Jebel Toubkal Expedition Report

Jebel Toubkal Morocco Trip Report

Peak Mountaineering has been visiting Morocco for many years and we will always continue exploring this beautiful, friendly and inspiring country.  A warm welcome is guaranteed, cultural delights abound and the stunning scenery is guaranteed to inpsire.  Combine all that with easy access from the UK and Morocco makes the most perfect adventure destination.  Over many visits Morocco has seeped under our skin and we are delighted to have introduced so many Peak Mountaineers to this magical place.  Our annual trips have become a key part of our calendar and this year we were, of course, back for more.

Our Toubkal itinerary, which we believe to be the best out there, offers something completely different.  Rather than the common linear approach route we take a circular route that loops around the back of the range and includes several nights camping (with a support team of cooks and mules to carry our luggage) along with a night in a Berber Gite.  By the time we reach the mountain the team are well acclimatised and prepared to tackle the highest peak in North Africa.

This year’s team were an inspiring group of adventurers and, although they were certainly challenged and pushed at times, they remained positive throughout.  They were also, crucially, truly great fun to be with.  I may not be able to repeat some of the conversation topics we explored over dinner on a public forum like this (!), but it was a real privilege to spend time with them and to enjoy the stunning Atlas mountains with such an amazing team.  

On last year’s Stok Kangri trip we trialled getting the team members involved in contributing to our trip account and it worked brilliantly.  So brilliantly, in fact, that we thought we’d ask this group to do the same and fortunately they readily agreed.   Therefore, with no further ado,  please settle back and be inspired and entertained by Team Maroc’s Jebel Toubkal Expedition blog…….

Arrival Day

The team members were converging on Marrakech from various airports and we’d only actually get the whole team together at Morocco’s Menara Airport but, with the largest single group heading out from Manchester, a bunch of us could at least meet up to toast the start of our adventure in the departure lounge.  The packed Easyjet flight then passed quickly enough and soon we were walking out into the warmth of a Moroccan evening.  

We loaded aboard transport and headed to our comfortable Riad in the mountain village of Imlil.  Imlil would provide our gateway to the Atlas Mountains although we weren’t going to be able to appreciate how picturesque it is due to our night time arrival – that pleasure would need to wait until the next morning.  

With all the team now together we had a meal and an initial briefing before everyone settled in to the tasteful traditionally styled rooms for some well earned sleep.

Day 1  

I awoke early and, not wanting to disturb the rest of the guests, I tiptoed out of my bedroom and up to the roof top terrace.  WOW! Arriving in the dark certainly didn’t prepare me for the stunning views down the valley and across to the mountains beyond.  What a lovely wake up call in the Atlas Mountains.  Mint tea soon arrived (we got very used to this traditional ritual during our trip) and I sat contently enjoying this perfect morning.  After a busy lead up and fairly stressful time at work it was very special to finally be here.

Eventually the rest of the team congregated and we sat down for breakfast.  We had a fairly short and relatively easy trekking day in prospect today and so there was time for a leisurely breakfast and a final kit sort before heading off.   We also got the chance to meet our local guide and cook and muleteer team before leaving.  Paul had worked with Ibrahim and Hassan for many years and you could see his delight at catching up with them again.  

Some of the group had trekked in places where the use of mules was common, but for several of the team this was a completely new experience and it took a bit of getting used to to see our bags getting loaded onto these majestic animals.  The animals certainly looked healthy and well cared for which had been quite a concern for some of the team.  We took it steady today and, although it was good to start stretching the legs and getting our long anticipated journey underway, walking at a pace which allowed time to stop for rests and enjoy the scenery was still much appreciated. 

We stopped enroute at a stunning col before heading into a new valley leading to the village of Tacchedirt.  For those of us new to these environments it was fascinating to see the way whole communities had forged a thriving life in villages perched on the side of steep sided valleys.  

Once we arrived at camp we had time to settle in to the camping lifestyle and explore a little of the local area.  Some of the group walked up to a nearby waterfall or visited the nearby village while some preferred to relax in the shade.  We also enjoyed the ‘delights’ of the basic toilets, ate some delicious freshly cooked food (our cook Hassan turned out to be a fantastic chef as well as a lovely person always with a ready smile)  and generally chilled out for the remaining part of the day. 

Day 2

After camping on rocky platforms the night before, we set off on our days trek before 7am to take advantage of the cool early morning air. We initially took a very steep zig zag path up until we reached a col at 3,500 metres. The journey up was a hard one, very rocky in places, but what a reward when we finally reached the top.  We had our first glimpse in the distance of the mountain we had all come to conquer. Also our local guide Ibrahim, bless him, had brought lovely nuts and dates for everyone.  There were bright blue skies and of course spectacular views in every direction and I could certainly have sat there all day just taking it all in. The views were not only at the top but on the ascent and descent too.

After our well earned rest we started our long and once again tough zig zag descent.  I must say this was the toughest day for me because of the knee bashing descent but we eventually reached the bottom of the valley and as soon as a good water source was available we could see crops growing on the terraces and a lush area for our camp. 

We turned the final corner and saw our camp already been set up by the muleteers at the side of a beautiful river.  It was perfect for a cool wash and also provided a reliable drinking supply.  After a lovely meal an early night was had by all. A hard days trekking done and a perfect end to the day. I lay in my tent wondering what stunning views we would see tomorrow.  Morocco had captured me already.

Day 3

Having spent the night camping at the idyllic spot by the riverside, we had an early breakfast at 6:00am and set off on our trek in darkness with a multitude of stars still visible in the sky.  Initially we made our way by torchlight, but as we followed the trail around a corner, daylight started to appear and revealed the most beautiful steep sided valley with another pretty river cascading over rocks at the side of the path.  As the sun gradually rose we were treated to the wonderful sight of bright sunlight illuminating the tops of the mountains whilst it remained shady and cool in the bottom of the valley.

Gradually we gained height and started to climb gently up the side of the valley.  The mules carrying our luggage on brightly coloured pack saddles overtook us as they usually did at some point.  They are so well suited to this type of terrain and looked happy, making easy work of carrying their loads. 

Upon reaching the col at 3,100 metres, the most amazing panoramic view of the surrounding mountains awaited us, including a fine view of Toubkal.  We stopped for a well earned rest in the sunshine and enjoyed snacks and drinks.  Surprisingly there was a mobile signal here, so several members of the group took advantage to phone home.    

After the rest, we started our slow descent into a new valley, on a path that contoured around the mountain, whilst gradually losing height. The views of the surrounding mountains were stunning.

We ended the day at a friendly and basic gite in a spectacular hillside village with the usual endless supply of refreshing mint tea, followed by a sumptuous meal.  We were also treated to the pure luxury of a shower!  

Day 4

After waking up to Naomi’s early musical alarm and organising our bags (we got much more efficient at this as the week progressed), we enjoyed a hearty breakfast of boiled eggs, yoghurt and bread and we were soon all ready to go.

Today’s planned route had been changed from the original itinerary to allow for a potential Thursday summit, so we still headed off to the stunning Lac D’Ifni, but knew that instead of camping there, the new plan would be trek on to a higher camp.

It was a great morning and everyone was in good spirits as we walked out of the village. Toddlers played happily and gave us a high-five as we passed.  On the outskirts of town we stopped at a brightly  painted pink motel for a glass of hot sweet mint tea and some fresh walnuts under a very large tree.  The beautiful green hills behind us framed the scene perfectly.

Our trek then continued all the way round the lake to a point where the campsite would have been.  Ian took a dip in the lake and tried to reassure us that the water really wasn’t that cold, but most of the team were more than happy just to relax and enjoy the beautiful views.  Lunch was served and after a nice long restful break we pressed on higher up the valley to our stunning campsite for the night, ready for an exciting early morning start.

Day 5

Our overnight camp, a couple of hundred meters above the lake, was set in a deep gorge surrounded by imposing rock buttresses and high cliffs. The ground was rocky with patches of cleared areas allowing tents to be erected on the gravelled surface. 

We were heading for the summit today and so we started very early with a 3am breakfast.  Everyone was ready, very excited, and probably with some apprehension. Having had something quick to eat and drink, we left our camp and started the slow plod up the unseen trail. The dark was lit up by beams of yellow light with each beam illuminating a patch of the trail so we could see where to place our feet. Above, the black imposing cliffs towered, restricting the little light that came from the stars, reminiscent of a planetarium. 

Trudging up countless switchbacks, the trail wound its way up a steep rocky gully and gradually the black sky gave way to grey and then a light blue. Some spectacular white clouds crept up the the valley from the direction of the lake and as the mist and cloud swirled around us a cool breeze wafted up the valley. 

We took a sharp detour off the main trail and started traversing the south face of Toubkal West. We ascended a steep scree gully and, although everyone found the going hard, we all successfully climbed and scratched our way to the shoulder of Toubkal West and traversed the north slope to the col between the two summits.

Lunch was waiting. Cheese, bread, sardines and biscuits were very welcome after a long morning and once refuelled we started the final 200 metres ascent to the summit.  It wasn’t too long before we reached the summit and there was relief on all the faces and congratulations to everyone.  In various ways everyone had made their own personal voyage of discovery on this trip and there were tears and smiles in equal measure.  It felt very special to share this special moment with everyone.

After half an hour on the summit it was time to descend to the col and continue down to the Nelter hut for some well earned rest.    

Day 6

So here we are, the day after Summit Day and being awoken at 0500 by the “dawn chorus” of donkey chat! It’s quite chilly but the view from the tent is amazing and we all spring into life with our morning rituals and meet at the mess tent for breakfast followed by some “goodbyes” to our muleteers.  After carrying our bags to the valley they will head straight off to their homes and families and so we won’t see most of them again. They’ve been superb throughout and certainly deserve their extra dirhams. 

We make our way down the valley passing climbers, mules and stalls until we reach the picturesque village of Sidi Chamharouch for a short break.  This valley is much busier and it feels strange to see so many people heading up for their own adventure.  Paul had warned us about how busy this valley would be and, while it wasn’t a problem, it certainly made me realise how special it had been to spend most of our adventure in such solitude.

We continue downhill and enter the village of Aroumd to the happy sounds of children running to school. It wasn’t long before we pass our guides house and are informed that we don’t have far to go to Imlil.  A little further down the track and eventually we reach a tarmac road.  That said, Paul and Ibrahim had one last twist of sadistic torture in store as the road was then uphill for the entire way to the Riad….and our celebratory lunch on the roof terrace. What a perfect way to end our trek.

After yet another amazing lunch of salad and tagine, we load up and head back to Marrakech for a few hours of relaxation, a shower and some sorting of gear etc. before meeting up for the team “celebration” beers (with some classy impromptu belly dancing from Ian!) and meal in the main Square to the backdrop of snake charmers and hustle of the many stall owners. The end of a fine day and a fine week with great company.

Day 7

Our final day in Marrakech is all about relaxing!  The Riad we were staying in was beautiful and many of us congregated on the roof terrace for breakfast with that luxurious feeling of being clean and content with our achievements in the mountains.  

After the thrill of the Atlas, the centre of Marrakech is another great adventure in itself and we explored the souks and backstreets of the city before meeting up for lunch.  As always, purchases were made, bartering skills were honed and fun was had – but all too soon it was time to collect our bags and make the final journey to the airport.  

The whole trip had been a great adventure and lots of really didn’t want it to end.  New experiences and new relationships were formed and many of us had had to dig deep to overcome personal barriers – but we had come away stronger and refreshed.  Adventure has a way of doing that!

Details on our 2017 Toubkal adventure will be live on the website soon and we also have a new Moroccan Jebel M’Goun mountain adventure planned for next year too.  We really hope you can join us.

Thanks to James, Naomi, Steve, Craig, Paul, Cath, Angela, Alison Ian and Angie for contributing to this blog.  

Posted by Cal