Last week I went to Morocco to spend 3 days in the Atlas Mountains, on a tour organised by Epic Morocco. My aim was to get to the 4167m summit of Jbel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa, which would have been the highest I’d ever been, but I didn’t make it.
I spent a night in Marrakech (visiting the Djemaa el Fna market square which was a bit too much of a cultureshock for me having just come off the plane from the UK), before heading off to the village of Imlil, the starting point for the trek to Jbel Toubkal. There was snow at Imlil (elevation 1740m) which was a bit of a surprise as our group (two other walkers, local Moroccan guide and porters) had 1400m ascent ahead of us to our base for the next two days, the Mouflon mountain hut at the base of Jbel Toubkal.
It did indeed turn out to be a tough ascent to the hut, with crampons and ice-axe necessary above the holy village of Sidi Chamcharouch (containing a shrine and some shops with particularly insistent owners), on deep, hard snow, and a strong wind that slowed us down. The Mouflon Refuge itself is in a very remote valley at an altitude of 3200m but is surprisingly well-appointed inside although very cold at this time of year.
The next day I attempted to make it to the summit but only made it as high as 3300m on the slopes above the hut, which were covered in hard-packed snow and some ice, requiring care. I couldn’t keep up with the group due to the effects of the altitude and had to turn back. This trip was always a bit of a gamble as it was too short to include a period for acclimatising to the altitude gain, so I wasn’t too disappointed. To be honest, it was quite a challenge for me to get as far as I did, but the other two walkers made it to the summit.
Conditions in the Atlas Mountains are particularly difficult this winter, although the guide for this trip said this was actually a return to conditions he remembers from a decade ago, and that recent winters have been abnormally dry with low snowfalls.
I managed to see a little bit of wildlife on the walk including a fox walking on the snow at the mountain hut, and a Lammergeier. I also saw a domestic cat walking about on the snow near the mountain hut – a surprising site at an elevation of 3200m, 7 hours walk from the nearest road!
After the walk, I spent a comfortable night in a Riad in the medina district of Marrakech, a jumble of old-fashioned streets that can’t have changed much for hundreds of years (a lot of Morocco is relatively untouched by modern development, particularly in the mountains).
As if I hadn’t had enough snow on this trip, I arrived in the UK at Luton Airport to be confronted with blizzard conditions and the airport on the verge of shutting completely (it was a minor miracle that my Ryanair flight from Marrakech had landed at all), necessitating a hotel stay and the hire of a car to finally get me back to Edinburgh a day later than planned.
You can see my photographs from the trip on my website here.
Read your blog entry with interest Eddie – sorry you didn’t make summit. Last week was especially difficult. Perhaps next time inshallah!
My list of overseas summit failures is now impressive:
2763m Pyramid Mountain, Canadian Rockies (1998 and 2007)
3527m Leavitt Peak, Sierra Nevada, California (2005)
4419m Mount Whitney, Sierra Nevada, California (2005)
1131m Städjan, Sweden (2006)
2921m Puig Carlit, French Pyrenees (2008)
4167m Jbel Toubkal, Atlas Mountains (2009)
If, as the saying goes, an experienced person is defined by their failures, not their successes, then I have absolutely tons of great experience…