“The inner, what is it? If not intensified sky, hurled through with birds and deep with the the winds of homecoming.” Rilke, Rainer Maria
Are you dreaming of hiking up the highest peak in North Africa? Same here! It is better than you can even imagine! Let me take you on this little mountaineering adventure!
WHEN? Depending on the snow situation, probably best in May/June. We had quite a lot of snow above 3.000 m in mid May 2016, which is not a real problem when well equipped. At this time of the year, the valley is covered in green and the rivers are full. Get started early in the morning on summit day, 6 am the latest, because as of noon it will get hazy and the views won’t be as impressive. Minimalistic minimum: 2 days (1 night acclimatization in Imlil, 1 day hiking to the refuge at 3.207 m, 1 day to get to the summit and back down to Imlil).
HOW? By foot only! Needless to say that basic fitness and good hiking shoes are essential. For the lazy ones- take a mule on day one to get to the refuge and on day two only hike up the second part to the summit. Best way to do it: bring camping gear to sleep midway, pack your stuff up on a mule and hike up. No need for a guide, unless you are very inexperienced. Although a guide can give you insights in daily life, history, etc. Your choice! The main route is a hiker’s highway and therefore not hard to find. But please do check on weather conditions before as they might change quickly. Never forget that the mountains are wild!
WHY? To be so close to the sky! And also, to enjoy a beautiful, even though very popular hike to the highest peak in North Africa! You will be rewarded with views over the Atlas mountains down to Marrakech and the desert. Nothing better than earning a mountain, right?
WHAT? Good hiking boots, hiking sticks, warm layers, sunscreen (altitude, hello!), sunglasses, hat, a water bottle, purification tablets to reduce your consumption of water bottles, and maybe camping gear.
Personal insights for your best experience in those mind blowing mountains!
The Atlas is an endless playground if you’re into mountains. Most people opt for the Jbel Toubkal, with its 4.167 meters the highest peak of this impressive mountain range in central Morocco.
Really, I love where the name Toubkal comes from! In Amazigh, the local berber language, the mountain is named Tugg Kal/Toug-kal meaning “the one [summit] who looks at the earth from the top” (“celle qui regarde en haut la terre”). Isn’t that beautiful?
When arriving from abroad or a lower region like Rabat or Casablanca, I highly recommend spending one night on height to adjust, namely Imlil at 1.740 m. This is also the starting point of your walking adventures.
Splurging before the ascent
We stayed at a fantastic little place called Douar Samra in Tamatert, a tiny village further up south east from Imlil. Already the place can only be reached by a short , pleasant walk through the village. Douar Samra is furnished with a lot of love for details. In the evening, the entire place is lightened with candles. All rooms are individually styled and have open fireplaces, the one we chose even had two, one in the living room and one in the bedroom! The beds are very comfortable. Before slipping underneath the blankets, those are warmed up with hot water bottles. With the fire going, it is as romantic as it can get! From the living room, you have access a private terrace, overlooking the beautiful garden, including a giant chess game, a donkey, ducks, vegetable garden, outdoor sitting area and many more lovely details. In the evening, delicious soup, tajine and desert are served in the super tastefully decorated common area on top of the traditionally built house. Comfortably relaxing on cushions on the floor around a big, low table like in a true salon Marocain, makes it easy to get in touch with other guests (in my case Scotland’s Honorary Consul to Malawi where I just moved… small world!). For those who prefer intimacy, there are also separate tables for dinners for two. They even serve alcohol! The nights up there are peaceful and dark- good sleep guaranteed! Make sure to get up early enough to catch the sunrise and enjoy how the morning sun dips the valley below you in more and more colors!
Up up we go
We were medium lazy and drove up the first part from Imlil to Aremd, a move which saved us about 1 hour walking on a hard dirt track (especially appreciated on the way back down the next day). As it’s not super hot, starting around 9, 10 am is totally sufficient. The first part of the track leads you through a dry river bed. After that, the path leads constantly uphill. Be prepared to share it with the many mules who carry up gear and/or lazy people to the refuge. Surely an adventure! Anyhow, my boots are made for walking! And yes, for the entire walk on day one, you will have the smell of mule pooh in your nose.
All along the path you find small shops, selling water, orange juice, tea and other drinks, most of them also snacks. So no need for carrying heavy liters of water bottles with you! After about 2 hours you reach an idyllic little village on the river. This is where the path gets a little trickier, meaning steeper, narrower and rockier. I have to admit that the altitude effected me, it was somehow difficult to inhale, but at least only on day one. The valley is amazingly beautiful! In mid May, lush green pillows of pretty plants with tiny green-silver leaves and even tinier yellow flowers (maybe a botanical specialist can help me out here?), draw dots of color on the grey and red rock. The rivers and waterfalls are almost over boarding with clear waters from melted snow. The final leg before reaching the refuge seems to be never ending. But once there, you will be rewarded with breath taking views over the valley before the evening mist rises.
A night in the mountains
Fact is, there are 2 refuges: the CAF (Club Alpin Francais) – good site for weather info also, and Les Mouflons du Toubkal. We were accepted in none as we had a dog with us. Solution: a rented tent, equipped with some mats and sleeping bags. Therefore, I highly recommend bringing your own camping gear and have a mule carry that stuff up to the refuge. Also a way cheaper option than staying at the rooms/dorms at the actual huts! The soup and tajine served for dinner at the Mouflon were delicious. It is a very social place where you meet people from all over the world, sharing travel and mountaineering stories. Those with guides and those without are seated in separate rooms, for what reason ever. The fireplaces made a cozy, warm atmosphere- well appreciated in the crispy cold mountain nights!
The wind was howling around our tent the entire night, but at least we had each other and a dog to keep us warm! For breakfast, eggs, bread, kiri and tea fuel you up. We had kind of a late start, left from the hut at 7am. I guess by 8 you should really get going as the snow on the way down from the summit gets very soft.
Here, I’m only talking about the South Col/Cwm (Irhzer n’Ikhibi Janoub). There are at least two other routes to get to the summit. Next time I will opt for the north route, in winter!!
But for now- what an amazing experience! The first part leads you over rocky paths, then loose scree, followed by a section through boulders. Cairns lead the way, so keep your eyes open for those. After this first section, the entire track was covered in snow. I was very happy that my mum forced me to bring my good hiking boots! The snow covered peaks around were glowing in the soft pink morning light- morning glow in a whole new dimension! It is a wonderful hike, the uppermost part leads you along a grate. As we were not within the first groups up there, we had the summit almost to ourselves. The views after 4 hours of hiking uphill, mostly in snow, were more than rewarding. Red glowing mountains all around us, their tops covered in snow. And here we stand, on top of our world at this moment, at 4.167 m! This is the closest to the sky I’ve been until present. Haze slowly began to rise. Taking in the vibes of this powerful place, so high up, so close to the sky felt very special. All these high mountains around were so promising!
What goes up must go down
The way down was fun! We rented some crampons from people going down earlier as the hike was too hard for them. It was nice to have those in the upper most section on the grate, but it would have been absolutely doable without. The best part was sliding down on our buts!!
A breather at the hut before the final descent was well deserved. Pfffhuuu, this was exhausting!! Especially for me, as I’m not a huge fan of descents. This second day was definitely challenging- hiking up 1.000 m and down 2.000 m is not nothing to the body. Still, the nature around is so beautiful and rewarding.
I highly recommend this adventure to everyone who loves the mountains! I’m still feeling the energy of this amazingly powerful place and the good vibes of the friendly people we met. I guess hiking with a guide would give you another perspective and more insights into the local life. One short side cut- at Douar Samra where we spent the first night, I came to sit next to a lady. We started to chat, I told her that I will start work soon in Malawi. Guess what! She was born there! And her husband happened to be the Honorary Consul of Scotland to Malawi… Once you get out to discover, the world becomes such a small place! And still, I’m starving to discover more! The options are endless…
Unfortunately we came down the mountain too late, but I would have loved to visit André Heller’s paradise garden Anima, which is located on the Route d’Ourika, just outside Marrakech. I followed the development of this amazing project for quite a while, now it’s finally open to the public! If you are in that area, i’m sure it’s so worth a visit. Let me know how you like it!
Nice to read:
Also, tell me about your most marvelous mountain adventures!