Mount Toubkal is the highest mountain in North Africa. (4167m). It can be climbed in a minimum of two days starting from Imlil. We stayed in Aremd a short distance from Imlil. There is no climbing involved and anyone of reasonable fitness can reach the summit. There was a bit of a scramble across a scree fields near the top. In the Summer no special equipment is needed but in winter crampons and an ice axe make it easier. We went in May 2007 when there was still some snow. Going up no equipment was needed but coming down the crampons made it much easier to walk down. Altitude sickness can be a problem especially for the two day ascent. The trick I found was to go slowly and steadily.
The fist day we set out from Aremd up the valley stopping at Sidi Chamharouch ( the Shrine of a holy man) for a drink before carrying on to the Toubkal Refuge where we spent the night. (3125m). First day took just over four hours walking
Next morning we climbed to the summit before returning to Marrakech. The climb up took four hours the descent to the refuge two and a half hours and the walk back to Imlil just under three hours. If I did it again I would try and spend a bit longer at altitude before the ascent.
- Hiking and Walking
Jebel Toubkal Ascent
The most popular hike in the Atlas mountains is the ascent of Jebel Toubkal, Morocco’s highest mountain. Toubkal is 4167 metres and is in the highest mountain in the Maghreb countries of North Africa. The first recorded climb was in 1923 though it’s likely that local Berbers had made the ascent prior to this.
In summer this is a straightforward hike, though altitude sickness is a possibility. In winter you must contend with snow and ice as well as the altitude. Most people do the climb in two or three days from Imlil.
The two day ascent, which we did, involves a six hour trek from Imlil to the Toubkal Refuge, which is at 3200, at the base of a long slope leading to the summit. Here you can rest for the night and acclimatise properly. On the second day, the climb to the summit takes about 5 hours followed by a 3 hour descent to the refuge. At this point, many people continue back to Imlil though this makes for a very long day of hiking.
Sidi Chamarouch is the last settlement on the route from Imlil to Toubkal. It's about 1/3 of the way along the route from Imlil and takes 2 hrs to get here. It's marked by a distinctive white rock which you'll see in the distance long before you arrive. There are shops here selling the usual Moroccan souvenirs, as well as a couple of small cafes and shops. Limited accommodation is available in local houses.
Sidi Chamarouch is also a popular place with Moroccan pilgrims, who come to see the marabout (tomb) of the man who gives his name to the town. It’s located across the river from the houses and shops. Entry is forbidden to non Muslims though you can cross the bridge and take pictures.
After Sidi Chamarouch the path climbs steeply and it's a long 3 hour hike to the refuge. Hence, it makes sense to stop here for a while and have a drink and rest before pushing on. In winter, the snowline often drops to Sidi Chamarouch, which is at 2300 metres altitude. The path onwards is to the right of the first houses you see. If you get lost or have trouble finding it, just ask any of the local shopkeepers.
Aroumd is the first village on the hike from Imlil to Toubkal. (You may also see his town called Armed or Around in different guidebooks) It's about 30 minutes walk between the two, and part of the route is via a motorable road. Aroumd has a small choice of hotels and restaurants (though not as much as Imlil) so it can be as good a base as Imlil. It does have the advantage of being further up the valley so you save 30 minutes on your hike on the way up to Toubkal, and perhaps, more importantly on the way back. We just made it back to Aroumd by sunset and by the time we reached Imlil it was dark and tricky to find the path. Aroumd is also sees fewer tourists than Imlil as most opt to stay
The shops in Aroumd are more expensive than in Imlil. e.g. water was 10 Dh here 5 Dh in Imlil. If you are going to Toubkal you can by pass the village by following the road past the Cafe Lac d'Ifni and continuing on the path onto the flood plain beyond Aroumd.
Imlil to Aroumd is a fairly steep hike and the path can be tricky to find at times. Walk north...finish this. In Imlil, walk up through the town, take a right after the Café des Amis, and then the next left up to the Auberge la Vallee. Follow the path to the right of the Auberge and climb on the fairly obvious path until you reach the Kasbah du Toubkal. Walk past the Auberge and keep on the path for about 50 metres until you reach a large rock, with a small hamlet just beyond. This is the beginning of the fairly steep zigzag paths which emerge on to the dirt track rode from Aroumd.By this time you’ll be able to see Aroumd across the valley. Walk past the Case de Lac d’Ifni and take a clear path to your left which crosses the river and leads into the town.
Imlil is the most popular trailhead for the ascent of Toubkal. There are good transport links with Marrakech, and a large selection of hotels and restaurants. Also, in Imlil, you can rent crampons, find out about the latest weather conditions and stock up on provisions for the journey. Years ago Imlil was a tiny village, but it has grown significantly in response to the huge number of visitors to Toubkal and the Atlas mountains.
Behind the Asni hotel and restaurant, there is (or was) a small zoo, where they keep 'wild' boars and monkeys, which, for a small fee, you can feed. They were quite cute I suppose, but not kept very well.
From my journal:
'All around the roadside are Berber homes built quite precariously on the hillside. We stop to take photos of them and nearly get run over by a man riding an out-of-control donkey. Both Larbi and Gary are very angry with him, so I don't know whether he did it on purpose.'
From my journal:
'We stop at a genuine Berber market, where we walk up through and down again. Very untousity - we are the only non-Berbers here. The children pester us terribly and will not take "no" for an answer, One of them is after the pen around my neck, the nice Parker pen my father bought me. I fear for its safety and put it inside my T-shirt. I give them some sweets which they fight over, and I get told off by an older man who tells me I shouldn't give them any, they'll only fight!'
Visit a flour mill
All around this area there are many flour mills, and you may be able to visit one of them by prior arrangement. The one we went inside was totally untouristy and very traditional. See my tip under Local Customs for more information.
Dip your feet in the icy waters
Melted snow from the High Atlas Mountains is channelled by the local Berber popularion for irrigation. It is very fast flowing and mostly runs along the side of the road. The water is icy cold, as Labba found out when he dipped his feet in it!
On a side road of the main Ouarzazatre to Marrakesh road, you will find the town of Telpuet. This is home to a fascinating ruined kasbah once the home of the infamous Glaoui family. The Glaoui's were the most powerful tribe in Morocco for the first half of the twentieth century. They mixed with European royalty and did battle wth other local tribes. The kasbah is abandoned and slowly succumbing to the elements, but it's a fascinating place to wander around.
- Castles and Palaces
Visit an olive press
From my journal:
'We stop at an olive press, run as a cottage industry by a family. We try bread dipped in "extra virgin olive oil", which is how they eat it here.'
From the hotel / restaurant at Asni, we had the most tremendous views of the Atlas Mountains, with the snow-capped peaks stretching out on the horizon. Worth the visit!