There came a moment when it was silent; the only light came from the sky and its army of stars vaguely shaping into constellations—in one’s life these moments are few and far between.
Rabat – Growing up, my grandpa used to say to me that mountains, as the lines formulating the entire natural scenery, can teach us more than books could ever reveal to us. My six-year-old self was listening to him utterly confused as to how an array of tall rocks could have the power to educate people.
I never really understood the true essence of this reiterated and seemingly hollow phrase, until I reached the age of 20 and climbed to the top of Mount Toubkal. I realized that nature can indeed unburden one’s inner strength and vigor to continue; to continue climbing; to continue ascending—to never give up.
The early A.M.s of Saturday, July 13, found our group of six at the roots of Mount Toubkal. Devoured by the darkness of the night and the strong breeze of the uninviting landscape, we were wearing heavy jackets and woolen beanies, holding trekking sticks and using our phones as flashlights.
We were finally ready to follow the long and rocky trail that would lead us to the summit. Although there were 4,167 meters separating us from Mount Toubkal’s top, we all knew that the best view comes after the hardest climb.
“We began; there’s no way back,” I thought to myself. And at that moment, I knew that it would take us at least three hours to reach the summit—if we managed to make it.
“You need to picture yourself at the top,” our guide repeated several times before we started our climb. “Don’t think for a second that you won’t make it.”
It was already too late for that. As we climbed higher, it was getting colder; the wind was blowing stronger, forcefully hitting our faces, rippling through our clothes and burning our skin.
Everything was pitch black, we could not understand the amount of distance we had covered, and we could not see what the remaining path looked like. I was trying not to check at the time; I did not want to be discouraged.
I was merely looking down at the trail we were following, faintly lit by our flashlights’ beam; full of rocks. In some places, thin as sand; our feet could easily dive in, in some others, giant and rough; demanding us to kneel and then climb. At times, I was looking at the sides.
Our enormous shadows, enhanced by the flashlights, were reflected in the colossal rocks enclosing us. I was counting six; six shadows walking, kneeling, climbing and then I was looking back down.
During the short breaks we were taking, our guide demanded that we deeply inhale. He would then go on to explain that the higher up we went the less oxygen there was; we needed more air in our lungs. He would give us peanuts and Moroccan cookies to make sure our energy levels would allow us to continue.
I could not resist; 4:30 A.M. Only an hour and ten minutes had passed, but it felt like much more. My body was already exhausted. I started feeling nauseous and the darkness surrounding us did not help. I asked to make a stop and sat on a wide rock. The group’s discussions sounded like far echoes to my ears. I tried to concentrate on what they were saying and realized they were looking at the stars above—so, I did too.
I had never seen anything similar to this before. The sky was full of stars, there was not a single space left uncovered. They were bright, forming clusters; all those delicately convoluted shapes that are never visible when you look above at a big city’s horizon. There were right there, just above us; it felt unreal. We remained silent; the only sound came from the wind. And at that moment, I felt small facing nature’s magnificence, beneath the most beautiful sky I had ever gazed at.
And then, a shooting star crossed the starlit sky like a raindrop of jewelry, fading out in split seconds.
“Did you all see that?” someone uttered. We did. And it was high time we made that wish.
“I wished to make it at the top,” one said.
“You should not say it, it won’t come true,” another said.
I knew I wished the exact same thing and now I felt ready to do so —or at least that’s what I thought. We got up and continued.
A few minutes later, I realized my hands were numb and almost bruised, as they had been exposed to the freezing air for a long time. Our guide immediately gave me thick skiing gloves and they instantly got better. I could finally feel my grip on my trekking stick again.
The decompression was now evident. My brain was lacking all the oxygen needed to even think straight, let alone support my body in the effort to ascend. And then I said it out loud.
“There’s no way I can make it.”
How many times will one say this phrase in the span of a lifetime? And, what will it take to get up and continue on stronger? Moving forwards intact is all about determination and faith, whether that can be applied to ascending a mountain or overcoming a problem in real life.
Sometimes it’s all about our inner struggles, sometimes it’s just all mental—sometimes our own self is our worst enemy. And, indeed, those battles are the hardest fought, but give our triumph the greatest significance.
At the end of the day, difficulties are not stop signs, they’re just guidelines paving us the way; an entirely new trail that will make us stronger to succeed and better equipped for what’s to come.
And although nothing much can be seen through the mist, there is somehow the blissful feeling that one is looking at the right direction—always forwards; beyond our boundaries and limits.
In between those thoughts swirling inside my head, I noticed that few things in life are even more powerful than a positive push; a smile, a word of optimism, a “you can do it” when things get tough—five voices encouraging me to continue.
“You are doing great, you got this.”
“You have made it so far.”
“You can do it—we can all do it.”
“It’s 20 more minutes till we reach our stop for our long break and then half an hour to the top,” our guide said giving me three cubes of sugar to stop my dizziness.
From this moment and onwards, everything was happening so fast. It was like my body had miraculously regained all the energy needed to continue. I started moving faster, feeling more determined than ever.
Day and night were finally merging. It was already dawn. Soon, the first rays of sunrise replaced darkness, breaking it up piece by piece, making us capable of seeing our surroundings. And there we were, ready to cross the last trail of our journey on the top.
The view from the summit made us feel tiny as the imposing landscape unwrapped in front of our eyes, much wider than we could have ever expected. The sun was appearing little by little on the pink-tinted sky behind hundreds of mountain tops below Mount Toubkal. Everything was luminous—we had made it.
We stayed there gazing at the sky, steadily holding the sun; a sigh of relief, a slight relaxing of tension. Peacefulness all over; everything was motionless —priceless moment.
And at the top of the mountain, I realized I was at the bottom of another one for quite a while now. I would have to climb a lot more until I fully understood that every mountain top is within reach if someone just keeps climbing.
Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit lies the answer to why we climb. Whether that is an ascend towards the top of a mountain or towards the achievement of our goals in life, it’s completely irrelevant—one will always have to climb. Avoiding the pain of the ascent might as well mean missing out on the thrill of the summit.
Life always demands us to go higher. The mind is our only limit. And, it is not about conquering the mountain; it is rather about conquering oneself.