Never Regret a Retreat

9th Oct 2012

 While waiting for my return flight from our Autumn Jebel Toubkal expedition I happened to get chatting to another traveller at the airport.  “Was your expedition successful?” he asked.  “It certainly was,” I replied.  “Everyone got home okay and they all had a brilliant adventure.”  “I mean was it successful on the mountain?” he continued.  “Yep,” I said.  “They all got down safely.”

Of course he was pushing to know if they all got to the top of Toubkal but I was trying to get across that a successful expedition is really about keeping everyone safe and giving them a challenging  adventure.  By his criteria Peak Mountaineering’s Toubkal expedition had been a failure because no one got to the top.  By my reckoning a brilliant bunch of people had enjoyed a fantastic weeks trekking, come very close to getting to the top, enjoyed the sights, sounds and sunshine of Marrakech but, above all, stayed safe…….

I say without hesitation that Peak Mountaineering has the best short haul mountaineering itinerary available.  Plenty of people follow that long valley from Imlil, climb Toubkal and walk back down that same long valley.  It takes 3 or 4 or days and is the quickest option to the top.  I’m also not knocking it.  It was the way I went on my first ascent and we’ll be offering that itinerary again in Spring 2013.

But our autumn itinerary is definitely different.  The itinerary is a few days longer but is a complete loop of the Toubkal range (the only time we walk the same route is the up and down of Jebel Toubkal itself).  It crosses a couple of high passes (where we get our first glimpses of Toubkal), it traverses stunning valleys, it passes the isolated blue haven of the Lac d Ifni and eventually we arrive at Toubkal acclimatised and confident in our ability to climb the mountain (confident because we’ve already ascended passes that involve more climbing than the mountain itself).

On the ‘standard’ Toubkal ascent package mountaineers usually stay in the Neltner Refuge.  It does the job and it’s always exciting to stay in a mountain hut, but no one would claim cramped bunkrooms and overcrowded lounges are the ideal accommodation option.  On our itinerary we camp - on secluded campsites by streams, by the Lake and then on terraced hilltop sites overlooking the distant Sahara.  We call in local villages to drink mint tea and eat walnuts and fresh bread dipped in olive oil.  We pass through valleys with bleating goats being herded by shepherds.  We get the chance to talk to the village children as we pass through isolated hamlets.   On the third night we also stay at a traditional Berber Gite which is a great chance to have a shower (although there’s plenty of chance to swim in the lake and bathe in the streams before then) and experience what life is like for a tiny Berber community.

Of course our teams have a full support crew of cooks and mule drivers so this is certainly camping in style! Team members don’t have to carry more than their day sacks and can be assured of great quality fresh food along the way (having our own cook team helps us ensure food is cooked hygienically so you arrive at the mountain in as good a shape as possible for the ascent).  We even camp when we get to the refuge allowing us the best of both worlds – team members can enjoy the facilities at the hut but also have private space to relax at the campsite.

Of course the trek also helps prepare us for our Toubkal ascent.  Many teams have to push the boundaries of acclimatisation by heading straight to the Neltner refuge then immediately on to the summit.  By the time we reach the refuge we’ve been at altitude for several days and climbed over 2 high passes up to 3650 metres.  Team members usually find the climb up Toubkal is actually easy!

So, I stand by my claim that the Peak Mountaineering Autumn itinerary is the best available and clients that have joined us seem to agree.  On the trip we’ve just finished I asked the team if there was anything we should change and their unanimous reply was……nothing!  We didn’t summit Toubkal.  After 5 blue sky days the weather net closed the mountain down and, as with all teams that day, we were beaten by gale force winds and for safety we had to turn back 300 metres from the summit.  But in the final analysis it didn’t seem to matter.  Everyone was pleased with what they’d done and the trek into Toubkal had actually been the highlight for many. 

Well, maybe it was the trekking or maybe it was our last night in Marrakech?  When we aren’t in the mountains we like our teams to stay in great accommodation.  On the first night in Imlil that’s the stunning Imlil Lodge and on our last night in Marrakech we have the tranquil luxury of the beautiful Riad Africa.  10 trail weary mountaineers sat on the rooftop terrace of Riad Africa drinking a well deserved beer and enjoying the evening warmth of an autumn evening in Marrakech and I looked around at the happy, glowing faces of a great team.  Of course our Autumn 2012 Jebel Toubkal expedition had been a success!

We’ll be heading back to Toubkal in Autumn 2012 to complete the same circuit.  If you can join us we’d love to have you along. Full details on the trip can be found here.

We also appreciate that for some Toubkal mountaineers it’s the summit that matters and they haven’t got time to do our full autumn circuit.  In 2013 we’ll also be running our popular Toubkal ‘quick hit’ trip again and full details will be on the website in the next few days.