Feb 10 15
My quest to climb to the highest snow capped peak in Morocco…..
I didn’t really know much about Morocco holidays before setting out on this amazing trip; now having just got back from quite frankly one of the most exhilarating holidays ever, I really want to share my experience so that others can benefit from the same types of trip. I’ve enjoyed many types of adventure or action holidays over the last few years in different exciting parts of the world; Machu Picchu in Peru, Annapurna and Kilimanjaro; these trips were all fantastic. I had not really considered the Atlas Mountains until now, thinking Morocco was just a desert land interspersed with bustling towns, mosques, vibrant souks and noisy people haggling… how wrong could I be? In fact Morocco has all that, but also has these amazing Atlas Mountains, which have to be one of the most impressive Mountain ranges in the world, especially in the winter.
So I set out from London 3 weeks ago in January with the sole aim to climb up to the peak of Mount Toubkal 4167 m, the highest peak of the Grand Atlas range. This mountain system stretches 2400 km from the Atlantic coast of Morocco to the Gulf of Gables in Tunisia. I choose this particular trip as I really wanted to challenge myself, get fit and chase away those “post Christmas blues”. This winter trek is very popular with those who want to push themselves that bit further and also try out using crampons and ice axes as you get towards the summit. I understood that a trek in the depths of winter is more demanding than most, but also more rewarding in many ways; the air is so crisp and clear and the snow capped mountains so utterly beautiful.
The short break in Marrakech was certainly an eye opener, I walked the markets and back alleys and watched the devout heading off to pray; this is certainly a city far removed from our own. The contrast as we headed out of town towards the mountains for our first climb was sharp; the immediate tranquillity and the simple village life which the Berbers led made us feel that we had been transported into another world, a world unchanged in hundreds of years.
That night we stayed in a Gite in the village of Imlil 1790m, and it was excellent fun. Our small group of eight really bonded as we learnt about the local culture and ate simple foods prepared by our hosts; the meals were often made up of cheese, bread, salads, sardines lentils or pasta, and of course tagines, delicious! .
I soon realised that this would be quite a strenuous climb. A trip like this certainly required a decent level of fitness and on top of that you do need be able to deal with the acclimatisation. I already knew that these treks are tailor made to help you deal with the change in altitude and thankfully we spent some time resting in the Berber villages; this is a crucial element in helping acclimatisation and maintaining strength.
We then slowly moved on from the Gite village house to the Neltner base camp at 3207 m where we slept in dormitories. Here we stayed 3 nights, getting here was tough though and the climb was very steep as we passed through orchards and on past the Sidi Chamarouch 2310 m, a place of pilgrimage not accessible to non Muslims. I have to say that before we set out to the base camp we were relieved to have a positive team in great spirits and we piled the heavy loads onto the hardy mules and listened intently to Mohamed, our guide, while he spent time explaining how to use the ice axes and crampons.
It was also really important that we were well prepared; you really cannot underestimate the importance of having a ¾ season sleeping bag, enough layers and changes of clothing; temperature dropped at night quite sharply and this can make a big difference to a good nights sleep. Good worn in walking boots are also imperative as a couple guys on our trip had only recently bought their boots and their blisters were not a pretty sight!
The following day we were awoken early and set off to practice our new skills with the challenge to get to the peak of Ouanoukrim 4088 m, the sister peak to Toubkal. This day was like our practice run and spirits were high. When we reached the top after a 6 hour climb the views were stunning and we could see across to Toubkal. We slept well that night as the route chosen was fairly tough, but not for very long as we had to rise early for our final challenge.
It took us just under five hours to reach the summit of Toubkal 4167m and we were happy with this as it was extremely steep and icy. I also got lots of use of the crampons too. The last couple hours were incredible as at every peak we were rewarded with another stunning view of distant mountains stretching on forever. It was such a high to stand there on top of this amazing peak and look out over the world. The pale sun lay low in the distance and as the skies were totally clear we even glimpsed the sands of the Sahara in the east.
By the time we descended and made our way back towards Marrakech, I had forged some firm friendships and even agreed to do a similar trip next year but longer and on horseback! These sorts of holidays are not just good for your body they mentally boost your spirits and give you a hunger to achieve more.