Over the past week, I have been in Morocco climbing Mount Toubkal. This mountain summits at 4167m and although not technically challenging, does have less Oxygen than we find at sea level. This means that altitude sickness can appear.
The day before we summited, we were crossing a pass at 3600m. We had already completed 1000m up a path that zig zagged 104 times, and the last 200m I found particularly tough.
I soon became aware that was suffering from altitude sickness. To put it in context, this is like having a bad hangover, suffering from
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- upset stomach
- feeling unsteady
- shortness of breath
Many times did other members of the party ask me if I was OK.
This was meant with the best intentions but it did leave me with a question in my mind – Am I alright? The question reiterated and stamped its authority on what my body told me. The answer “of course I am not OK.”
Another approach, adopted by my wife was one of gentle encouragement that we were nearing the top and a slow approach would be best. This worked for me- it encouraged me to dig into that inner drive and engage the little energy that was there.I reached the col at 3600m and collapsed.
On the ascent, I had remembered that if the sickness got really bad, I could always drop altitude and I would feel a lot better. This was indeed the case, as I virtually ran into camp that afternoon which was at 3200m.
Overnight, I was having concerns. We were to summit Mount Toubkal the next day and if I faced this altitude sickness challenge again – I may not be able to get up the extra 600m to the summit.
However, with the next day sunrise and early breakfast came a new belief. A belief that I would make it, that I would push through any obstacle in my way and achieve the summit. On the walk we pushed through 3600m, then 4000m at another col, and hit the summit at about 11am. No symptoms of sickness, no issues with fitness, no issues with nagging voices in my head.
My take out and learn from this episode – we might find that we are thrown something that is really tough to achieve, it may be the journey that is the toughest to overcome. For me, being questioned as to my well being did not work, but being aware of a strategy (small steps) did work. The achievement of summiting, was to be celebrated and this I gave.
Mount Toubkal – Done …. but more importantly … I have found out even more about my personal drivers, levers and motivations.