tough, but at the bottom we were met with a surprise, a mountain bike descent with headlamps, I found it hard to get on the bike my legs were so tired but once on it was exhilarating to ride down in the dark.”

What stood out for you?

When we got down the mountain, the goat that had been slaughtered was ready and prepared for the evening meal in various formats, nothing was wasted even the eyeballs and testicles were there to try! The local dogs had the things we didn’t want. What I took out was that the animals and meat here is rare and valued, it brings you closer to an honourable and honest experience – the lack of waste gives you a view on sustainability. It drove home the value of food if you are going to eat meat, you need to understand where it comes from, waste is not an option.

That was Saturday night, on the Sunday we had a really enjoyable day of climbing, going down canyons and abseiling. – the scenery and views of the Berber villages was amazing. Then we had a surreal experience – our bikes were loaded on paniers. on mules, hiking up the mountain and the bike descent was a real experience.”

I also enjoyed being with local people, and the team included a group of people who were local and our mountain guide Ali was incredible because he knew the area and his general persona and attitude was amazing, everyone had a lot of respect for him.

A trip of contrasts:

“After all our adventures, we were back to Marrakech to do some clubbing, and rest our heads in a lovely hotel – the contrast of going from the freezing mountains and tents to a lovely hotel really felt like luxury. There were so many amazing activities packed into three days.

Friends for life:

“People increasingly do trips as an individual and become part of a group, we didn’t know each other before the trip, the first time we met each other was to do some climbing practise in a climbing centre in London. A trip like this is a really good way to get to know people, we’re all friends on Facebook, we keep up with news and I see a couple of them quite a bit – if anyone has any major news, like the Kiwi guy has had two kids – we all hear about it. One of them in Finance decided to stop and change career to become an artist, I bought some of his Art. The guys helped me on the climb, the Kiwi taught me meditation, the longest journey begins with the first step is literally true when you are waste deep in snow, I became a convert to mediation in 15 minutes, your instinct is I’m in pain, I can’t do this, but if you can get past that to make the first step using meditation and breathing you can overcome that, the sense of achievement I got from that is amazing.”

Will you come back?

“In a couple of years – we’ll do a 50th trip – I’m keen on Morocco, I almost did it this year but it’s tough with friends who are parents. A trip that takes in Marrakech and the coast would be great, I’ll definitely be back in touch with Epic.”

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