We drove over the Atlas Mountains via Tizi n'Tichka Pass (7200 feet) and some of the more winding mountain roads I've seen. At one point, the driver coaxed our van between a too-puny-for-my-taste guardrail and a jack-knifed cargo truck.
Around midday we were in the foothills of the north Atlas Mountains in a village called Imlil. We left large bags in storage and walked about two miles and 1,000 feet up to a castle-like guest house on the edge between a village called Aroumd and the entry to Alpine country. One of the women elected to hire a mule in lieu of walking for the princely sum of MD50 (US$5). Not a bad deal.
It was cold. Old snow was frozen on the path, making footing precarious in places. We were around 5000 feet, so we could feel the altitude.
At our guest house, we had the option of a longer hike into the mountains proper. Three of us set out.
The hike up reminded me of why I loved mountaineering back when. Each breath-step, breath-step lead higher to open views of majestic peaks ahead and receding valleys behind.
The trail was frozen, and a cold biting wind blew in my face.
After about an hour, I knew I had to turn around. I was becoming too tired. Much more and I would become a liability to my companions. I turned around while they continued up.
The hike down reminded me of why I had given up mountaineering. My knees became shaky and painful. Occasional lapses of balance were unnerving. My energy was fading. Daylight was disappearing. I felt small and fragile.
By the time I got back to the guest house, I could barely climb the inside stairway to the main room. My fellow travelers actually applauded me when I limped in. Hardly deserved, in my view.
After tea and a rest, I joined in card games then dinner.
After dinner, Mo and I enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation with a newlywed Australian couple from our group. By 10 we went separate ways. We gave up our double bed to the newlyweds, and Mo slept in a female room while I took a single bed in a male room.
Warm in my sleeping bag and tired from the hike, I slept well. Until about 4 AM.
I was wearing earplugs, but strange noises woke me up. At first I thought someone was having sex. Then I thought I heard quiet sobbing. I sat up in a groggy state of confusion. One of my roommates then came in. When he saw I was awake, he told me one of the other fellows had taken a fall.
I got up to see if I could help. Several others were already on scene. The fellow in question was sitting on fhe floor with a huge gash on his forehead and an abrasion on one cheek near the eye. He was shivering from cold and shock.
There was little I could do other than get blankets for him and hold a flashlight while our leader undertook first aid.
It seems he had been weakened by dehydration and had fainted.
He was well cared for by a close friend and others from our group.
He did manage after breakfast to walk back to the van. After an hour drive, he was taken to a local clinic while the rest of us were dropped off at a cafe.
The good news was that he got stitches and was released to rejoin us later the same day.
Earlier, I had been talking to Mo about feeling fragile at this point in my life. I suppose the reality is that we are all more fragile than we would like to think. In my view, there are spirits out there that protect us from our fragile selves. I am thankful for that.
As to the noise that had sounded like someone having sex, one of the women informed us that she had had a particularly intense erotic dream. Including talking in her sleep. Around 4 in the morning, of course.