After Marrakech, I was happy to escape to the mountains... I was intrigued about 'climbing' the tallest mountain in North Africa, though I knew I could only do it because LP describes it as more of a 'difficult hike' than a climb. I hired a taxi, along with Bryan and Kit, for the two and a half hour journey east through Asni and to Imlil. If you're headed that way, you should haggle hard and you really shouldn't pay more than 150 for a grand taxi (split among the number of people in the car) one way.
Prepare for the usual assault of hotel and guide invites when you get out of the car at the parking lot in Imlil. I highly recommend skipping the refuge (which isn't bad, and is run by some nice people -- they have tent camping there as well) and opting instead for Auberge Atlas Tichka. About halfway through town, there is a sign directing you there. It is located on a footpath and is surrounded by tall trees, so you can't see it from the road. The prices were 60/pp without any argument. The bathrooms are the cleanest I've encountered in Morocco, and the
This photo of 2 aussies and Kit was taken about 500 meters below the peak (which you can barely see above the guy on the left). One wearing jeans and one in khaki shorts and a cotton T, these are likely two of the worst dressed mountain climbers in history.
beds are comfortable enough. You can even take a clean, hot shower for an extra 10 DH. The owners are friendly, and the terrace view of the stars is well worth staying up late.
As for food, Imlil is home to one of the best restaurants (yet inconspicuous) I've been to in Morocco. It's in the middle of town and has a big sign that read "PIZZERIA" on the front. Not only is the pizza a treat, the coffee is superb for the mountains, the tagine is somewhat memorable, the steak is well prepared, and the Moroccan / lentil soup is impressive and served with a pizza-like bread.
The only major problem with staying in the lower end of town (as opposed to near the kasbah) is that when you begin the hike to the refuge, you have to ascend 50 or so extra meters up awkward steps. In the summer, leave as early as possible. Though the trail is certainly cooler than the lower valley, at midday the sun is still oppressive, and there is little shade other than some boulders to shrink behind. You should leave a good six hours to leave the refuge, but it
can be done in just over four, even with a 20 minute break for lunch. It's all uphill, but most of it isn't very steep. The elevation jump is 1500 meters.
There are two refuges. The lower one is the newer of the two and was nearly empty when we arrived. We were just happy to be there, so we forgot to haggle. We paid 100 each, which was stupid, but I met others who paid 60 for a night. The other refuge is cheaper, but it was filled with a British University trip, and it didn't seem to be as clean. We thought we'd done a better job arguing about the food price at the lower refuge until we actually ate it. There wasn't much pride or effort put into it -- I recommend taking food with you from Imlil or even Marrakech. They sell bottled water and a variety of foods (though, mostly junk food) at the stores in both refuges as well.
The refuges are about 1000 meters below the Toubkal summit. I had a slight headache that night, but was ready to attempt the summit (13671 feet / 4167 meters) the next morning. The
beginning portion of the trail looks completely impossible... it climbs through dirt and scree and seems like if anyone tried to climb it, he would just slide back down. When you actually begin the hike, it's a little better, but not much. The first 30 minutes of the climb is pretty difficult and shouldn't be underestimated. Many of the guided groups begin the climb at 5AM, but it seemed to be completely unnecessary. A 7 AM start, or even a bit later, is just fine, particularly if you plan to stay at the refuge a second night.
It levels out a bit after the first half hour, but when the peak finally comes into view, it looks unreachable. It appears to be on a steep, naked crag about 2 meters across. I did my best to concentrate on my feet and on each individual step, but every time I looked up, I felt like I would never reach there.
Eventually we did, and celebrated with a bit of brandy and champagne that some British Army people had lugged from London. The views are fabulous and well worth the effort.
The climb down is far more dangerous than
After absolutely refusing to follow a trail that on its right side dropped off a cliff thousands of feet, I found another path that led to the summit.
the ascent. I fell probably 10 times, and in some sections I decided to slide down on my butt. I soon learned that I had to plan every step and focus on nothing other than the next solid spot to put my foot.
We got up and back to the refuge in four hours. We stopped for a quick sit down, and then made our way back to Imlil, which took about 3 and a half hours more.
Tot: 2.336s; Tpl: 0.119s; cc: 12; qc: 30; dbt: 0.0531s; 2; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb