Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Winter climb of Mount Toubkal (4,167m) the highest mountain in North Africa

The main objective for my month's visit to Morocco was to climb Mount Toubkal (4,167m) the highest mountain in North Africa. As described in my earlier post on this blog Photos of Imlil, Aroumd and Ait Souka villages in High Atlas mountains I had to wait for three days in Aroumd village due to the heavy snowfall in the mountains before heading up to refuge at the base of the route to Toubkal.

With over metre of fresh snow there was significant avalanche risk in the mountains and also decided to let someone do the hard work of breaking trail to the summit! I was lucky on my second day in Aroumd as the sun started to shine and had good weather for the rest of the trip. With the heat of the African sun most of snow low down near the village melted fast and consolidated higher up.

Photo: skiers descending from refuges

On March 19th I walked up to Les Mouflons refuge, this walk takes about five to six hours. There were several groups of skiers coming down from the refuge and amusing see several wipe outs (not serious of course) as they tried to find ways through the increasing number of rocks as the snow melted in the sun.

There are two refuges at the base of Mount Toubkal, having spoken to several people who had previously visited this area some people preferred one refuge and some the other one. In the end I stayed at the lower refuge called Les Mouflons, this is a newer building only three years old and I thought was quite comfortable with friendly staff. The other refuge Neltner is the original one opened in 1938 and is known as being warmer however having looked around seems smaller and less spacious.

Photo: Les Mouflons refuge (lower left) and Neltner refuge (higher right)

That evening in the refuge I met some Brits who had climbed Toubkal that day and picked up some tips about the current conditions on the route. Next morning I set off a little later than planned (breakfast was slow to arrive), in the end started from the refuge at 7.45am however at least the route was still in shade so the trail was frozen so did not break through the surface of the deep snow like later in the day.

Photo: South Cwm route on Toubkal as seen from refuge

I was following the South Cwm route which is known as the easiest way to the summit. The trail is clearly visible from the hut, first it heads south then starts the ascending through a series of switchbacks then enters the South Cwm between Toubkal West (4,030m) to the right and Toubkal main summit out of view to the left. There is a pass between these peaks called Tizi n'Toubkal from where one heads in a north east direction to the summit.

Photo: South Cwm route

Photo: scree slope near summit

Photo: final traverse to summit

Photo: group approaching summit

Photo: summit of Mount Toubkal (4,167m)

The summit is marked by a metal tripod, the views are superb over to Jebel (Mount) Sirwa in the south and Jebel Sahro range in south east direction. My trek earlier in the month was in the Jebel Sahro area, I posted photos and description of this in my blog article Winter walk in Jebel Sahro range in Morocco. One can also see down to Marrakech on the plains to the north west.

Photo: view from summit

Photo: view from summit

Photo: group on summit

Photo: Roland on summit

Photo: back at Les Moufons refuge with route behind

After admiring the summit view for a while I descended back to refuge for lunch with the round trip taking just under four hours and then continued down to Aroumd village in a further three hours or so.

In winter Mount Toubkal is a fun and easy objective suitable for someone with basic mountaineering skills using ice axe and crampons. By May or June the snow has melted from Toubkal and the trail follows scree and rock all the way to the summit making this is a popular trek to the highest mountain in North Africa.

Roland Hunter

1 comment:

Marc Andre Plouffe said...

Thanks for posting the information. Was the refuge heated? Do you remember if it was very cold at night in the refuge? Did you need a heavy sleeping bag? Also, would you suggest the use of gaiters? Can you rent the crampons and ice axe at the refuge?

Thanks!

The Mountain Company