Morocco - Atlas Mountains {Toubkal}

Apr 20, 2011
Beep beep beep! A harsh wake-up call at 4am in order to drag ourselves to the airport for an early flight out- this time for North-Africa

Around noon we landed on the Moroccan soil. We exit the aircraft on foot and walked to the customs amongst the airport staff (read: gasoline trucks, luggage carriers, etc.) plus all the fellow passengers…needless to say, it seemed like a pretty chaotic arrangement to us. An hour and a half taxi ride later we arrived to a small village Imlil, lost in the Atlas mountain range. 

Due to a small mix-up in our reservation, they upgraded us to the finest guest house of the village. It was a magical little riad with authentic patios and terraces overlooking the surrounding snowy mountains. We were greeted with berberian hospitality: mint tea and homemade Moroccan delights. Couldn’t have asked for anything better!

We took a small walk around the village and the hills close around us and marveled at the small distinctive things, such as locals using tree branches for drying out their clothes (we actually saw women washing their laundry in rivers, too). The landscape around Imlil is quite rocky (especially higher up), the houses are built from stone and yet there is surprisingly green flora to it all. As we strolled down the village road, a number of people on their donkeys passed us by, and a group of kids was playing football on the sloping road. They asked us to join them, and so we played along! It was interesting to see how unreserved and genuinely happy they were for that little that they had: only thing they really needed was a couple of rocks on each side to serve as goals and one worn out football. 

After a while we headed back to our riad for a delicious dinner that was set truly beautifully by the fireplace (and we were wearing our cosy and warm djellabas!). We crawled to our comfy bed quite early to load our batteries for the next day’s challenge, which would be higher than ever before… 

The trek to the top of North Africa, Mt Toubkal (Jbel Toubkal)

After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to get to the mountain. We met our guide and our expedition group: an Italian-English couple from London

The beginning of the hike was very picturesque with green trees, typical stone villages, and the high peaks in the background. The path was zigzagging along the Oued (which means a river in Arabic) and we needed some tricks to come across it from time to time.

Hours later we had lunch near a pilgrimage berberian place, which really was just a small stone house in a middle of a rocky landscape way pass the tree line. 

Lunch stop

Small stand on our way up
All the way till 2800m the weather was really warm and pleasant, but as we got to 3000m, we reached the snow line and you could just feel the drop in temperature. Finally we reached the refuge after 5 hours of walking. The refuge was a complex of 3 different buildings: a very small cottage and two big buildings. Our guide took us first to the small cottage and told us that our expedition would be staying the night there. Everyone looked skeptical as we climbed up the ladder to the second floor (bedroom?). It was really just a small room with bunk beds all attached to one another, and the mattresses were moist (with related smell…). We kept glancing at each other with slight disbelief and couldn’t help but wonder whether or not we should try and get to one of those main buildings and dry beds. It turned out there was plenty of space in the other building, and so no one actually had to sleep there. The rooms were huge, probably up to 20-30 people in each, and there were plenty of rooms. 

Meanwhile we were getting settled to our spot, we met a nice polish couple who kindly offered us some polish liquor they had purchased from the airport, and so we got into talking and one thing led to another and we found out to have so many things in common! We spent the rest of the night dining with the entire expedition group (I think we were closer to 20 people), and people from all over were exchanging their travel stories and chatted the night away. We were also lucky to get a warm shower (only a few did) before calling it a night and trying to get some rest for an early summit push. But like in all great stories, things didn’t go as planned- we could barely catch any sleep that night thanks to an Englishman who snored the entire night so freaking loud…After each waken hour we sank in deeper distress. We got up around 5am, hoping the weather (at least) would be on our side. But as the Moroccans say: إن شاء الل  (if god wants…).

The summit day

So, instead of feeling overly tired, we were actually glad to get out of the dormitory. A quick breakfast later, we prepared the gear, got the crampons on and were ready to get on the mountain! We got out to the cold and dark night and were only able to see a very dim light on the horizon. If you looked further away you could perceive a line of headlamps on the side of the mountain- the fellow hikers who were already on their way. 

The slope in the beginning was quite steep and our guide requested not to go too fast and stick with the group. But as their pace was so slow, we ended up waiting and freezing every ten minutes or so.We negotiated with our guide to finish on our own and meet them on the summit- we were now free to go on our own pace. Quickly we reached the group that had left before us, and nothing seemed to stand on our way that morning. The weather man had heard us and we got just what we had ordered- the perfect conditions. 

We arrived at Tzi'n'Toubkal (Toubkal pass) at 3940m when the sun was just rising above the mountains, what an amazing view! We then got to the final ridge that would lead to the summit in about 200 meters. The path got really narrow and there was a quite a drop to the side, this must’ve been the only place that actually was a little creepy. Nevertheless we reached the summit in 3 hours and 15 minutes, and could now enjoy the breath-taking scenario on the top of North Africa at 4167m (13 671ft).

We had plenty of time for relaxing and taking photos since our guide and the rest of the group arrived an hour and a half later to the summit. We stick around for another half an hour and started the descent. By then, the sun was getting really powerful and the icy paths of the morning were just a distant memory as the snow was melting into a fondue. It was easy to go down; we felt a sense of relief, gratitude and achievement. The descent was rather quick; we reached the refuge only 90 min after leaving the summit. And for some parts we were able to get on our butts and slide straight down!

After a lunch at the refuge, we started our final descent towards Imlil. It took us another 4 hours to reach the riad, pack our bags and hail a taxi with our new polish friends, Aga and Jacob. We all felt happiness on so many different levels at that point and most of all, we were just happy to be in a taxi and on our way to the red city of Marrakesh.

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