I was never so cold like in Africa! And so afraid for my life like during blizzard in High Atlas. These mountains are gorgeous and I would love to come there again but next time not in winter…
Reportedly most of the hikers come to High Atlas to climb Jebel Toubkal (4167 m), the highest mount of North Africa and so did I and my friends one week ago.
We started our trip in Marrakech where we took a taxi to a village Imlil, about 70 km south from Marrakech. Before I came to Morocco I read somewhere in internet, that grand taxis, i.e. taxis which ride outside the city are mainly old Mercedes vehicles and there can be up to 7-8 persons in 5-person car but it wasn’t true for us. Both ways – to Imlil and then back to Marrakech we were riding in a new comfortable 7-person vehicle. It costed 350 MAD one way, but it took us some time to negotiate such price.
In Imlil we stayed one night in Dar Atlas guesthouse. It has very good opinions on booking.com and I can also recommend it because the owner is very kind and helpful and his wife makes great food but if you come there in winter be prepared for cold. This day it was only about 3°C outside… and the same inside. That is what surprised me the most in Morocco. There is only one heater on the whole house and it’s warm when you seat one meter from it. Further it’s cold. And unless you have a room with a bathroom, you will have to take a shower in a bathroom without a door (there’s only a curtain). Water is hot but after a shower I was again cold before I dressed up.
Next day we went out to Refuge du Toubkal (old name Neltner), which is at 3207 m. The weather forecast (on mountain-forecast.com) for that day was 6 cm of snow fall. The owner of Dar Atlas said that probably it would be sun because there have been a sun for a month. It started to snow just after we left :)
While I was hiking in Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain I was grumbling about poor trail marking. So, in High Atlas, there’s no marking at all… We found in shops in Poland a map with a scale only 1 : 100 000 so it wasn’t enough accurate. Our first wrinkle was on this crossing.
The answer is – go left on this crossing. By the way, it wasn’t our last time when we had to ask the locals to be sure where to go.
After we left Imlil the road was easier because there wasn’t any crossings. In about half of the way you will get to a small village Sidi Chamharouch. Most of the shops were closed for a winter but there were two where we could drink freshly squeezed orange juice.
The seller warned us that higher was very windy and he was true. This is the last photo I made this day. Later it was only worse.
Because of altitude sickness the higher we were, the weaker I was. My friends were faster and in one moment I told them not to wait for me. I sometimes hike all alone so I thought it wouldn’t be a problem for me to just get to the refuge. But in that place the path was still visible. Later it wasn’t… It was so snowing, that footsteps were buried in a moment. I think it fell about 30 – 40 cm, not 6, like the forecast said. I started to be afraid when I got to the point where I didn’t see any path. Only snow and big stones. The smaller ones were already buried. I knew which direction I should go so I was going. And going, going, going… weaker, weaker and weaker… I was making short brakes every 50 m, because I just couldn’t move my legs. I didn’t want to stop for longer and eat because I would cool down in that wind. Some moroccan man passed me and he didn’t understand my question about how far it was to the refuge, but he told probably that I could follow him. Unfortunately he was so fast that few minutes later I didn’t see him, neither his footsteps.
After some time I was really terrified. I knew I was already somewhere close to the refuge, no more than 1 km, but I didn’t know where to go. I was afraid I would fall to some deep snowdrift and hurt myself on stones. Or maybe because of poor visibility I wouldn’t see the refuge and pass it by. I was so exhausted that I didn’t have power to walk there around for hours. Few years ago I heard a story about some hikers who died in winter in Polish mountains because of exhaustion just 100 m from the refuge. Now, while I’m seating in the warm room, I think that my fears were maybe too big, but being there, in this horrible blizzard I was really afraid I could share their fate. It was my first time in mountains, when I decided to call for a help. In High Atlas there isn’t any mountain rescue team, but I thought I could phone to emergency service and ask them to phone to the refuge so that someone could go out and find me. I didn’t implement my plan, because there wasn’t network coverage… Imagine my feelings when I understood that nobody could help me there… And imagine what I felt, when after few minutes I saw three other hikers going to the refuge! I think one of them was a guide. Actually most of the tourists we have met in these mountains were hiking with guides. We managed to get to the refuge without a guide but it was really tough trip. It was such relief for me when I finally came to the shelter, that I started to cry…
Trip to Jebel Toubkal
The night in the refuge was cold, but not so cold as in Dar Atlas ;) We ate breakfast and went out to Jebel Toubkal. This day it was beautiful sun so footsteps of other hikers, who went out earlier were well visible. However it was still very windy and cold.
I had a headache in the morning because of altitude but after I took 100 mg of aspirin I felt better. Unfortunately I realise that aspirin helps only for headache. It doesn’t give power which I still lacked although the trip wasn’t long.
Nice views were encouraging me to walk higher but the wind which was getting stronger – discouraging.
I was this year in Polish mountains while there was -20°C with no wind, and I was feeling warm. For Toubkal I dressed even warmer and I was cold, so I was feeling like it was -30°C or more. As I know, it’s not always like this, we were just hit by a bad weather, however if you plan to climb Toubkal take your warmest clothes.
I was so cold that I didn’t climbed to the summit. I went to the point where you can see the other side of the mountains (my GPS logger says I crossed the barrier of 4000 m), I took few photos of these amazing landscapes and I returned.
It wasn’t long and difficult trip. If there haven’t been this horrible wind it would be just pleasure.
What equipment do you need for Toubkal?
On Youtube I saw people climbing Toubkal with ice axes but in our conditions it wasn’t necessary. I think sometimes, if mountains are covered by ice, an ice axe (and ability of using it) can be necessary in case you fall down, but on our trip crampons and trekking poles were sufficient. I even didn’t have alpinist crampons, but tourist crampons like on the photo below and they worked well.
Many hikers make Toubkal in two days. One day they walk from Imlil to the refuge and second day climb Toubkal and go down to Imlil. We were quite slowly however and we stayed second night in Refuge du Toubkal.
Second night without a shower was however too much for me. Of course there is a shower in this shelter but there was only cold water… That’s why I decided to walk 30 metres to the other refuge – Les Mouflons. It was almost empty inside in contrast to Refuge du Toubkal and I don’t know why because it was much warmer there. And they had hot water in shower. However the bathroom was cold so I didn’t warm up much but it was better than nothing. The shower costed me 20 MAD and I didn’t negotiate because it was somehow sad for me, that it’s so empty there although better conditions.
The next day promised to be good. The forecast on mountain-forecast.com said it would be sun without any cloud and lighter wind. Our faces fell when in the morning we saw again a blizzard… Fortunately it wasn’t as bad as two days before and we went down to Imlil.
On the way we saw minerals lying beside a closed house. Some of them were really beautiful. We didn’t know why they were just lying by the path, if someone sells them or so. My friends took some of them and put some money to one of boxes.
In the evening we returned to the cold Dar Atlas :)
Trip to Tizi-n-Mzik
Jebel Toubkal is probably the best known mountain of High Atlas but there are also other beautiful places. I regret I didn’t have possibility to see it more but I’m glad I went to a trip to mountain pass Tizi-n-Mzik.
The weather was great this day. A sun and finally warm, I mean about 7 – 12°C, without wind. The trail offers perfect views on Imlil and surrounding mountains.
It’s quite easy trail. It starts in Imlil, which lies at about 1700 m and ends at nearly 2500 m. Below you can see our route but take into account that we weren’t walking all time on the trail, although we tried ;)
Going up we were walking on some narrow paths probably in an orchard and when we lost a path, we followed footsteps of a hare ;)
However finally we found a trail. It was beautiful all the way.
According to my friends there’s also amazing view from the pass Tizi-n-Mzik to the other side however I was few minutes late and I saw only clouds… Another reason why I should come there back ;)
Going down we tried to walk on the trail but probably again we were outside. We got to some village, according to the map probably Mezzik. Chickens were walking on paths, cows were mooing at us and we were going tortuos paths down to Imlil, where we finished our journey in High Atlas.