We started our ascent before dawn, covering the first ninety minutes in darkness. It made for a remarkable and atmospheric sight as we looked down on other groups behind us, their long lines of torches illuminating the serene darkness while the valley slept quietly below. Unlike the simple path of the day before there was steep rocky terrain to negotiate, made all the more awkward by the lack of light. The group continued to make good progress as the sun crept over the peak above, while the air remained cold and still.
We reached a saddle before the final climb to the top. We paused to fortify ourselves with nuts and dates; then turned to push up the final ascent. Regaining our rhythm in the thin air wasnít easy, and I donít mind admitting it was hard work to press on to the summit. Our differing motives for making the journey, coupled with fatigue, made arriving an emotional moment. Some celebrated with shaking of hands and patting of backs, while I chose to sit aside a short time alone to collect my thoughts.
As we descended the weather changed. The clear conditions that had afforded unhindered views from the summit were now replaced by a gathering storm. A layer of snow and sleet combined with the cold to produce patches of ice on the rocky terrain, and our progress became slow and perilous. As participants in the mountain race tiptoed past us I was now very glad not to be in their number.
We returned to the refuge in need of the slap up meal laid before us. After lunch we made our way back to Arroumd as persistent rain turned the path into a small stream. Gordon was setting the pace on the descent. Had he somehow gained the knowledge we were all after, and was now anxious to pass it on so he could slip out of his guise as a cheeky heating-engineer from Sutton? Or was he just desperate to find somewhere that served alcohol?
Clockwise from bottom: Hasan, Ijaz, Moustapha, Omar and mountain guide at summit.
The next day we would leave the mountains, and with them the secret of the Argan tree.