One-week Mount Toubkal Trek
Morocco, Trek & Walk, 8 days - from £395 (land only) - from €475 (land only) - from $645 (land only)
Toubkal - A Walk in the Park!
By: Towersie, posted 3rd July '13
Day 1 - Moroccan Arrival
We packed the bags in the car, locked the house and head for the hills, well Manchester airport on leg one of our journey anyway! We arrived in plenty of time so after checking in had time for a pint and food in the bar – little did we know this would be our last drink for some time!
We boarded the plane and settled down for the flight which as due to be around 3 hours 45 minutes. On arrival in Marrakesh airspace we couldn't get a landing slot so ended up circling the airport for around 20 minutes. Not great for the girl sat next to me who hated flying and started praying at this point!
Eventually we were down and then had the challenge of arrivals and passports – about 10 queues all going terribly slowly as the staff seemed more interested in talking to each other than stamping us! Not an impressive welcome! That completed we entered the baggage hall where I suspect I was conned out of a pound to go to the toilet whilst Ian collected our distinctive new KE Adventure bags. We spotted a couple of others going round the carousel so guess others on the flight are on our trip. I suppose I should say now we were about to embark on a trip with KE Adventure from Keswick, One Week Mount Toubkal Trek. We left baggage and went to the meeting area where we (or more likely our bags) were spotted by a chap who introduced himself as Mstafa our guide. Mstafa showed us where to get money whilst he waited for the other 4 arrivals from our flight.
Financially sorted we returned to Mstafa and eventually the rest of the group landed and were sorted so we set off to the Hotel Ryad Mogador. Just a short distance but took a little while to pass through the mad Marrakesh traffic. It was an interesting journey though passing the walls of the old town or Medina and seeing camels and mules etc.
On arrival we checked into our rooms and then met in the restaurant to meet the full team and get briefing for the next day. Everyone was tired and we had an early start so after braving a trip to the supermarket next door – just like Tesco without the alcohol aisles – we had a quick check on the internet in the tea room and then retired to bed.
Day 2 - The Life of Brime
After a great breakfast of pain au chocolat (liking Morocco!) we were bundled into the mini bus and set off for the hills. We had a photo brief stop in a local village, met our cook (Mstafa II) for the week, before turning off the main road and heading into the hills. The roads got a bit hairy (for me anyway!) but eventually we arrived at the winter ski resort of Oukaimeden. Not quite the Alps!
We left the bus close to a dam serenaded by frogs, suncreamed up and then climbed close by to see some ancient carved stones that Mstafa tells us are from before Christ. The carvings are known as Petroglyphs created by removing part of the rock surface as opposed to petrographs where the image is drawn onto the surface.
We continued through the ski resort managing to avoid all the men trying to sell us lovely necklaces and stopped near a stream where we met the rest of the team for the week, the muleteers – 6 of which 4 were called Brime! Lunch was a great picnic of fresh salad vegetables and pasta and we were able to chill in the sun for an hour. Glorious – we might like this trek!
Eventually it was time to leave so we donned our packs and set off, following the road and then deviating onto the single track to take us to the Tiz N’Aaadi pass (2980m or 2929m if you believe my GPS!). After watching the shepherd throwing stones to herd his flock we began our descent. It was quite tricky and tough on the knees but our new poles assisted us well. We also had to take a couple of breaks to allow our mules to pass us on the narrow tracks!
We dropped through the Berber village of Tacheddirt, where Adrian was conned into bon bons by the local children, and onto the road to walk along to the campsite at Foussarou. The villages may appear mud huts and very basic but they do have satellite dishes and from what Mstafa says are able to watch spanish football, which might explain the abundance of Barca shirts we were to see on our trip!
A great first day trekking close to 7 miles covered with 1565ft ascent and 2136ft descent. The link to our route is here.
The campsite owner's son served us with a welcome cold coke and we checked into our tents. The ten year old apparently runs the business for his father when he is away and managed to collar us for 2dh to use the awful hole in the ground toilets too! Dinner was soup, followed by a huge plate of vegetables and potatoes with bruised apples for dessert! We ate outside but after a beautiful sunset once the sun dropped it became very chilly so everyone retired to bed relaxed and confident about the days ahead.
Day 3 - The Long Climb
Early start this morning as we woke at 5am, breakfasted on porridge (well everyone else did!) in the mess tent and were ready for the off by 6am! We needed to avoid the sun for our first section apparently and how right this was!
Unfortunately we all knew what lay ahead as Mstafa had shown us the route the previous day. A long slog from camp up to the pass Tizi-n-Likemt (3550m. / 11,647ft.). The path actually zig zagged really well and we gained height very quickly. We were led by Mstafa with a poly poly pace and had breaks after each hour, with an occasional extra to let the mules past. We were treated to fantastic views of the sun climbing up the valley and across to the plain beyond.
On reaching the top we touched down on the snow we’d seen from the previous day and were even more surprised to be offered coke and mars bars by a chap waiting at the top! Double the price of camp last night but still much cheaper than UK!
We then began our descent down the south side to reach the grazing area of Azib Likemt (2550m. / 8366ft.). This was a long and painful slog down with unforgiving scree terrain, particularly tough at the bottom when heat, tiredness and hunger started to overtake us. We stopped in what appeared to be a cattle shed by a stream for lunch. Not that the cattle shed mattered – we were more than ready for shade! The enterprising locals turned up with more pop to quench our thirsts – I do need to get them to get some diet though!
After another great salad lunch we rested out of the hot sun for an hour before following the stream Assif Tinzart into a narrow rocky valley which then opened out into quite a wide canyon and eventually took us to our camp for the night beneath Tizi-n-Ourai. After checking into the tents we were treated to delicious pancakes and honey to go with more mint tea before a welcome hours rest before dinner of soup, cous cous and vegetables and more even more bruised apples! After dinner after a quick review of the route on the map some retired to bed whilst others remained in the mess tent playing cards.
Stats for the day – tiring and painful just thinking about it – 9:37 hours trekking, 9.74 miles covered, 5102 feet climbed and 3350 feet descended!
Day 4 - The Long Traverse
We had a pleasant lie in to 630am this morning! This was needed after quite a broken nights sleep as the wind battered our tents. After a very very sloppy porridge breakfast we were ready for the off and climbed up out of the meadow to the pass of Tizi-n-Ourai. From here we had some amazing views of the mountains, most importantly Mount Toubkal itself.
Mstafa had convinced us to take the easy / gentle path down from the col. This involved steadily traversing the steep cliffs for around two hours! I was most impressed with Ian who didnt panic at all and I didnt really enjoy it much myself. Eventually we reached wider paths and the local football pitch and could see the rest of our day panning out ahead of us.
We dropped from height, past the mobile phone mast (a signal to text home and facebook check in!) and down to the bottom of the valley of Assif Tizgui. It reminded me a little of Pompei passing some of the houses! We stopped at a small shop in the village for a lovely cold bitter lemon and chocolate bar. Mary was even able to buy a postcard and we really were still in the middle of nowhere!
After our short break we continued up through the villages of Amsouzart and Agaz Rato onto Ait Igrane with the last ‘bars’ before the trail starts again. Here we stopped under the shade of the trees for a couple of hours. Chef rustled up another impressive salad and we chilled for a while. At 230pm we set off again following the 4×4 track up to Lake Ifni. This was another long plod up the zigzag track passing lots of local farms on the many terraces, passing through an area of huge volcanic boulders before hitting the lake itself.
We were actually about 100m above on the huge natural dam so had another trek high around the north side of the lake to the western end and our tents being pitched on the gravelly beach. We passed by the marabout of the saint Sidi Ifni, this 300 year old tomb is visited on weekends by finely dressed Muslim women who come to prey for blessings of fertility. We will pass Sidi Ifnis brothers marabout as we descend from the refuge on Thursday, hopefully post summit!
This was another hairy section for Ian but he survived brilliantly. At the end of the traverse we settled into a nice bar for a sugary tropical cocktail before rounding the corner and finding a bar with diet coke! The first on the trip! Definitely a top tourist destination is Lake Ifni! Apparently the owner of the very first bar here has an uncanny resemblance to Tom Selleck. I’m assuming we didn't see him!
We then settled into our tents to relax before dinner as the sky clouded over and it tried to rain! Dinner was a proper Moroccan Egg Tagine – apparently Tagine is the name of the pot and you can cook anything in it. Anyway it was delicious! After dinner we sorted everything ready for the next mornings ridiculously early 430am start and settled in to sleep at 930pm – what a holiday eh!
Stats for the day are 11.44 miles, 4885ft descent and 2454 feet ascent over nearly 8 hours!
Day 5 - High Pass and chill.....
What a terrible night! We’d thought the previous night was windy but it was nothing compared to our spot on the shores of Lac Ifni. The wind battered us from going to bed at 930pm until about midnight. I dropped off then and when Ian woke me at 4 things were still! We packed up quickly and head across for breakfast before setting off up the Assif a Moirsaine valley.
After a plod across the rocky beach in darkness with head torches we began our climb into the valley. It was a long and tiring climb, gaining lots of height but not too scary today. We walked poly poly with Mstafa at the helm and stopped religiously on the hour for drinks and snacks.
We reached the Tizi-n-Ouanoums pass at 3650m. / 11,975ft. after a long 5 hours up. The pass is the highest in the Atlas mountains. From here we dropped down very steeply on some scree zig zags to the upper valley of the Mixan River where we stopped for a jelly baby break!
After another walk gently down hill we were surprised to spot the Neltner Refuge right in front of us, a much larger and more substantial building than we were expecting, renamed as the castle by Mary! The mountain hut was constructed by the Club Alpin Francais in 2000 and has been designed to resemble a Berber fortified dwelling. The refuge concept dates back to 1933 and an ill-fated expedition to the summit. It reached the top but illness on the way down meant it was not possible to descend to the village and instead they had to bivovauc in a cave at the bottom of the mountain. One of those in the group was Louis Neltner, a french geologist, who reflected…the product of his reflection provided me with the diet coke I needed!
After stocking up we head to our tents pitched just to the west of the refuge and after a usual lovely salad lunch settled down to relax the afternoon away. I decided to pop back to the Refuge and managed to fall into the stream now known as Danger Beck, smashing my elbow and drenching my shoes, which are now happily drying in the sun! The statistics for today seem a little awry! Over 7 hours walking, 20km seems a little too far, a maximum speed of 63kmph well over the top, but the descent of 506m and ascent of 1293m just about correct.
After chilling for some time we were treated to camp made doughnuts before another chill before dinner!
June 12th (today) is the anniversary of the first ascent of Toubkal by Europeans. In 1923 it was climbed by the Marquis de Segonzac, Vincent Berger and Hubert Dolbeau. Ofcourse it is assumed it had been climbed long before by Berber tribesmen and there doesn't appear to be anything commemorative at the refuges. Two Frenchmen, the Marquis de Segonzac, a french army officer and Louis Gentil, the second a noted geologist, commenced thorough explorations in the early 1900s and summitted other local peaks. They also exposed the mineral wealth in the mountains which were then heavily worked. The Moroccan section of the Alpine Club was founded in 1922 and in that year de Segonzac climbed the Iferouane thinking it to be the highest point only to observe the mountain now called Toubkal was distinctly taller! An attempt on Toubkal in April the following year was prevented by fresh snow but de Segonzac and his party returned in June and got to the top. The height of Toubkal was determined in 1924 and a trigonometrical signal was raised on the summit in 1931.
Day 6 - A walk in the Park - Summit day!
We were awoken by Mstafa at 430am and quickly layered up expecting a chilly climb up the mountain. Breakfast was a quite nervous affair and then 5am came and we were off.
We left camp, crossed Danger Beck and picked up the trail to lead us up the mountain. Once again we adopted a steady poly poly pace led by Mstafa and everyone was climbing well and smiling (well I’m sure they were, was just a little dark to see!). The first section was quite rocky, large boulders so involved some clambering. Here we were overtaken by a couple of groups, storming ahead but huffing and puffing their way up, surely not a pleasant experience. We let them go – no prizes for altitude sickness!
After passing through the rocks we climbed into the corrie section of the walk. Here much smaller rocks and scree. Much tougher to climb up, would be interesting coming down! After a good hour or so zig zagging up the scree, warmed by Ian's enthusiastic ‘I’m loving it’ we reached the col from where we could see the summit properly, the rocky ridge to lead us there and the huge drops to the other side!
Ian was much less enthused at this point but after a quick pep talk by Colin from the office we continued on. The climb here was a rocky path just below the ridge with a fairly steep drop to our left but not too exposed. We continued up here for around 30 minutes before we were in real sight of our goal and the fight to reach the top began. Mstafa was fantastic and let Ian lead the way to the first of the team to touch the highest point in North Africa!
We’d made it, brilliant team effort, a walk in the park! I was a little disappointed to be let down by my new Suunto showing 4100m some 71m short of the new official height of the mountain.
After the customary hugging and hand shaking, photos and celebrations Mstafa pointed out the route we’d followed over the previous 4 days and then about 40 minutes later we began the long descent. I wasn’t too keen on the ridge section, much less frightening on the way up than down, but followed Mstafas lead and we were back to the col. Unfortunately a group of charity climbers from Liverpool were well settled on top of the cache so we were unable to retrieve. We continued slowly down the upper scree section with a few slips and slides and hairy moments before we hit the beck and a steeper path down. Here Keith took a very nasty slide off the path and ended up with a bloody elbow and hand. I didn’t see the action but was told later he was very lucky and could have slid for miles!
We carefully and patiently continued down until finally we escaped the sliding death zone and were back into the big boulders. It was quite remarkable we only climbed this section a few hours earlier yet most of us had no recollection of the route! Ian had a quick look for another cache in this zone but with time against us and the very unhelpful clue ‘under a rock’ we failed again.
Finally we were in sight of the refuge and the path back down to the tents and a well needed sit down. After another great salad lunch and presentation to the Muleteers (and giving them the cooks tip too!) most of us changed back into shorts and we began our ascent accompanied by an old school friend of Mstafas who will himself be a qualified guide in a weeks time.
The path was reasonable but busy with mules, tiring after our exertions earlier in the day and hot hot hot. We passed many people heading up the mountain, a good feeling knowing we’d already conquered, and a number of drinks stalls to quench our thirsts. One such stall was slightly alarming as Keith dropped his rucksac down next to what we later found out to be a Atlas Mountain venomous viper!
After 2 hours 37 minutes (I only know because of what happened next!) we arrived at the bar above the hamlet of Sidi Chamharouch where a huge white coulder marks the spot where alledgedy the body of the Saint Chamharouch lies, the brother of the chap buried at Lac Ifni. We stopped for a drink all tired and weary by now and unfortunately Mike was pretty sick. The conclusion was he had a touch of sunstroke having not drunk enough on route so after a short time we continued the descent very slowly.
The valley was beautiful but unfortunately we were all really too tired and a little concerned to appreciate at this point and it was head down to our goal. At one point Mike took a turn for the worse at which point a mule evacuation was suggested. He was less impressed by this….his ‘there is no f’ing way I’m descending on a donkey’ had the rest of the team in sympathetic stitches!
We eventually reached the river bed and continued across the gravelly but flat section into the first town of Aremd. Weird feeling seeing real civilisation! We continued through another couple of villages, Tagadirt and Targa Imoula, our gite getting ever closer but still not there! Eventually we bottomed out on the paved Imlil road and had a short walk up hill into Ait Souka, and then across the valley bottom river before finally reaching our destination.
What a feeling – nearly as good as the summit! We ditched the boots and lay in comfort on beautiful settees before being shown to our rooms. Ian and I had our own room on the top floor (obviously not so good) but with a huge balcony with fantastic views across the mountains. We were able to shower and then all sat down for another great tagine meal and the opportunity to relax and share in the success of the day we’d had (all except Mike who was dead to the world in bed!).
A couple of hours earlier we’d all moaned about the walk and said we’d rather have stayed another night at the refuge camp. I think beds, showers and the comfort and relaxation of the gite changed most minds. About 1030 we all head to bed for a very good nights sleep.
A monster day walking!
Summit trek – 7.32km, 987m ascent and 7h52m walking.
Walk out trek – 10.78km, 1312m descent and 5h47m walking.
This blog is a copy of my personal blog, which also includes the photos at http://teessidewandering.wordpress.com/category/mount-toubkal/
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