The highest peak in Morocco and all of northern Africa, Mt. Toubkal sits in the Atlas Mountains at just over 4100m about sea level. My first 4000+ hike and I start this piece from the tea room of a local Berber man who invited myself and an Israelite man into his home to rest the night before hiking up to the refuge at 3200m.
Imlil is a small mountain village at the edge of the Atlas, the tiny little town was purpose built as the locals saw the ability to assist the mountain economy from fellow hikers that come through the area looking for food and water, occasionally a place to stay before venturing off into the Toubkal National Park. At just over an hour from Marrakech, the difference in the peoples is incredible. Super relaxed and helpful, all people seem humble and welcoming, everyone just wants to make your time in the mountains fuss free and easy.
Before the hike, I just want to kick some misconceptions in the jewels. Mainly, you sure as hell don’t NEED to hire a guide from Marrakech to get into the mountains. Traveling solo this seems like a good idea, however, I caught a local minibus with 3 other travelers looking to do the same thing as myself and it was made super easy by the driver’s wingman, getting us a seat and informing when to change bus. From Marrakech, you can go to the Grand Taxi stand and get into a shared cab for around 50 dirhams each seat but you have to wait for the taxi to be full. Alternatively, just past all the taxi drivers to the dodgy looking old minibusses, ask any of the young men for the bus to Imlil and you will be escorted to the correct bus. Yes, these to need to be full but the locals all ride this so it is a much shorter waiting time and it half the price (25dirham).
Pre-book accommodation for sure, booking.com seemed to have many of the options in town. If you like to travel on a budget you will be totally fine to jut rock into town and ask around some of the locals while gabbing some very cheap food. My Israeli friend and I did this and quickly found a nice little abode amongst the apple trees just up from the small center of Imlil. A small little local house with basics and an amazing view back over the town nestled into the mountain side.
The hike is totally safe, most times of the year, to do without a guide. All of the locals in Imlil will direct you to where the track starts, and more than likely try to sell you something as well. You know all of this is true as your reading this, meaning I did the hike and made it without a guide to finish writing this post…
4000 club, is that a thing?… I hope so because getting to Toubkal summit just before sunrise was incredible.
A wake up of 4:30 am, a quick coffee and we were out the door. Graced with a full moon there was no need for the light pollution from head lamps just keen eyes and some careful footing. The hike from the refuge, as a general prediction, is around 3 hours up. The refuge sitting at 3200m and the summit of Toubkal is a touch more than 4100m. Leaving in the darkness sounds a little daunting however it was quite lively in the refuge by the time we were leaving and I was lucky enough to find some great humans who were also planning on doing the summit without a guide. Finding common ground we banded together for our exit. We had a quick start and tried to gain some momentum early in the morning as the goal was to get to the summit in time for the first light. However, for those of us not used to high altitudes, a fast pace isn’t always achievable for the whole climb. By about the half way point we had slowed. I am personally a fan of keeping a consistent pace so we stayed walking through the second half just one foot after the other, even though sometimes I felt sloth like we were making really good time.
Just shy of the summit I did feel a little clumsy at times, with rough footing at times I really was thinking hard to make sure I wasn’t placing my feet in a bad position. With darkness upon us and just a small blue and orange stripe across the horizon we reached the top of Toubkal. It is never while moving that you feel cold, as soon as we stopped each of us realised how cold it was on top of that mountain. A light ice dusting on the rocks and a fresh breeze in the face.
Evi is a young man from Israel and has a very calm ora that hung around him. As we reached the summit of Toubkal he looks at me: “okay. I have coffee!” He exclaimed.
With that knowledge, the few humans on the mountaintop crouched around a small gas burner trying to warm their hands. One eye on the increasing light in the distance, hands close to the flame and satisfied faces smiling to each other. The morale was high!
Any leftover water started to freeze as we pass around a communal cup of coffee. Each sip followed by a sigh of relief or an excited squealing noise (guilty of this one)…
As the sun breached the horizon we were met with dust in the air off in the distance and it lit up the sky with the light from the sun burning through it. Underneath the orange haze were endless ridge lines of the Atlas Mountains to the east, to the north and south. Chocolate coloured shapes, rigid and dramatic lead away from Toubkal. A powerful looking set of mountains indeed.
The decent from Toubkal is one to be cautious about. A clear path to follow but, a steep slope to navigate with loose rocks everywhere beside the track at least. That being said, a big step rolls into a jump or skip and before we (myself and the 3 that I was hiking with) knew it skips were accompanied by single foot slides in the loose rocks. It was Christmas, skipping and sliding back down the track made for an exhilarating, fun and fast descent for most the way back to the refuge.
It makes for a big day to climb a 4000m+ mountain and choose to walk back out of the mountains to the nearest town after the decent. My legs surely found this out after making this journey. Mostly downhill will be easy, I always tell myself at least. However, it isn’t so easy after a few hours of eccentric contractions of the lower limbs. Back in Imlil and happy about it. One way or another I felt like I had accomplished something, it was my reason for visiting Morocco and the highest summit for me thus far.
As I made the walk out of Imlil, walking past the taxi’s one of the drivers tried to grab my bags and was suggesting: ‘taxi to Marrakech?… I take’.
I mentioned I was uninterested in taking his taxi and would wait for a bus to arrive. Too which he replied: “bus… no bus here!”
And literally, as he finished his sentence a bus drove around the corner. I couldn’t help but to laugh and be impressed at his efforts, however annoying it was.