Descent from the summit of Toubkal

Rob talks about his recent ascent of Toubkal,  Africa’s second highest mountain, and the significance of this achievement in light of the health problems he’s faced this year…

After a routine x-ray following a persistent cough in May of this year, some detailed scans were called for which resulted in Helen Davies, the lung specialist at Llandough Hospital, arranging for an operation via keyhole to check on a ‘shadow’ on my left lung. I was warned by Helen that if it proved cancerous, it would be removed, and that tests would be undertaken on various tissues to ensure that cancer had not spread to other parts of my body.  After the operation, brilliantly performed by Margaret Kornaszewska and her team at University Hospital of Wales in July during which the tumour was removed along with the bottom lobe of my left lung, I, along with my family, awaited the test results with obvious anxiety. Having been a Trustee of Cancer Charity Tenovus for many years, I had some knowledge of the consequences of any positive results and so had prepared myself, although I remained positive throughout the period. Luckily for me the tests were all negative so Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy were not required.

Due to reasonable fitness, I recovered quickly from my hospital stay and was soon looking forward (with my consultant’s blessing!) to two trips planned in January this year. Firstly, to Spain for my yoga retreat organised by Ray at, which went off perfectly in the mountains of Andalucía, near Ronda, just a week before the rain came!  A most relaxing and calming six days in the company of my great yoga class mates from David Lloyd Leisure, Cardiff.

Riad Samsara

Then, secondly, a more daunting week’s trekking in the High Atlas of Morocco with my wife Delyth whose support over the past months has been very significant together with family, friends and specialist lung nurses Kay and Naomi from Llandough Hospital. We stayed at Jacqueline Brandt’s delightful Douar Samra in the village of Tamatert, some two hours from Marrakech where we had started our holiday at Jacqueline’s Riad Samsara, Jacqueline’s hospitality and comfort is to be highly recommended to any visitor to Morocco by the way.

My challenge was to summit Mount Toubkal, the second highest mountain in Africa at 4200m!!  People said I was mad, irresponsible and selfish to attempt this trek, even if I was 100% fit. However as my icon Marilyn Monroe once said, “We should all start to live before we get too old. Fear is stupid, so are regrets.”  I needed to prove to myself, more than anyone else that this disease called cancer can actually bring out the very best in people. I felt that if I could achieve this small challenge, others in ward C5 of the University Hospital in the Heath, Cardiff might be inspired to push themselves a little more to achieve their own goals, however small; maybe just to climb the stairs from ward C5 to the next level and prove that they were on the mend and could leave hospital themselves!

So on Saturday 13th October, having set off at 4am, along with my guide Ephraim, I summitted Toubhkal at 7am, exhausted but elated.   It took me another 10 hours to descend and get back to the comfort of Doura Samra where, very stiff and weary, I must have consumed a full bottle of that magical ‘vin rouge’ President, so deliciously produced and bottled by excellent Moroccan wine producers.

A memorable journey and personal challenge fulfilled, which I do hope will inspire a few more sufferers of cancer to undertake their own particular challenges in the future. Cancer can be beaten, as can Toubkal, by many more people with the right positive frame of mind. To repeat Marilyn’s wonderful words, “We should all start to live before we get too old. Fear is stupid, so are regrets.”

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