I have been procrastinating this must-do since 2016, for the lack of time and travel companions. I couldn’t do it during winter because let’s face it, I can’t stand the cold. Well a couple of months ago a friend of mine told me that he was planning a trek with some other friends and invited me to join them. When I asked about the destination and he said Mount Toubkal, I said yes right away. My backpack and hiking kit were literally ready!
Mount Toubkal, located in Toubkal National Park in the High Atlas mountain range in Morocco, is the highest peak in North Africa and the Arab World, amounting to 4167m.
Step 1: Starting point: Imlil Village
Imlil village is a 2-hour drive from Marrakech. It is the starting point for all travelers looking to climb Mount Toubkal as it is the easiest access to it. We arrived there around midnight and spent the night in a guest house. The plan was to start the trek very early in the morning, to make progress and avoid summer heat.
Step 2: Sidi Chamharouch
It takes about 5 hours to reach Sidi Chamharouch. It is an area half way to the base camp. Often, if you start the trek early in the morning, you reach this point by lunch time. Me and my companions arrived there around that time and stopped to rest and eat.
Step 3: Refuge (at 3207m)
It takes about 5 hours to reach the base camp where all the trekkers gather to rest so as to continue to the summit. It is also the last point where you can find shops or any other form of civilization. Also, phone reception is very weak at this point.
Step 4: Toubkal Summit (4167m)
It takes about 5 to 6 hours to reach the summit, and about 3 hours to climb down. At this stage, it takes as much mental strength and willingness as physical strength to succeed. Breathing might get difficult because of the altitude.
Step 5: Climbing down and Departure
Easy said than done. The feeling you experience when you reach the summit is great, worth the pain, the blisters, and the fatigue. Yet, your trekking is not done. The climb back for me was more difficult than the climb to get there. It is very slippery. Some of my companions made it back to the Refuge in only 2 hours while it took me about 4 hours.
There are many hotels and guest houses available in Imlil Village. At the base of the mountain, there are two places where you can stay, however, booking prior to your arrival is highly recommended. If you fail at finding at bunk bed in one of the two places, or if you prefer sleeping in your own tent, it is also possible to pay for a spot nearby to plant your tent.
Road Condition and Weather
The road from Imlil to Aroumd village is pretty smooth. It gets rougher and rocky as you continue to the Refuge. From the Refuge to the summit, it’s an easier uphill climb but very difficult and steep on your way down.
I believe that the trek in summer time (June – July – August) is easier than during winter. However, it is hot and dry during the day and cold at night. Bear in mind that Step 4 begins at 4 in the morning, so a wind-proof jacket, gloves and head cover are a must.
Food and Beverages
You can find small local restaurants along the road to the base camps. However, don’t expect too much. They provide the basic needs such as water, tuna cans, and some essentials. Please make sure to pack your own snacks and food. Depending on your booking, the camps at the base provide breakfast and dinner, but again don’t get your hopes up. I fought with my companions, who didn’t like the dinner we were served, over a can of tuna that I packed for hunger emergencies (I am a foodie junkie)
I highly advise hiring a tour guide if it is your first time doing this climb whether you have a group or you’re a solo trekker, especially during winter as the heavy snow makes the roads hard to find. People have gone missing or lost their lives there.
You’ll need to be relatively fit and have some trekking experiences to do this climb. I am an active person and yet I found it difficult to keep up with the pace and deal with breathing. I highly recommend an intensive body conditioning before embarking on this climb. Don’t fret about your companions’ pace, you’re all going to reach your final destination.
Trekkers know that a good trekking kit is crucial: good hiking boots, hiking sticks, knees support, energetic snacks, a head torch, first aid kit and so on. Pick the appropriate clothing depending on the season. Summer in that region tends to be very hot and dry during the day and cold at night, and winter is very cold (might get lower that 0°C) and windy. I did the trek in July; It’s the dry season in that area so I did not need to layer clothes until night time and for Step 4. My main concerns were keeping myself hydrated, properly protected from sun rays, and well fed.
Pack light if you plan to carry your own luggage or backpack. If not there are mules available that can carry your belongings to the Refuge. Personally, I thought I could carry my own backpack because I pack light, but after about 4 hours of trekking, I could not stand the extra weight. My friend, Youssef and our tour guide took turns carrying it for me. If I had a do-over, I would have opted for the mule.
Like I said before, mental strength is also crucial for this experience. I almost quit because of muscles soreness and fatigue. I started my trip with sore leg muscles from an intensive gym session and it got worse and worse with every step; I hurt one knee when climbing down to the extent I could not move when we got to Sidi Chamharouch. I had to pay for a mule to take me back to Imlil Village. Luckily, my companions, mainly my friend Youssef, didn’t let me give up and encouraged me to continue and here I am telling this story. Now, I can officially cross out Mount Toubkal from my bucket-list!