In February, one lucky Bucketlister got to spend an unforgettable week trekking in the Atlas Mountains. It’s one of the things we pride ourselves on here at The Bucket List Company – trips will always run, no matter how many people are booked on them. In this case, Bucketlister Steve was going it solo – or almost solo – as he was taken for his Toubkal trek by our guides Dave and Gareth.
Needless to say, the three of them had a fantastic time. Not only did they manage a successful winter summit of Mount Toubkal – the highest mountain in North Africa – they also reached the summit of the second highest, too!
After a week’s trekking in the Atlas Mountains in perfect alpine conditions, guide Dave felt like reliving the experience. So, here is his trip report from their winter adventure to Toubkal – and beyond!
Day 1 – Marrakech to Tacheddirt
Having travelled southwards from Marrakech up a winding road through increasingly steep foothills, we finally spotted our guide Brahim, our muleteers and mules waiting next to the frosted river crossing where our trek would start. With our kit bags securely lashed in the mule panniers, Brahim led the way upwards through chill shade towards the clear mountain light of the rising sun. The valley gradually spread out below us to reveal terraced orchards of apple and walnut trees sitting high above the fast-flowing mountain stream.
Within a couple of hours of steady ascent, we had reached our first mountain pass – Tizi n’Auguersioual at 2000 metres, and succumbed to the magical view of snow-topped mountains forming a semi-circle in the distance.
From here, we followed a gradual downward trek along a new valley side. This brought us to yet another mountain stream where one or two of us experienced the thrill of rapidly cooling our feet in the freezing melt water. A gradually-rising trail then brought us to a perfect lunch spot under walnut trees where our muleteers had, unbelievably, prepared a delicious tagine with hot pasta and Moroccan salad. Here, we just laid back and took in the sights – Berber women leading their house cows; and sounds – lambs bleating for their mothers on the mountainside.
Leaving the muleteers to pack we trekked onwards and gently upwards, passing through tiny Berber villages, greeted by children and the odd boisterous cockerel until we reached our overnight stop at Tacheddirt, the highest village in North Africa. Here we were welcomed with customary mint tea – but also hot showers, expansive mountain views and an absolutely magical night sky!
Day 2 – Tacheddirt to Imlil
We woke to a perfect high pressure, blue sky day and the accompanying crisp, frosty start. Initially, the going is easy, following the contours on the opposite side of the valley, leading us to a new mountain pass, allowing a final look back at yesterday’s trek.
Taking a gentle slope down a deserted winding mountain road, we then dropped down through pine trees, only stopping to appreciate the silence and beauty of this shaded valley leading to Imlil. Gradually, the dusky orange houses of Imlil appeared with the promise of more mint tea, coffee and gentle haggling for authentic Berber gifts.
At the guest house it’s time to shower and prepare bags for tomorrow’s trek up to the refuge at 3207 metres, from where we shall attempt our Toubkal ascent. The weather is still clear, giving us another amazing star-filled night!
Day 3 – Imlil to Refuge du Toubkal
Sitting in the refuge lounge watching the Berber guides playing a noisy, unfathomable card game (which included sliced carrots and green beans as tokens), I knew that our clients were as bemused as we were.
Earlier that day, we had climbed out of Imlil to follow the Assif n’Isougouanne riverbed towards a winding. rocky path into the Toubkal National Park. In front of us was a welcome trail of deep snow footprints. A half-frozen river tumbling down the mountainside led us to a bridge by the famous stopping point called ‘The Shrine’. Here, a piping hot mint tea helped us on our increasingly steep way before stopping for lunch an hour later.
Sitting in the bright winter sunshine, we warmed ourselves in the shelter of giant boulders that had once graced the mountain tops, while our muleteers again conjured up a hot lunch! On this section of the trek, the free entertainment was a mule who decided to escape and ‘go rogue’ by prancing about the mountainside with glee, before returning to his owner and his own lunch.
The refuge certainly lived up to its name as it appeared later among the snow of the higher mountains. We sipped on some more mint tea and then tucked into supper (with chips), before relaxing in the lounge whilst making final adjustments to our crampons and boots in anticipation of the morning’s climb.
Day 4 – Toubkal summit
After a short night sleeping in our thermals we rose quickly to have a simple breakfast and be off, as the sun was starting to rise.
We rapidly gained height above the refuge, zig-zagging our way over the crusty snow. Slowly, slowly is the order of the day, and this persistence pays off with the sun creeping nearer, having already illuminated the ridges all round. The summit comes into sight at last, and in front of us is the last trek over an icy plain to the distinctive triangular summit scaffolding at 4167 metres. Today there is little wind and a strong winter sun warming us through the thin air.
Alpine choughs wait impatiently for remnants of our brief lunch and, unbelievably, small mottled squirrels appear to eat dropped trail mix! From the summit, we are rewarded with views of the Sahara in the south and of the plains to the north that surround Marrakech.
The trek down is much faster, and everyone welcomes the easier breathing to be had. A well-earned lunch in the winter sunshine sees everyone in very high spirits.
Day 5 – Timezguida summit to Refuge du Toubkal
Today we set out to climb the second highest peak in the High Atlas – Timezguida, at 4089 metres. We enjoy a more leisurely start with a gradual winding ascent up a silent winter valley. This takes us to the high pass, Tizi Oum, where we take a break for dramatic views of the rising sun from the top of an immaculate cornice.
Crampons are packed away and what follows is some exposed – but thankfully low-grade – scrambling up a rocky spur leading to a scree bank and ice field. One final push reveals a football pitch sized plateau summit bathed in bright winter sunshine and overlooked by the darkest of blue skies only experienced at high altitude.
Retracing our steps, we lose height and soon find ourselves overlooking the refuge with its familiar promise of log fires and a celebratory lunch with all the other returning trekkers. After several long days of trekking, it’s time for a pre-dinner nap and cosy chats before bed.
Day 6 – Return to Imlil
Today, we return to Imlil, tired but incredulous at how fast we trek downhill and reach the forgotten bustle of the town. Now it’s just time to rest before we head back to the thriving capital of Marrakech tomorrow.
If Dave’s Toubkal trekking diary has inspired you to head for the mountains yourself, find out more about our Mount Toubkal treks by contacting us today on 01769 309 007. Whether you choose to take on Toubkal in the winter like Steve and the guys, or opt for a milder summer ascent, the adventure begins here!