Toubkal experience in the High Atlas with Ras and Timesguida thrown in.... Glorious weather and big mountains....
So finally getting round to writing the full report from our memorable trip to Morocco a month or two ago. Have posted a couple of vids but Toubkal was conquered as well as the second and their highest peaks in he Atlas - Ras and Timesguida. The weather we experienced in the High Atlas was perfect.. vide, and trip report below (photos at bottom)...
So the day had finally come. We had spent the winter battling the elements to get fit for this trip. The continuous bad weather and Atlantic lows hitting Britain had ensured we had been well weather beaten in preparation for this mountain trip!! All I wished for was some blue skies over the mountains of North Africa!!
Leaving home a little after 05.00 am on the Tuesday morning we headed for Manchester where we would catch the flight to Marrakech. All went well, and we got there in pliantly of time despite the weather being as it had been for the previous four months – wild, wet and windy!! Taking off from Manchester and we were given the weather conditions at Marrakech for our 20.00 arrival time – 18OC and light winds – hoorah!!!! In fact a last minute squint at the forecast for the High Atlas had been extremely encouraging with big blue skies and sunshine forecast…. I was really hoping this forecast would prove accurate!!!
Arriving in Morocco and we were met by the Taxi man from the Mouflon Refuge who set about getting us to the mountain village of Imlil – FAST!! In the dark it was hard to see the state of the road but smooth tarmac it was not !! Another interesting feature of the driving was the seemingly endless game of “chicken” the driver was having every time he overtook a moped or mule!! Certainly got the adrenaline pumping!! A few hours later and we were in a snowy Imlil. According to the driver there had been a big dump of snow a few days before. A little walk to the Mouflon Annex and we were shown to our room by Ali – the refuge keeper. The annex was relatively quiet but there were a couple of English climbers who were on their way back home. They informed us that there was a lot of snow and away from any trodden paths the snow was in “swimming condition!!”. After tea and conversation we went to the balcony where the stars and white peaks glistened to the South. A taste of what was to come.
A hearty tea and breakfast followed a sound night’s sleep and we were up negotiating a mule and porter by 0800am. The new chef for the Refuge , Aziz, was also trekking up with us today. It was a new job for him and he had never been up to the refuge before. He wore a pair of slacks and an old jacket with some light weight boots!! We soon ad crampons on as it was icy even at Imlil at this time in the morning. The walk up was great with blue skies and big mountain panoramas. A short break at the first tea hut saw us purchase a couple of SUshhhhhis (no idea of correct spelling!) and we looked like a proper couple of fan!!:@~ys ! However they did their job well and saved me from sunburn in the coming days!
Next up and we reached the Sidi Chamarouch mosque relatively quickly and without too much discomfort. The mules could go no further as the snow became more continuous here and a little more icy. Poor Aziz was struggling so I lent him my axe as I had my polEs and crampons which were more than sufficient at this pointJ The effects of altitude were slowly starting to tell and with the sun gaining height the heat seemed to be turned to maximum!! Although there was snow all around, the lack of wind and strength of the sun really sapped the strength. The last hour to the refuge was a killer!! We reached the Mouflon Refuge and collapsed for 10 minutes on the bench outside!! I reckon the walk had about 1400-1500m ascent…
The Refuge was cracking and we were served the first of what seemed like about a thousand cups of tea as we slowly recovered from the walk in!
We were also lucky in the fact that the Refuge was empty almost and we had a dorm entirely to ourselves for all but one night-no snoring J (well apart from my own!!)
At this point we were unsure about tackling Toubkal the next day as planned as we were tired following the walk in. We had planned to do circular via the North Cwn and down the south, however as warned when in Imlil we soon found that steeping off the beaten track resulted in wading through snow and there didn’t seem to have been anyone up the North Cwn!! We didn’t fancy breaking trail at 4000m on our first day!!! So after a massif tea we said we would head up the South cwm in the morning and see how we felt before deciding on whether to try for the summit.
A restless night’s sleep and we were up and ready to go before 07.00am. Slowly does it was the order of the day and we headed up the steep slopes into the south cwm. It was certainly much breezier than the previous day and the duvet jacket was soon on!! Spindrift at the Tizi made a spectacular sight almost producing a Glories effect as the hikers passed through. There were not too many people on the mountain as expected from the quiet Refuges. We passed an Eastern European party en route to the summit but as luck would have it, we had the summit to ourselves for a good half an hour before this party reached us. The weather was superb and the views were breath taking. The High Atlas spread out to the left and right and to the north and south the rest of Africa seemed to be laid before us!
Although “a walkers route” the covering of snow and terrain was a pleasant surprise and an interesting hike, not just a dull rounded peak! Certainly would not recommend without an axe and crampons as common sense would predict! Feeling tired but elated we headed off the summit leaving it for the Russians….. I must admit descending at altitude seems easier than ascending!!!!
Back at the Refuge the wood burner was roaring and a toasty lounge awaited along with more tea from Aziz! Once again a cracking dinner was served which recharged the batteries.
The next day, Day 4, and we decided to have a rest day before heading for Ras and Timesguida on Day 5! We slept well and had a leisurely start, with breakfast at nearly 10.00am!!! The rest of the day was spent reading and drinking more tea. The wind had died down completely now and when the sun reached the patio we headed out side and relaxed in the sun. The heat from the sun meant we were reading and drinking tea in our tea shirts!
Day 5 and we were headed for Ras and Timesguida n-Ouanoukrim early. The alarm had us up before 0500am and with no electric in the refuge at that time, we fumbled about with our head torches getting the kit ready. Another nice brekky and coffee and off we went in the dark. These two 4000m peaks had a much more remote feel about them and in fact we never saw another sole on the mountain until we returned to the refuge. We had these entirely to ourselves today, and what a day. As we headed through the flat valley floor before the rise to the Tizi, the dawn light lit up some high cirrus to a bright pink oil painting in the sky! – fantastic!. The wind was no where near as breezy as when we had gone up Toubkal , although it was noticeable on the East ridge. Having climbed up through a small gorge we headed directly up steep scree slopes and onto the East Ridge. The ridge was fantastic and a lot more hands on than expected. With a mixture of snow, ice and rock some scrambling on the rock was intermixed with ice and snow pitches. Much fun. However always in the back of the mind though was the fact that should anything happen, even a twisted ankle, then help is a long , long way away.!! However all was well and after some more scrambling we reached the top of the ridge. The weather was great, but we were aware should the clag come down then finding this spot would be essential. There were a few other ridges and a lot of steep ground around and finding the top of this ridge on the return was important.
A little while later and the rocky summit of Ras presented itself! A spectacular snow bridge with far flung views awaited as we approached Ras A final easy scramblesaw us reaching the top of the third highest peak in the AtlasJ
We hadn’t expected there to be any scrambling and for me this was a step above Toubkal in quality – great fun- an amazing summit. However more was to come. Ras is the third highest peak in the Atlas and now we had the second highest to contend with. Timesguida was a stones throw away, and reaching it was reminiscent of crossing the high Cairngorm plateaux. The wind swirled and changed direction between these peaks treating us to a “snow devil” show with dancing spindrift captivating us for minutes at a time. Following a phone break (we called home on the sat phone) we headed for Timesguida which was an easy pull from Ras. Once again far flung vistas and a great perspective of Toubkal – perhaps similar to the Bens North face from this side – but on steroids – no walkers route from this view it seemed!!
Although the weather was fine we were wary about finding the top of the East ridge for the correct descent whilst the skies were clear – realistically it would have taken a very rapid change in the weather for the clag to appear – but it can happen. We were also very wary that reaching the summit is only halfway and scrambling down is more taxing than scrambling up, especially above 4000m! However all was well and we eventually found ourselves back below the Tizi and through defile and on easy ground. What a day!! Fantastic. We headed back to the refuge and put our feet up for the rest of the day drinking more – yes you got it – tea!!!
Day 7 and it was time to head to Imlil where we had booked the annex for the night. A leisurely stroll down after a meeting with Mo the porter and the weather continued perfect. Additionally our timing was rather good too as it seemed the refuge huts would be busy given the number of guided parties we met heading up! In addition there were also what seemed like endless mule trains once we had passed the mosque! The scenery really is impressive and when we reached the Mouflon annex in Imlil we spent the rest of the day on the balcony taking in the surroundings in the day light – almost as impressive as our first visit to the balcony when the start and white mountains impressed us!!
Waking the next morning and the weather had turned with over night rain clearing – seemed we had the weather gods on our side too!!
Next up was a trip and overnight stay in the Old Town of Marrakech where we had booked a Riad. This seemed more scary than hiking in the mountains and indeed it turned out just that way. Although full of atmosphere I never felt 100% comfortable as we headed through the souks and to the Market square before returning to the Riad. Passing King Cobras, Falcons and lots of Monkeys (some wearing nappies!!) we decided that the second day would be spent relaxing in the Riad and on the terrace in the sun- much more comfortable!
All too soon and we were in a taxi headed for the airport. The adventure was heading for its conclusion! However as will such adventures there was a sting in the tail and one more adventure to be had!!
This occurred on the UK side and as we left Manchester airport for the 300 mile drive north the weather reminded us what winter is like in Scotland!! Leaving Manchester around 0100AM snow frequently drifted across both lanes and reduced the pace to a crawl!! Fighting sleep and caffeined up to the hilt – I stumbled into bed at around 0630 in the morning!!!
Some thoughts and reports from my outdoors activties...