Climbing Jebel Toubkal in October
I clung onto the back seat of an old, shoddy Mercedes Benz, as the driver overtook everything in his path. I was on my way to Imlil, and had somehow ended up in my own private taxi. Anyone who has travelled via taxi in Morocco will know how crazy they drive – the best thing to do is just close your eyes, and repeat “Inshallah”, in a quiet, re-assuring whisper, as not to evoke distraction.
After somehow reaching Imlil in one piece, I jumped out of the taxi, ducking and weaving through the false guides, clinging onto my copy of Moroccan Atlas – The Trekking Guide in hope that it would serve me well over the next few days. It didn’t take me long before I struck up conversation with a local Berber man named Ibrahim. “You need guide? map? mule? accommodation?” he asked in quick succession. He offered a good price for accommodation, so I agreed to go and view a room at Atlas Mazik – his family run guesthouse in a small village just outside of Imlil. On arrival, I was genuinely surprised with the quality of the place, and more importantly my room, which was decorated with traditional Moroccan garments and rugs, with an en suite bathroom. For the price, it would have been silly to refuse his offer. I decided to give myself a day before starting the hike, to settle into my new surroundings, buy provisions, and to try out a pair of walking boots I was considering renting off Ibrahim.
The next day I awoke to the chanting of “Allahu Akbar” – the call for Morning Prayer, five in the morning was a convenient time for many, I’m sure. I was a bit disappointed they hadn’t installed speakers in my room as the ones on the mosque next door were just too far away for me to hear it properly. As I opened my window in the morning, I was welcomed with the sounds of tweeting birds; farm animals; and little kids playing. My room looked out onto the jagged mountains; the surrounding Berber village; and the whole of Imlil. Both created a great feeling of serenity.
I took a small walk across rocky terrain with the rental boots, and they didn’t fall apart, so I decided to take them – the soles were a lot better than the ones on my Dr Martens, even if they were nail gunned in! I stocked up on provisions, buying fruit, nuts, cakes, chocolate, and water whilst constantly fighting the urge to fill my whole bag with chocolate, giving in to my addiction. As I made my way back to the guesthouse that evening, it started to rain, and cloud over, I could only hope it didn’t continue into the morning.
As morning come, I was faced with grim weather conditions, the rain hadn’t stopped, and the visibility was poor. I decided not to let the weather get in my way, and hit the trail leading up to the refuge, disappearing into the fog with a slight spring in my step. The trail had been marked with dots and arrows pointing the way down from the refuge. A badly placed arrow along with a slight lapse in concentration led me doubling back on myself, at which point I came across some fresh faced Americans. They quickly impressed me as they asked for directions in Arabic, and with a bit of guidance from a few locals we eventually found the start of the climb. I decided to stick with them which wasn’t easy giving their surprisingly fast pace, or maybe it’s all them tagines finally taking their toll on me. The weather was awful; the poor visibility meant most of the surrounding landscape was obscured, and the rain continued to fall, leaving us damp, and spirits low – the groups of people coming down the trail giving us reports of gale force winds and snow didn’t help either. After about six hours of climbing we reached the refuge, which was surrounded by snow. I was definitely in need of a hot drink, some food, and some much needed rest.
We huddled around the fire, drinking Berber tea, and then I retreated to the corner to play chess against a French opponent, whilst the others practiced their Arabic with the locals. That evening I learnt how to lose terribly at rummy after a tasty dinner of Moroccan soup followed by Spaghetti.
I woke early the next morning, and loaded up on sugar and carbs for breakfast, which included might I add, a Nesquick hot chocolate – a more than welcome surprise. The trail to the summit consisted of three stages; the climb over the first valley; the climb onwards to the ridge; and then a climb across the base of the ridge, up and around to the summit. The whole area was covered in snow, but a path had been well trodden which was easy to follow, if anything the snow took the edge off the rocky terrain. I decided to continue to the summit with the Americans, so we set off around eight in perfect weather conditions – such a dramatic contrast to the previous day. The sun was shining for most of the climb, and nearing the summit we were met with blistering cold winds which were expected. We summated around two hours after setting off. The climb was physically demanding, but the stunning views more than made up for the sweat. It was too cold to linger for long on the summit so we started the descent, heading down another route. The descent was rapid, and I felt like a child again, as we made some of our own routes through the deep snow, leaping and falling. We reached the refuge after an hour or so. I was tired, but happy, with a great feeling of satisfaction having completed the challenge. The Americans were hasty to get back to Marrakech to take a late train to Rabat where they were studying Arabic, so they made a quick descent to Imlil whilst I held back taking some interesting shots of rock formations.
After the hike I spent another few days at Imlil, checking out a few smaller trails, and generally taking it easy. I managed to get involved in a game of football with the local kids, which they all found amusing, chasing me around shouting “Amigo, Amigo”. The arrival of three Croatians at the guesthouse had me laughing for the rest of my stay as they shared their funny travel experiences. One of them had been in a tapas bar in Granada, and not knowing what “tapas” meant, was very disappointed with his miniature burger, thinking the food portions were scandalous. Another time, they went on a camel trek where the stand-alone sand dune was right next to the town, and they were given a five minute time period in which to take photos – reminds me of the reasons why I never go on tours.
On the last day, they climbed Jebel Toubkal with two Spanish guys. They rented everything from boots to hats; one of the Spanish guys got given the same hand for both gloves, and was told he needed to pay more for the other hand which tickled me. They all returned early evening, tired and full of blisters, with plans to return to Marrakech. We all decided to share a taxi, so as darkness set, we walked down to Imlil, and squashed into our ride like sardines in a can – typical Moroccan style. We left the beauty of Imlil behind, and were whisked off into the mountains. The whispers of “Inshallah” were overcome by the sound of Arabic music blurring from the radio, my life once again at the hands of a crazy Moroccan taxi driver.
I was catching a bus in Marrakech to take me to the town of Ouarzazate – known as the gateway to the desert – passing over the High Atlas Mountains towards the Algerian border where the adventure continues…
Backpackers Tips for climbing Jebel Toubkal
Bring warm clothing (including gloves and a hat);
Bring lip balm;
Bring boots with a good sole, suitable for rocky terrain;
Don’t bring a sleeping bag, as you can hire a blanket for 30dh;
Buy provisions in Imlil, as it’s cheaper than buying them at the refuge;
You can buy meals at the refuge (breakfast: 20dh, lunch: 40dh; dinner: 50dh);
Don’t hire a guide, as the trail is easy to follow. The trail from Imlil to the refuge is marked. The trail from the refuge to the summit starts from behind the refuge, where you cross a small stream, and climb a few boulders. It continues up, and to the right over the valley;
Search for accommodation when you arrive, and don’t pay more than 150dh for a room (I paid 50dh).