A seven-day excursion trekking through the
Atlas Mountains to the top of Mount Toubkal
A trek to Mount Toubkal
A 7-day hike through the Atlas mountains to the summit of North Africa's highest mountain
Benno Rawlinson’s expedition was a seven-day hike, trekking though the Atlas Mountains of Morocco heading to the summit of Toubkal Mountain, North Africa’s highest mountain at 13,671 ft. There was potential for adventure and a range of weather; from the heat in the desert to the snow on the mountains.
- Trail length: 49mi
- Climb: 13,671ft
Local food, a call to prayer and satellite dishes on mud brick homes
Arriving in Marrakech we met our expedition leader and local guide before heading to the main square, which in the evening can only be described as mind blowing. Our senses were hit with a rich mix of smells, sights and sounds. Our bellies rumbled with our thoughts on food and after many offers, we opted for the cook standing in his once pristine white uniform, now highly decorated with a variety of food stains. With full bellies we headed to bed.
The alarm sounded, or at least what I thought was the alarm. It was in fact the mosque's morning call to prayers. After snoozing, breakfast was served. I stuffed my face as if the expedition had already started, and washed everything down with copious amounts of sweet mint tea.
After a short drive, we began trekking in Morrocco, up the valley alongside a meandering river that was lined by terraced plots and olive trees; it was a green oasis. Villages were such a contrast with smells of smoke and manure while satellite dishes clung to the sides of basic mud brick homes where families lived upstairs and the animals below.
Despite Morocco’s hot and dry reputation the heavens opened and the temperature dropped. It was the first time it had rained in weeks and we looked on as locals brushed the water off the flat roofs. Arriving at the refuge dripping wet, we fumbled around in the dark before a light bulb was found, giving us a chance to take in our surroundings. The village only began receiving electricity a few years ago and mobile reception the following year.
The wind continued to increase and the clouds rolled in as we crashed out.
Trekking in Morocco - a four-day hike to Mount Toubkal through the Atlas Mountains
With the storm now behind us, we spent the next four days walking ever higher and making our way back toward the tourist trail.
Each day kicked off with a huge breakfast and within hours of trekking in the mountains, the mules would trundle on past us with all the supplies. Lunch would be held in lush oases surrounded by a rich variety of wildlife, olives, mint and walnuts all buzzing with bees. We stopped at one river to admire the colors of intricate rugs as they were washed in the water and then laid to dry on the rocks. The sun chased our progress each day, casting huge shadows on the mountainous terrain before rising up and heating everything up. Somehow at just the right time of the day, a kid appeared selling Coca-Cola, the perfect treat before arriving at our refuge. Each night before bed we finished by checking our oxygen levels to see how we were acclimatizing, this daily ritual quickly became competitive.
One evening we were given a salty, slightly deep-fried pancake. They were delicious; in my excitement at this new delight I inadvertently poured honey all over my pants. Fortunately the place also had our first shower of the trip. Bundling in clothes and all, I reappeared clean, refreshed and full!
Each day we met a variety of people, kids running alongside us as we left villages, mothers carrying huge bundles of grass and shepherds herding their grazing goats high up in this barren and mountainous landscape.
The penultimate day provided us with our first glimpse of the summit. High above the other peaks of the Atlas Mountains sat Mount Toubkal. I thought the whole area looked like a massive outdoor playground with areas to climb, paths to run along and summits to reach; it was incredible.
Reaching the refuge base camp at 10,498 ft., we could relax and admire what we were aiming to be on top of the following day. We chilled out in front of a fire in the refuge after dinner before finishing up early and heading to bed ready for a 5:15 am start. I inadvertently made an error while using the long drop toilet; when flushing (pouring a bucket of water into it) I missed almost entirely and ended up pouring water all around the cubicle including near my feet in flip-flops.
Our alarm was the tent next door at 4:45 am. I changed in my sleeping bag due to the chilly start before a summit breakfast of rice porridge, which once covered in honey and washed down with coffee, was relatively pleasant.
Heading up Toubkal Mountain under the stars
We set off up the southern cirque just before dawn under a star lit sky. A gorgeous orange glow began to cover the mountainside as the ascent became a steady climb through a boulder field with the snow softening under the heat of the rising sun. The sunglasses came out again and sweaters and jackets were removed as the heat reflected off the slope. We paused at the end of the climb before the final ascent to rehydrate and soak in the views.
For the route up to the top of Mount Toubkal, a couple of us opted to follow a more adventurous path along an exposed ridge toward the summit, scrambling our way along over the rocks with shear drops. I felt like one of the mountain goats. The ridge evened out toward the final section and the summit was marked with a large metal cairn. I spotted a Barbary ground squirrel scampering around the rocks before it hid after spotting us. We celebrated at the top with some food, including gently frozen dates which I had brought from Marrakech. A few quick photos and it was time to make our way down.
A snowball fight and a proper night's sleep
We took a different path on the way down, curving round the mountainside where we could view our route up to the summit. Sliding down a scree slope it felt more like skiing as I quickly reached the bottom of it. We decided it was time for a Moroccan snowball fight. I managed to avoid almost all shots except a very well-aimed one from one of the muleteers.
Heading back to the refuge took longer than expected as the sun dipped. The once soft snow became an icy obstacle course between boulders. We made it back to the refuge for some lunch before heading down the valley to Imil. It became apparent that we would be finishing in the dark. With darkness falling and our head lamps out, our progress slowed until we reached the edge of the village where our local transport arrived to take us back to the gîte, or vacation home, we’d rented and our first proper night’s sleep in a bed for a week.
I spent the final day wandering the souks, or open-air markets, of Marrakech enjoying the different sights, sounds and smells that accompanied them before my flight back to the UK.
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