I titled this post Mount Toubkal / The Atlas Mountains, and second Morocco, because I think it’s so easy to see the name of a country and picture the most popular and well known destination. For Morocco, that is Marrakech. This misses out so much though.
And whilst I could easily do an entire blog on Marrakech alone; the calls to prayer, the shisha bars, the markets, the incredibly rich culture and all that it encompasses, I want to instead focus primarily on The Atlas Mountains, specifically Mount Toubkal.
I went to Morocco as your typical sixth form trip with http://www.outlookexpeditions.com – fundraising, volunteering, and a physical expedition chucked in too for good measure… You usually hear of people climbing Kilimanjaro (which I hope to do) or doing the 3 peaks challenge; Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Scaffel Pike, but not Morocco. I’d never heard of anyone talk about climbing Toubkal before, and have since seen it come up on one of the many many Instagram accounts dedicated to mountains that I follow once in the past four years! Toubkal stands at 4167m, taller than the peaks of the UK, but shorter than Kili in Tanzania. Before we got to the climbing stage of our trip though, we stayed right at the foot of the mountains, in a small Berber village by the name of Aroumd.
This was where we did the volunteering part of the trip. Our itinerary included helping out in digging the foundations for the local primary school, and when I say school, I mean the pink building on the bottom right. It was bloody hard work in the scorching hot sun every day, followed by an abundance of green tea, a soup of some description and a tajine served with a different meat each night. Staying here was a huge eye opener for me, it was a completely different world far removed from the one I have grown so accustomed to in the UK. The sheer level of poverty I was privy to here you’d think would be automatically coupled with people who were put simply at their wits end. Instead the positivity, energy and good humour of the children who we entertained on a day to day basis at the school, the locals running nearby markets and our mountain guide was infinitely refreshing. Off the beaten track, Aroumd is a 40 minute walk up from Imlil. You can’t expect any type of fancy accommodation, but you can expect to experience a true reflection of Morocco, its culture, food and tradition.
We then began the 3 day expedition phase of the trip, thankfully without our 60 litre backpacks in tow. Muels are used to take up your larger backpacks and I think I can say with complete confidence I would have really struggled to get up had I had to carry that too. Don’t worry, the muels are perfectly well and looked after properly, we had a vet in case anything happened plus me doing regular checks when I could. This I had to do discreetly so as not to annoy their owners. However, it definitely didn’t go unnoticed by the mountain guide from Outlook, who I have an email knocking around from somewhere with him commenting on my constant questions about the wellbeing of the muels…
Day 1 consisted of hiking up to what’s called the Refuge Toubkal Les Mouflons.
This was the hardest day I think for all of us. You can tell yourself over and over you’re climbing a mountain standing at 4197m but until you begin you never appreciate the enormity of the task. The Refuge point stands at 3207m so it is a significant amount of the way up to complete in your first days climbing. Again, the sun doesn’t relent with there being no trees to shade you, only tiny little places to get food once every couple of hours and it takes a good 6 hours of solid hiking. I was so tired when we reached the Refuge that I was border line delirious, but thoroughly thrilled with myself for even making it that far. Here we camped, beneath the most stunning display of stars I have ever seen – the height and clear skies being good for something, I promise! It is an absolute spectacle. I would love to have a picture of this, but our wonderful guide from Outlook never got round to sending us the photos so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Day 2 consisted of acclimatising. Mountain sickness is a real thing people. So we embarked on a climb of another few 100m, then proceeded to come straight back down again to the refuge point. This gave us the rest of the day to explore the immediate surroundings of the Refuge. We came upon a waterfall, which we all proceeded to wash in as the showers in the Refuge are ice cold. The waterfall wasn’t that much warmer if I’m honest, but it was so hot by midday, plus it had all the romantic ideals of being able to wash in a hidden waterfall 3000m up a mountain whilst having the whole place to ourselves. It was one of those once in a lifetime scenarios. You can see why we chose the waterfall?
Day 3, the final day of our climb and expedition consisted of waking up at I’m pretty sure 4am in order to get up the top before the sun got too hot. This was when the stars were at their most spectacular, and whilst they did light up the sky a little, it was not enough to start without a head torch. The first couple of hours involved a bit of rock climbing, which was then shortly followed by solid hiking, and it got cold fast. Even in Morocco, there are some places that aren’t obscenely hot; you only have to get up 3500m first to reach them. The altitude and the morning hours both worked in our favour. I remember once we reached the top being so overwhelmingly over the moon that we’d made it I somehow summoned the energy to run the last 50m. Pure adrenaline I think. I’m sure we all practically skipped back down the mountain we were so elated that we’d completed it. One of our guides told us that even though it feels like it’s never ending; when you look back on it you’ll only remember the good bits. I won’t lie, I remember the struggle of the whole thing vividly, but the sense of achievement and beauty of the place always outweighs this. And that’s on any mountain, not just Toubkal. The view from the top is indescribable, you can see countless other surrounding mountains, all framed by a blue sky with not even the tiniest trace of a village, or any kind of human settlement in sight. It was positively heavenly up there.
By the time we’d got back down the bottom, I think we all felt we well and truly deserved our Rest & Recovery time at Ozoud Falls. It’s slightly more touristy when you actually get to the falls but definitely still worth a visit so go check them out on Google – I unfortunately don’t have a snap, so apologies. Back to the hustle and bustle vibe of Marrakech which is always fun, markets everywhere, as are monkeys, although thankfully these ones weren’t in chains. The falls are nearby to the Moyen Atlas Village of Tanaghmeilt, but we stayed instead a 10 minute walk away, and I actually mean we camped at http://www.campingzebra.ma/localisation-itineraire/ . I’d definitely stay here again, it’s pretty basic, we were camping don’t forget, but the backdrop on the place is so worth it. They also cook food to order there and it’s pretty cheap so that’s a bonus! Little disclaimer though – if you don’t like the heat, don’t go here, it was 47 degrees Celsius when we were there!