Adventures, Guides, Hike, Inspiration

Mount Toubkal – A Lofty Goal, but Surprisingly Achievable…

This summer I led an Outlook Expedition to Morocco which included an ascent of Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa.  Although sitting in the heart of the Atlas Mountains at a oxygen depleted 4167m, with a young motivated team and the right support this summit proved surprisingly achievable…

Toubkal - walk in
The walk in to base camp is long but never too steep…

Package deal…

We arrived at Imlil, the start of most Toubkal treks, in good spirits following a successful project phase.  We said hello to our guide team then said goodbye to our minibus; progress from this point forwards would be on foot.  We’d arrived late afternoon on Day One of a six day guided package that would take us to Aroumd, then on to base camp, on an acclimatisation trek, a summit attempt, a return to Aroumd then finally the short walk back to Imlil and onto our next phase.

…the guides offer a great deal of reassurance, local knowledge, contacts, cultural exchange and deal with all the logistics, massively reducing the workload for their clients…

Now, if you are reading this as an independent traveller then, with the right skills and experience, you could easily climb Toubkal without a guide, despite the fact that the local maps are not quite up to OS standards.  The trails are well found and in the summer season there are plenty of others walking the route.  However, the guides offer a great deal of reassurance, local knowledge, contacts, cultural exchange and deal with all the logistics, massively reducing the workload for their clients.  My leader team and I were very glad to have the support they provided, not to mention the mules to carry our main packs, allowing us to walk with daypacks and focus on supporting the team’s needs.

Toubkal - summit bid 1
Determination triumphs over heat and altitude…

Are we nearly there yet?

Most of my group were 15 years old, no more than averagely fit and had very limited hiking experience.  But the trekking is never particularly technical and if taken at a steady pace, with well timed rest stops, and good levels of motivation, it is all doable.  The combination of loose rocky surfaces and steep ramps can make for insecure footing in places, but we had only a handful of slips resulting in nothing more than minor bruises and grazes.  The main challenges are the heat and the altitude, both of which are draining over hikes that lasted between six and nine hours.  It is for this reason that the acclimatisation day really helped.  You could argue that the extra fatigue might reduce your chances of summiting the following day, but they call it acclimatisation for a reason and for us the effect was quite the opposite.  We mostly felt much better prepared for the summit and it also help the team member struggling most with altitude to make the sensible decision not join the summit team.

Toubkal base camp
At least it is not hard to find a rock to sit on…

Camping it up…

It is worth mentioning the situation in base camp, which for most will be situated close to the Refuge Toubkal at about 3200m.  The mountain is fairly barren and rocky so not the most welcoming ground, but there are sources of fresh water (but still needing filtering/treating) and flat areas to make camp.   The short drop toilets were probably the most unpleasant aspect of the whole trek, but tolerable, and sometimes avoidable by using the toilets in the refuge (which it is worth pointing out, is the alternative accommodation option).  That said, our camp team did an amazing job of preparing food and drinks for the team, and we ate and slept as well on the mountain as we did anywhere else in Morocco.

Finish on a high…

The summit bid turned out to be a long but straightforward hike, and pleasingly uneventful.  There were nerves in the group and the altitude meant not everybody was feeling tip top, but all that started the ascent finished and it turns out the group were quite quick in summiting in just under 4hr 30mins.

Toubkal Summit
A view across North Africa…

From there it was literally, but fortunately not metaphorically, all downhill, first to base camp for a mini celebration and then the next day back to Aroumd, and finally Imlil.  Berber songs were sang, bucket loads of mint tea were drunk and the Atlas Mountains had left everybody with happy memories and a sense of achievement…

Tips for Toubkal

Poles are for Winners  – I highly recommend walking poles for this trek, to help spread the load over long days on your feet, but mostly to give you the confidence of two extra points of contact on the loose ground.

It’s worth the extra day… – I was sceptical, but the acclimatisation day really was worthwhile and I think played a big part in our success rate, getting 11 out of 12 to the summit.

Tough love... – I would thoroughly recommend a tough geodesic tent and a thick sleeping mat to cope with the windy, rocky pitches.

Guides do more than show the way… – Fostering a relationship with the guides means you get so much more than a trek, making it a cultural experience.  The sound of my group singing Berber songs echoing around the hills is a lasting memory of the trip…

Toubkal descent
It is all downhill from here…
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