With an elevation of 4,167 meters, Jebel Toubkal is North Africa’s highest mountain. I travelled here twice in one year. The first time with my partner, the second with my best friend. I returned with him to do one thing. Reach the summit of the world's 36th tallest mountain.
Jebel Toubkal is surrounded by several other summits reaching the 4,000m mark. However, Toubkal dominates the area with its recognisable metal pyramid crown atop of the peak. Toubkal is a non-technical climb which only requires a good degree of fitness and determination. The ascent route that I explain will take you through striking high altitude scenery, rocky valleys and isolated Berber communities. This is in my opinion the best route as it takes you past all the unique characteristics of this spectacular mountain range.
This trip is a reflection of better days. Before I became a photographer. Why do I say that you ask? Because before I became a photographer, I was able to live in the moment more. The photos used in this are some of my favourite, they are straight off a point and shoot with no posing or framing. I hope these photos convey the same freedom I experienced on this trip of a lifetime.
We flew into Marrakesh in July and spent our first two nights here in order to experience the chaos of the Medina and the DJemaa El-Fna night market. This is a real culturally enriching experience because it is unlike any other Western market. The walk through the Medina has all five of the senses distracted. There is the intense aroma of spices and exotic fruits, the unorganised movement of people, donkeys, sheep and chickens all intertwining through a honeycomb of narrow alleyways, the bartering of shopkeepers and the eye-catching colours of intricate lanterns, leather goods and rich carpets. You feel so involved with the daily chaos that you will be swept into the souks’ throngs and entangled in this labyrinths for hours.
We spent a day musing at the city's higlights on horse. From the DJemaa El-Fna you can jump onto the many horse-and-carts and visit the Koutoubia Mosque, Jardin Majorelle, the Saadian Tombs, El Badi Palace and the Ben Youssef Mosque. For more information on what to see in Marrakech, I recommend the following.
The temperatures at this time of the year is blazing, averaging around 30 degrees Celsius. Highs can reach 50 degrees! The temperature in the mountains is slightly cooler at about 24 degrees Celsius. On the ascent you will feel the temperature decrease the higher you get. You will also find pockets of ice when you reach 3,500m. However, I made the ascent to the top in shorts and t-shirt. I don’t think there are many mountains you can summit with such minimal clothing.
The climbing conditions vary over the year. From November – April, the mountains are snow-capped. The weather is unpredictable and the use of ice axes and crampons are required. This is a time reserved for experienced climbers. From May – September however, the conditions are mild, the weather is more consistent and the majority of the snow has melted away. This gives inexperienced climbers a chance to make the summit.
The ascent is often broken down over two days however it is possible to do the ascent in one day providing you start at the crack of dawn. If you break this down over two days, the first part is spent walking to the Toubkal Refuge where you still stay overnight. This typically takes around 6-10 hours (based on fitness levels/stoppage time/picture taking etc) and the second day starts at the break of dawn where you will reach the summit within 2-4 hours . The descent back which will takes around 6-10 hours depending which route you choose. I would advise breaking the experience down over two days just so you have the chance to take in the scenery. Otherwise you will be storming the route if you do it in one day.
You will begin the ascent in Imlil (1740m), an hour’s taxi from Marrakech. This costs about 200 Dirham. The equivalent of $25. You will find all the provisions that you need here: food, water, equipment. You’ll even find guides that will take you to the top. Although the purpose of this article is to take you through the journey of summiting Toubkal without a guide, I do advise hiring one if you have absolutely no mountaineering experience (even though this is an easy and safe climb from an experienced climber’s perspective). You can end up in situations you would not expect, as happened to me which you will find out later in the article.
From Imlil the track is clearly sign posted. I made use of the following set of instructions to help me get started. After I made my way through the Azzaden Valley, the path was well trodden and clear which made it easy to follow.
The Toubkal Refuge can be booked here. You can purchase a continental breakfast (by continental, I mean bread, jam and water, you won’t get croissants and orange here) for around $5. There are options to camp also, but you have to pay a fee ($10). I met people along the way that decided to camp, but by the time the sun set and the temperature plummeted, they decided the lodge was a good option. Especially given how cheap it is.
The lodge serves excellent hot food from traditional tagines to tomato spaghetti. This costs around $7. Leave your beers at home though lads, Morocco is a Muslim country and alcohol is strictly forbidden here.
From the refuge, the trail to the summit is again clearly marked. You will see it zig-zag up the South Col. It is around a 2-4 hour walk straight up a moderately steep scree slope named the Tizi n Toubkal Pass (3950m). The final part of the ascent follows a dramatic ridge. The path is set well away from the big drop, however.
Once you reach the summit, providing good visibility, there will be incredible mountain views of the High Atlas for as far as the eye can see. In the South East, you will also see the Sahara Desert in the far distance.
People typically spend an hour or so at the top to revel in the views, after all, you are now at the highest point in Northern Africa, the highest point in Morocco, the highest point in the Atlas range and atop the 36th most prominent mountain in the world. If that doesn’t sound impressive, then I don’t know what does.
The descent back gives you a variety of options, you can head back the same way you came, which will typically take 6-10 hours back to Imlil. Be aware that heading down the scree slope presents a risk of rockfall. Otherwise you can head back on an alternative route down via the North Cirque (Ikhibi Nord). This unscathed route will take you past the remains of an aircraft that crashed here while flying arms. The scenery via this descent is break taking and a good distraction from the aching you will start to feel heading down.