MOUNT TOUBKAL IN WINTER
The Atlas range of mountains is the largest in all Africa, extending through Morocco for some 500 kilometres north-east to south-west and characterized by steep sided valleys, rocky peaks, and the picturesque terracotta coloured villages of the Berber people. From November to April, the snow-covered peaks of the Atlas provide a fantastic range of options for the winter hill walker. Just 2 hours’ drive from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, the high valleys of the Berber people are at their quietest and most beautiful at this season.
I fly into Marrakech on the morning of Wednesday 11th February 2009, flying from Luton with Ryanair. At the airport I am lucky enough to be picked up by Dan Wren (a BA Jumbo Pilot) and then taken to meet his gorgeous wife Noubda and their lovely daughter Sophia. I have a very kind invitation to stay with them in Marrakech until I join the trekking party at the Hotel, the Ryad Mogador, on Saturday 14th February. Our trek leader Tom Richardson is also known to me as he has advised me in the past as to boots etc. that I should purchase. He is an experienced climber and trekker and I am very much looking forward to gaining more experience in snow at high altitude. Tom is to give us a briefing on the trek during dinner on Saturday evening and after dinner it will be an overnight stay in the hotel. Twin rooms are the order of the night so “ear plugs” are recommended!! Who will be the people on the trek and at this time this remains a mystery?
On Sunday 15th February we spend the morning in the City and after lunch in a restaurant we set off on the short drive to the start point of our trek. We drive southwards out of the city, with the peaks of the Atlas ahead of us. At the bazaar town of Asni, we turn away from the main road and begin to climb into the foothills of the Atlas. Our route follows the picturesque Mizan Valley and we begin to see the clustered houses of the mud-brick villages of the Berbers. Imlil is effectively the end of the road for us, as we choose to stretch our legs with a short walk to the village of Aremd. At Aremd we check in to our gite and relax perhaps taking a cup of Moroccan mint tea. Altitude at Aremd is approximately - 2000 metres / 6500feet. On my Ultimate Everest trek I did not touch any alcohol for the duration of the trek and this will be a further challenge for this trek.
Monday 16th February will be a day for acclimatization but we should reach a col at 2,520m. / 8,268ft. The walk up the Mezzik Valley gives a good introduction to the type of terrain and trails we’ll be covering on our trek. The path is stony but clearly defined and winds its way up above cultivated terraces and walnut trees to reach the col – or tizi, before returning to the gite.
Tuesday 17th February will see the group leave Aremd and head for Neltner Refuge at 3,207m. / 10,522ft. Leaving Aremd, the trail crosses the river and climbs steeply for an hour and a half to the seasonal village and holy shrine of Sidi Chamharouch 2,310m. / 7,579ft. surrounded by rocky peaks. Operated by the Club Alpin Francais this hut was only completed in 2000 and has been designed to (loosely) resemble a Berber fortified dwelling. The hut sleeps around 80 people in dormitory accommodation. Though basic the refuge has bathrooms and showers, a couple of large dining areas and a lounge with an open fire.
Wednesday 18th February will be another acclimatization day with a trek to Tizi Ouanoukrim, a col at 3,750m. / 12,304ft. from where an optional ascent of Ouanoukrim 4,058m. / 13,412ft. can be made. Leaving the hut in the early morning we ascend gradually and most likely on snow all the way to the Tizi Ouagane. There are some rocky scramble sections which are straight forward but will require hands on scrambling. From the end of the short scrambling section it’s a steady ascent up a snow/scree slope to a false summit and then across a small snow ridge to the true summit. This is Morocco’s 3rd highest mountain and hopefully we will see fantastic views of Mt.Toubkal and also over to the Sahara and Anti Atlas. From the summit we retrace our steps until just before the scramble section where if snow conditions allow, it is possible to descend a steep snow gully that brings us back to the main valley just above the hut. A full and exciting day in the mountains.
Thursday 19th February is the ascent of Mt. Toubkal 4,167m. / 13,672ft. A long day for those who choose to make the ascent of Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak. After an early breakfast, we set off on the steep ascent. Our route zigzags eastwards, directly above the hut across snow covered scree slopes, before passing between two rocky guardian peaks to reach a high corrie. We continue upwards across easy angled snow slopes to reach the ridge-line which drops off steeply to the east. After a total of around 4 hours, we arrive at the metal tripod which marks Toubkal’s summit. There are fantastic views of the snow covered peaks of the High Atlas away to the north-east and of the Anti Atlas and the Sahara to the south. Descending to the hut in 2 hours, we settle in for our last night at the refuge.
Friday 20th February there is the option this morning for those with the energy to ascend the nearby Tizi Ouanoums at 3,650m. / 11,975ft. for fantastic views down to Lac D’Ifni, one of the largest lakes in the central Atlas. It will then be back to the refuge and a decent to Aremd where we stay overnight. Again we should have a full 7+ hour day walking.
Saturday 21st February from Aremd we will return to Imlil where we meet our transport for the drive back to Marrakech and to our hotel. A celebratory dinner will be held in the evening in a restaurant.
I will be staying in the City for a further three days to discover more of its wonders and I fly out on Wednesday 25th February, back to the UK.
I do hope to be able to update my blog from Morocco so perhaps a few updates while I am away!!
Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog.
Some questions I have been asked?
What is the weather like?
It is warm during the day in Marrakech even in the winter months of November through to April. At this time we can expect daytime temperatures to reach a pleasant 20 - 22°C / 68 - 72°F, dropping to 7 – 10°C / 45 – 50°F at night. Once we are on trek and we start to gain height, we can expect the temperatures to be rather lower, with daytime temperatures in the range of 10 to 15°C / 50 – 60°F. At night, outside the Neltner refuge the temperature will drop well below freezing. From Aremd we are likely to encounter snow. As in all mountain regions, short lived storms do occur and these can bring quite heavy snowfalls.
Will you drink alcohol on the trek?
No is the answer here. Alcohol and high altitude do not go hand in hand.
Are you looking forward to exploring the “Red City”?
Yes. I am told the best way to explore the City is “just get lost”. In a City with so many surprises there’s no such thing as a wrong turn, only alternative routes and to be shown around by Dan will be great.
What about insurance cover?
I have opted for Snowcard for the whole of my trip.
The Trek route.