4 things before you climb Jebel Toubkal

Toubkal is both beautiful and accessible. It’s the highest mountain in North Africa and the highest in any arab country and in no way an easy hike. But most people who set out seem to make it to the top. When I was there I even saw a group of friends in their sixties. They weren’t the fastest, but eventually they reached the summit. Most probably almost anyone reading this will too. But in order to make the trip as enjoyable as possible, it would be good to keep a few things in mind ahead of the ascent.

  1. Leave your backpack at the refuge. A day hike from Imlil lays a group of 3 refugees. These are basically mountain huts for hikers. They are staffed and it’s possible both to eat and sleep in them. They all have the same prices. 150 dirham for a dormitory. 250-300 (I don’t remember exactly) for dormitory plus dinner and breakfast. These places aren’t really what you would call cozy and the food is only enjoyable because you just spent six hours hiking, but the places do their jobs. There are no villages or other buildings up at that altitude (the closest village being a three hour walk or so down the mountain), so there’s no reason to complain. Make use of these places not only by having a good nights rest and perhaps something to eat but also as a storage for your bags when you climb Toubkal. To bring only a daypack with some fruits, water and sandwhiches will make the hike a lot less demanding and a lot more fun. Staff are used to people leaving their bags and do not charge extra for it. The most famous refuge is Les Mouflons, which has it’s own website here.
  2. Don’t go for the sunrise. Most people visiting Toubkal try to climb it before sunrise in order to get to enjoy the view. I’m sure that the view is very beautiful, but there are a few reasons why I would recommend people to sleep in and start the ascent after sunrise. The number one reason is that a lot of people I talked to, as I met them when they were on their way dawn and I on my way up, regretted not doing just that. Yes, it’s Morocco and it’s supposed to be warm, but really, nights at 4000 meters altitude are not. And to reach the peak by sunrise you will have to wake up by 3 o’clock or so and walk the entire way up in the dark. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s windy. And when you reach the peak you stand there for 20 minutes, waiting for the sun to rise so that you can get back down and pull a blanket over you. I met some people who were running down back to the refugee. They had not enjoyed the ascent, they had not enjoyed the descent, and they had probably not even really enjoyed the sunrise, but they had caught some nice photos of it. Make yourself a favor and go after breakfast. You body will have rested better, making it less likely to react negatively to the altitude or the physical strain of the ascent, and you will be able to enjoy the changing sceneries as you come higher and higher up the mountain. When you reach the peak you can sit up there warm and comfortable in the sun for half an hour having lunch. Then you can head back down. Also, the risk of injury will be way lower if you walk when it’s bright. There is a lot of slippery gravel on the path and some sections are very steep.
  3. Don’t worry too much. I met a few people who had wanted to go to Toubkal just to eventually decide not to. All of this ”highest in North Africa” and ”highest in any arab country” seems to intimidate people. Truth is that most reasonably fit people who give it a go will reach the top. The only thing is that while some may not find the hike very demanding, others will have to suffer a bit to reach the peak. While some can climb the mountain spending only one night in a refuge, others will perhaps be better of spending two nights in the refuges and acclimatize properly (actually I would recommend anyone to spend two nights up there). Most people will reach the peak if they are rested enough and bring some energizing snacks. And even those who don’t will get to enjoy the landscapes. It’s not as if the area is ugly except for when seen from the peak. Worst case scenario you will still encounter better views than anything you will find in Chefchaouen (or break a leg, stumbling over a rock you didn’t see, as the sun had not yet risen and you were too tired to focus).
  4. There are other hikes. If you just want to go hiking, there are plenty of options in Morocco. Toubkal is the most famous and it offers beautiful views of the surrounding landscapes. However, if altitude and views alone is not what you long for, perhaps you should consider going for another hike. Walkopedia lists different hikes and gives useful information about hiking in Morocco. Depending on what you want to do, some places will be better or worse than Toubkal. If you want to experience local culture, live in a berber village where few tourists have ever been, be close to the peaks of the mountains and eat fabulous food, perhaps the small homestay listed on this website is the place for you. It’s very different from the typical Toubkal experience in the sense that you will not stay in a refuge but in a family home in a berber village. The area rarely sees foreign visitors and most likely you and your friends will be the only non-berbers around. The peaks aren’t as high and the landscapes not as dramatic, but the area and the host has a charm entirely it’s own.
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