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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

Photos of Imlil, Aroumd and Ait Souka villages in High Atlas mountains (Morocco)

Last week I stayed in Aroumd village where had several days exploring the area before my climb of Mount Toubkal (4,167m). The day before my arrival to Aroumd there had been large snowfall in the mountains and all the way down to village level so I decided to leave it a few days to allow time for snow to consolidate before heading to the summit of Toubkal.

As I wondered around Aroumd, Imlil and Ait Souka villages I took some photos as the scenery looked wonderful with this fresh snow. I also visited the superb Hotel Kasbah du Toubkal, this would be a wonderful place to stay with stunning 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains, for more information about this property please take a look at their website.

I will write a trip report on this blog about my climb of Mount Toubkal shortly needless to say it was well worth waiting for!

Photo: Imlil village (1,740m) with Tizi n'Tamatert behind

Photo: view of Toubkal massif from Aroumd village

Photo: Imlil village and surrounding mountains

Photo: muleteer and his mule near Imlil

Photo: Hotel Kasbah du Toubkal

Photo: inside Kasbah du Toubkal

Photo: sherpherd and his flock near Ait Souka village

Photo: view from near Tizi n'Tamatert

Photo: Aroumd (or Aremd) village (1,945m)

Photo: trail to shrine of Sidi Chamharouch

Photo: mules on the trail

Photo: Muslim shrine of Sidi Chamharouch (2,300m)

Roland Hunter

Friday, 11 March 2011

Winter walk in the Jebel Sahro mountain range in Morocco

I just got back to Marrakech after a short walk in the Jebel Sahro mountain range in Morocco. Jebel Sahro is south of the High Atlas and is ideal for winter trekking during months from November to March. I must admit it is rather nice escaping from London at this time of year for some winter sun with most days temperatures around 25C. As these mountains are quite low in altitude this area gets far too hot over the summer months so not possible to trek at that time of year.

The Jebel Sahro is a stunning mountain range with strange sandstone and conglomerate formations containing isolated Berber villages, please take a look at the photos below to get an idea of the scenery. It is worth pointing out that I have no photos of the first two days of this trek as my new camera decide to reformat the memory card on afternoon of second and deleting all of my photos!

After flying to Marrakech with Easyjet (£90 return, bargain!) I spent a few days exploring the city before travelling over Tizi n Tichka pass to Ouarzazate. This town is the gateway to the south and located near to the Draa, Dades and Ouarzazate valleys. Due to its strategic importance during French colonial times was a garrison town for the French Foreign Legion. However these days Ouarzazate is better known for the legendary marathon des sables race that is organised from here every year.

Photo: Ali, Berber muleteer from Ihrazzoun village

After one night in Ouarzazate I travelled to the small town of Nkob where I met my muleteer, Ali, a Berber from the nearby village of Ihrazzoun. We went to the Alimentation General to buy the food for the trek then set off early next morning. The first section of the trek crosses a flat plain following a “piste” (jeep track) and passes a few villages before a short climb then descent to a Hanedour village overlooked by a derelict kasbah.

Photo: Tassigdelt

The first night on the trek we stayed at Ali’s house in his village called Ihrazzoun. It was interesting seeing a Berber house and their way of life of course shortly after arriving we were offered a cup of mint tea with dates and almonds. I was a little surprised when Ali’s father ask me to make the next round of tea, so with some help I learnt how to do this following the various rituals and it is certainly more complicated than make a cup of tea back home!

Photo: Camel's Head from Igli village

On second day of the trek we walked past two superb conglomerate towers of Bab n Ali, sorry I have no photos however please take a look at this link for a photo of Bab n Ali

On third day we walked past two more striking rock formations known as Camel’s Head and Tassigdelt. We started to gain altitude and later on we scrambled up to the highest point called Kouaouch at 2,592m. From the summit there are superb views back to Nkob and also northwards to the snowy peaks of Mgoun in the High Atlas. That evening we camped at Tizi N’Ouarg at 2,200m in a high meadow with several goat herders living nearby.

Photo: conglomerate rocks

Photo: Ali riding on his mule

Photo: view towards Nkob

Photo: view from summit of Kouaouch to High Atlas mountains

Photo: isolated tree

Photo: Draa valley and High Atlas in distance

Photo: looking back to Jebel Sahro from Tagdilt village

The Mountain Company