By Alexandra Krauska
By Alexandra Krauska
Rabat – I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I decided to hike Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa.
It was a difficult climb, between the scree slopes, the heat, and significant change in elevation, but it was an unforgettable experience that I can’t wait to do again.
Mount Toubkal is 4,167 meters tall, located south of Marrakech. It was first climbed by Europeans in 1923, though most likely climbed by others before then. The hike is not very technical during the summer months, but during the winter, winter gear and crampons are needed for the snow and ice.
The road from Marrakech ends in a village called Imlil. From there, you can hire a guide or a mule driver. (If you’re a very experienced hiker, you may not need a guide, because the trail is easy to follow once you leave Imlil.) Because a few people in our group spoke Arabic, we didn’t need an English speaking guide to show us the way, so we saved money by hiring a mule driver who knew the way instead. Muhammed, our mule driver, looked like a Moroccan cowboy, with a cowboy hat riding atop the mule.
To prepare for the hike, you should wear sturdy shoes, pack only what you need, and bring lots of water. I wore Converse tennis shoes, which was not the best idea, though I had no trouble with traction (the problem was the large, purple bruise I found on the bottom of my foot the next day). We were able to leave a lot of our unneeded supplies at our hostel in Marrakech, which lightened the load. Another perk to hiring a mule driver was that the mule carried our bags for us! While this wasn’t absolutely necessary, it made the hike much more enjoyable.
The first day of hiking gave us so many great views of the landscape. The clear mountain streams, the clouds floating among the peaks, and the stunning valleys below us were unforgettable. After about five hours in the sun and heat, exhausted from the hike, we arrived at the refuge.
We decided to rent beds in the refuge. It was arranged like a hostel, with many beds in one room. They’ll serve you dinner and breakfast, and you can rent a shower if you want, but we opted for an adventure in the cold mountain stream only a short walk from the refuge. At about 3,200 m, the refuge is a great place to spend the night and acclimate to the altitude.
Our group decided to leave early the next morning, just before sunrise, so we went to bed very early the night before. We set an alarm for 11pm, however, to go out and stargaze. As hard as it was to walk out into the cold, those were the clearest stars I have ever seen. With no light interference from nearby cities, you can see everything in the sky.
Hiking the next morning was a chore. I wasn’t adjusted to the altitude, and I had a hard time catching my breath. To top it off, this part of the hike was the most difficult part. Between the unstable scree slopes and the trail’s proximity to a long fall, one misstep could be very dangerous. The good thing, though, was that it was much cooler in the morning!
As difficult as it was, it was all worth it, because the views from the top were absolutely incredible.
Okay – I’ll confess, I didn’t make it to the top. I had to stop once I got to the ridge, still 50m from the peak. I was exhausted, I couldn’t breathe, and I didn’t want to miss a step and fall down the mountain. My group made it to the top without me.
The way back down was much easier, as the air started to feel lighter and easier to breathe, my fingers stopped swelling from the altitude, and the trail gets easier and flatter on the way down. We arrived in Imlil sore, sweaty and exhausted, but the whole experience was very rewarding.
I’m not an experienced hiker, and I don’t have great cardiovascular fitness. I should not have expected to make it to the top, without having done much physical preparation. However, knowing what I do now, when I come back in a few years and try it again, I will make it to the top.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed