Morocco // The High Atlas //

Climbing Toubkal

Most trekkers leaving Imlil are en route for the ascent of Jebel Toubkal – a walk rather than a climb after the snows have cleared, but serious business nonetheless. The route to the ascent trailhead, however, is fairly straightforward, and is enjoyable in its own right, following the Mizane Valley to the village of Aroumd, 4km from Imlil. From here, it’s one and a half hours min to the pilgrimage site of Sidi Chamarouch followed by another four to five hours to the Toubkal refuges (3208m; 12km from Imlil; 5–7hr in all; 100dh), which lie at the foot of Toubkal’s final slopes.

Most trekkers head to the refuges early to mid-morning in order to stay the night. Then, you’ll have a fresh start at first light the next morning for the ascent of Toubkal, which will allow for the clearest panorama from the peak – afternoons can be cloudy. Arriving at the Toubkal refuge early in the day also gives you time to acclimatize to the altitude and rest: many people find the hardest part of the trek is the last hour before arriving at the refuges, so it’s important to take it easy.

To the summit

At the Toubkal refuges you’re almost bound to meet people who have just come down from the mountain – and you should certainly take advantage of talking to them and the refuge gardiens for an up-to-the-minute description of the routes and the state of the South Cirque (Ikhibi Sud) trail to the summit. If you don’t feel too confident about going it alone, take a guide – they are usually available at the refuge – but don’t let them try to rush you up the mountain. It’s best to take your time allowing your body to acclimatize slowly to the altitude changes (see Atlas trekking practicalities).

The South Cirque (Ikhibi Sud) gives the most popular and straightforward ascent of Toubkal and, depending on your fitness, should take between two and a half and three and a half hours (2–2hr 30min coming down). There is a worn path, which is easy enough to follow. More of a problem is finding the right track down through the upper slopes of loose scree. Take your time coming down since it can be rough on the knees.

The trail begins above the Toubkal Refuge, dropping down to cross the stream and then climbing again to reach the first of Toubkal’s innumerable fields of boulders and scree. These are the most tiring (and memorable) features of the trek up, and gruelling for inexperienced walkers. The summit, a sloping plateau of stones marked by a tripod, is eventually reached after the serpentine path brings you to the spectacular southern cliffs. It should be stressed that in winter even this easiest of routes is a snow climb and best for experienced hikers or those climbing with a guide. Slips can and have had fatal consequences. If you are properly equipped, check out the start the night before, and set off early. Ice axes and crampons are essential in icy conditions and should be brought along with you. This is also a splendid ski route.

An alternate ascent – though longer (4hr 30min) and best for more experienced climbers – is the North Cirque (Ikhibi Nord). En route you will pass the remains of an aircraft that crashed while flying arms to Biafra, and the cairn of the small peak of Tibherine dominating the valley is actually one of its engines. The final ridge to the summit area calls for some scrambling. You should descend by the South Cirque back down to the refuges.

  • The Grand Toubkal Loop