Climbing Mt Toubkal, Morocco, 4167m
The plan to climb Mt Toubkal accidentally came together – Ivinco had a team meeting in Morocco, which I was invited to attend. I looked for adventures to add to this trip and initially thought about running up Mt Toubkal in one day, inspired by this blog post. As I shared my plan with the group, more folks expressed interest in climbing the highest mountain in North Africa. We also decided to do it as a more conventional 2-day trip.
The end of June is not the best season for the climb – it can be hot and indeed we suffered more from the burning sun than the coldness of the night. Because of how our meeting schedule lined up we ended up climbing during Eid, meaning most of the little shops were closed along the way, but also a lot fewer people on the mountain.
Our trip started by being picked up in Casablanca and riding for around 5 hours to Imlil (1800m) – a region containing a few small villages acting as base camps for Toubkal and other activities in the region. Villages are full of small guest houses and we stayed in one of them. Rooms with two beds each had an attached bathroom and hot shower – what else do you need to spend the night?
We had a very filling dinner and spoke about plans for tomorrow. Our guide was not very comfortable with spoken English so the guesthouse owner was involved. Initially, they suggested having breakfast at 9 and starting to Refuge at 10 am, having lunch halfway. I noted though this means we would need to spend most of the time hiking at lower elevations during midday in the worst heat possible. The guide and guesthouse owner checked the weather and agreed to start earlier is a better idea and so the new plan was to wake up at 7 and leave around 7:30 having lunch at the Refuge rather than halfway through.
Our group of 4 had a guide, assistant guide, and a Mule (with driver) who traveled separately and brought our belongings to the refuge. We left most of our stuff at the guesthouse and had very little for the mule to carry, seemingly surprising our guide. I did not leave anything at all for the mule, opting for better exercise.
In this part of the world things rarely go exactly by the clock. We left a bit later as Mule did not arrive in time and had to wait for our guide to figure out Mule packing and other logistics still we were doing much better timing than leaving at 10 am.
First 2km or so we walked by the road to a village called Armed. This can be avoided if you have a car handy – there is a parking lot right at the trailhead.
The trail is rather easy and well-traveled with gentle consistent elevation gain. A couple of hours in you come to the Shrine Sidi Chamharouch and tourist village by it. Our guide said no one lives here but rather comes to work. There is also a little cold creek running through this village where we stopped for a bit to cool off. You can have lunch in this location, though as we were rather early we just stopped for tea and continued our walk to Refuge.
As we continued on our walk to Refuge we passed a number of trading outposts that were closed due to Eid but normally you could buy some local souvenirs there or have some tea.
By around 2 pm we were in the Refuge. There are two refuge buildings plus some tents. We stayed in the second (higher) building called XYZ. The building consisted of 3-4 sleeping rooms, which could accommodate 10-20 people on bunk beds. Pillows and Blankets were provided. On the Ground floor, there were 3 dining rooms, a kitchen, a storage room, and toilets and showers in the basement. There was wifi available and several outlets to charge your electronics.
There were not a lot of people in Refuge as we were not climbing during peak season, plus it was Eid so we ended up having one of those rooms for 4 of us. Another group that arrived later took the other room for themselves. They also used different dining rooms so we did not get to know them that much.
Our lunch was served rather quickly, and it was much more food than we could possibly consume. After lunch, most of the group went to take a nap while I went with our guy to a local high pass – some 500m higher. Quick hiking up and running down felt good after a rather slow long hike earlier in the day.
While plans were to have an early dinner at 6 pm initially it stretched to 7 pm and later. Times are often approximate in Morocco. Only me and Peter Fakas were up for dinner, the rest of our group were catching up on sleep instead.
The morning plans were a bit confusing. We were to wake up at 3:30 to leave at 4:00, so we could see the sunrise at the top. With sunrise at 6:30 and hike to the top expected to take 3 hours it did not quite add up but seeing a sunrise was not really critical for me.
The night was warm. It was 21C in the Refuge room – a lot warmer than we were told to prepare for – around 14C when we started.
Breakfast was served by the guides and included bread, omelet, coffee, tea, and various jams – quite good for such an early morning.
We ended up starting at 4:20 or which meant just 1h 30min of walking with headlamps. Closer to the top temperature fell to around 6C and we had gusts of winds in places so most of us put on a wind layer additionally to fleece we mostly wore before.
As we reached the ridge (about 1h away from the top) the sun was already out and we took some pictures in the first rays and continued going.
In the end, we reached Toubkal summit at 7:20 almost exactly 3h from leaving the Refuge. We were the first group of the day on it, with another group some 1h behind, so we were on our own. The summit has a large steel structure on top which can be fun to climb.
The “normal” program, and really the only one we discussed with the guide, was to take basically the same route back home. No alternatives were offered at the time. The evening before ascent, the guide said we are a strong group and have time, so we can descend to the other side of the mountain and see “the engine” on one of the secondary summits. This sounded like fun.
Descent from the other side of the mountain was rather steep and with lots of loose pebbles, so it was very easy to slip even with trekking poles. In any case, about half an hour after starting the descent, we were by “the engine” which indeed was the aircraft engine from 1969 Lockheed L-749 Constellation Crash which somehow left one of the engines right on the top of the Tibherine East.
As we continued the descent, we could see another engine and many aircraft parts still littering the slopes more than 60 years later. For me, this was quite an interesting artifact which I think locals do not advertise nearly as much as they should.
After checking out the engine we continue the descent, which got less steep but not less slippery (I think at the end almost everyone in our groups, including guides slipped and fell at least once).
After about 1h 30min or such descent, we reached the main trail going to the refuge and continued going down. By about 12:30 we were down to the Shrine, had a quick lunch, and continued to Armed arriving about 2:15, where a car awaited for us to take us down to Marrakesh.
The trip down was hot as we had the worst combination of lower altitude and peak sun. I managed not to get any noticeable sunburns, though I relied both on sunscreen as well as keeping as much as possible of skin covered – long sleeves, long pants, gaiter worn around the face to protect the neck and ears.
As we got closer to the car the guide approached me asking if I would like to provide any tips for Assistant Guide and Mule Driver. I was planning to just give tips to him for the whole group to distribute, but it looks like the opposite is customary.
In case you’re wondering – the guide who lead us in Toubkal is called Mostapha and his Whatsapp is +212 623-588542.