Most High Atlas trekkers make jebel Toubkal (4167m/13,670ft), the highest peak in North Africa, their first goal. Indeed, in season about 90% of trekkers in the Atlas Mountains are likely to be in the Toubkal Region at any one time. Toubkal is easy to reach from Marrakech and the summit can be tackled in just a couple of days, although it would be wiser to allow more time for acclimatisation. This is stark but exceptionally striking region. The views from the summit of Toubkal provide a wonderful opportunity to see the Atlas Mountains forming a spine across the length of Morocco, dividing a gleaming Atlantic coast to the north and west from the scorching vastness of Saharan Africa to the south and east.
Jebel TOUBKAL ASCENT
This short route targets the summit of Jebel Toubkal (4167m/13,670ft). All trekkers should be aware of the symptoms and dangers of altitude sickness and the neces- sary response to them. Because of the proximity of Djebel Toubkal to Marrakech and the potential for a rapid ascent to the summit, many trekkers ascend too quickly and suffer the consequences. If you do choose to follow the route described here, try to avoid rushing straight from Imlil (1740m/5707ft) onwards, despite the lure of the peaks ahead of you, but either spend a first night there or otherwise at Aroumd/Around (1960m/6428ft), just a short morning’s walk beyond Imlil.
The trail, even from Aroumd to Refuge du Toubkal (3207m/10,520ft), involves a steady but demanding climb of well over 1000m. The route description for this trek is arranged as a two-day trek. Allow three days to include an overnight stay at either Imlil or Aroumd, or four if you wish to spend a second night at Refuge du Toubkal after you have ascended the sum- mit; in so doing you would avoid a very demanding walk back to Imlil on the same day.
QUIK LINKS TO CHOOSE A TRIP THAT SUITS YOU :
Day 1: Imlil – Aroumd/Around – Refuge du Toubkal
• Net altitude change +1467m/4813ft
• Duration 5 hours 50 minutes
walk south through Imlil, passing Hotel Étoile du Toubkal on your right. After five minutes, just beyond Café les Amis, turn right onto the road that heads west as if towards Tizi Mezzik/Mzik. In fact, just a lit- tle higher up, this road quickly turns south again and leads to Aroumd. It would, therefore, be possible to simply follow this road to Aroumd. However, it is much more interesting to turn left from the road on a right hairpin bend after just five minutes and instead follow the trail which leads through woodland, below the road, to Kasbah du Toubkal, reached in just 10 more minutes. Leaving the Kasbah behind, the path crosses an irrigation channel after 20 minutes then climbs more steeply still in a series of zigzags along a mule trail to the right. Follow the trail south for 25 minutes along the right-hand (west) bank of the Aït Mizane Valley until you are opposite the village of Aroumd. At this point turn steeply down to the river and cross by the bridge towards the village on the far (east) side of the valley. If you have decided to spend your first night here in order acclimatise, you will probably want to enter the village itself.
Behind the initial façade of a few newly built concrete houses, wind your way through its lanes to find a maze of traditional dwellings built on the hillside which form the heart of the old village. Aroumd has grown quickly in recent years and today 60% of its 1600 inhabitants are involved in tourism in some capacity.
From Aroumd/Armed, pass a small walled orchard on your right and pick up the trail along the left (eastern) edge of the river bed which quickly opens out into a wide floodplain. Thirty minutes from the village, the trail leaves the valley floor, briefly climbing in zigzags to the left.
Follow the path past one small isolated shop selling soft drinks to a second, neither usually open before 10am. Do not, however, assume that the nearby irri- gation channel provides clean water as it merely siphons from the river water flowing higher up in the main valley.
Continue to follow the path, climbing steeply in places, for a further 80 minutes, enjoying beautiful views both up and down river. Then, shortly after passing a series of small waterfalls, descend once more to the valley floor to cross the river close to the marabout of Sidi Chamharouch (2310m/7579ft). It’s possible to camp within the vicinity and very simple rooms are also available, although there are unlikely to be vacancies in summer particularly at weekends. There is no fixed price. A number of shops selling meals and drinks, as well as carpets and other Berber artefacts, face the religious complex from the right (western) bank. For a better view of proceedings return to the trail and climb up the right bank behind the shops, away from both the river and the throng surrounding the marabout, to a solitary café set upon a magnificent natural terrace offering a bird’s eye view.
From the café, the path continues to climb, yet more gently, to the south and south-west, before reaching another small café at Doudmet after about 60 minutes. Here drinks can be found cooling naturally in water falling from a rock buttress; the drinks and Berber artefacts can be bought from an adjacent shop. The path remains clear until the CAF Refuge du Toubkal (previously known as Neltner Refuge) comes into view 90 minutes after Doudmet from which point you will need a further 30 minutes to reach your goal for the day.
. During your approach you will cross several flat spaces which would be suitable for camping but if you decide to pitch tent, choose a sheltered spot if you can: the wind here can be very strong.
The long-established 90-bed, dormitory-style Refuge du Toubkal never closes but is unfortunately often overcrowded, especially at weekends. There is ample sheltered camping space in the grounds of the refuge upon payment of a small fee. Breakfast is available to all, lunch and evening meals. The refuge has hot showers and a small shop which sells cold drinks, including freshly squeezed orange juice, and other basic provisions, notably chocolate. Registration is compulsory on arrival, both in the Register d’hotel and in the Fiche de nuitée refuge, for all staying in the refuge, although not for campers. For 70 years the Neltner Refuge (now Refuge du Toubkal) stood alone in the valley below Jebel Toubkal. Recently, however, new accommodation, Moroccan- owned Les Mouflons has been constructed alongside. Built with a mind for Moroccan traditions, grilled windows and coloured lanterns add atmosphere to the very clean and spacious accommodation. There are also rooms for 4, 6 and 8 people. Lunch can be provided and picnics. It is also possib camp in the grounds. A well-stocked shop provides essentials.
All trekkers who have not yet read the section on the symptoms and dan- gers of altitude sickness and the necessary response to them on pp408-9 are strongly advised to do so before setting out on Day 2.
Day 2: Refuge du Toubkal – Jebel Toubkal summit – Imlil
Net achange ltitude -1467m/4813ft
Duration 9 hours
Many trekkers depart for the summit as early as 4 or 5am. Usually there is not, however, the problem of afternoon storms in the Toubkal region which beset the ascent of Mgoun and the motive of these trekkers is simply to reach the summit as early in the day as possible. If you do not wish to become part of their procession wait until around 7am, by which time the tranquillity of the mountain is usually restored.
From Refuge du Toubkal, look up into the large side valley entering the main valley from the east as this is the route that you will follow towards the summit. At first, head south from behind the refuge, following the small gully for five minutes until you reach a small waterfall. Cross the stream in front of the waterfall to climb the scree path to the left (east). The path, which at times is unclear, scrambles over an expanse of large boulders. Small cairns mark the route, although at this stage you simply need to keep heading eastwards and upwards.
After 40 minutes, cross in front of a large and very obvious rock overhang which is visible from the refuge and walk back over the top of it to resume the climb. By now the path is clearer although it has degenerated into rather frus- trating scree. Once in the dominant cwm of the mountainside it splits into three. Take the right-hand route as the others have the worst and are more demanding. After a further 90 minutes the path swings and climbs to the left (north) just below a ridge which will have been visible for some time.
The summit, which is marked by a metal tripod, is sighted after further 15 minutes and you should reach it some 25 minutes after this. The views from the summit (4167m/13,670ft) are magnificent although often hazy. Look for Jbel Sirwa, with its unmistakable volcanic plug, to the south and the less clearly defined expanse of the Jbel Sarhro range to the south-east. For many, the ascent of Toubkal is a deeply spiritual experience and you should not be surprised if you witness a grateful trekker offering thanks to Allah.
Allow 120 to 150 minutes for the descent back to Refuge du Toubkal which follows in reverse the same route as the ascent. First, however, as you leave the summit, wander briefly from the path a little to the north. If you did not notice the village behind you during the final moments of your ascent, views of Aroumd are now to be gained ahead, to the north and far below.
Once back at the refuge, you might elect to spend a further night there before setting back for Imlil. Whether you do this on the same or the following day, for which you will require a further 3 hours 40 minutes, you will need to first retrace your steps back down the Aït Mizane Valley as far as Aroumd, reached in about 2 hours 40 minutes.
Climb back up to the higher streets of Aroumd and then along the main lane heading north immediately below Gîte le Toubkal until you reach the last house the village. At this point the path begins to drop gradually, first passing small souvenir stall to the left then curling around to the right as small terraces appear ahead. The path continues to descend, now more steeply, winding through mature trees before levelling out and crossing a river, Assif n’Imserdene, entering from the right 30 minutes from the last house.
The path continues through more trees on the far (north) bank, passes through the small village of Tagadirt, crosses another small river (dry in spring) before joining the piste in the village of Targa Imoula. Take the path which heads left (west) at the village association centre, through a few houses and fur- ther trees until it turns northwards once more and joins the main road which rises out of Imlil towards Tamatert. Follow the road left (west) down into the centre of Imlil reached in 30 minutes from the river.