Hiking Mt Toubkal – Morocco

Mt Toubkal can be climbed as a 2-day return trip from Imlil or as part of a longer circuit through the network of trails and refuges that dissect the Atlas Mountains. It is the highest peak in North Africa and is located in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.

Situation and history

Mt Toubkal is situated a short drive from Marrakesh in the centre of Morocco. The mountains are blanketed in snow during winter and feed several rivers enabling settlements to inhabit the otherwise arid region. The mountain itself was first summited by Europeans in the 1900s and has since become a popular hiking destination due to its accessible location, good facilities and interesting scenery. French and Arabic are the two main languages but you can survive using English.
Morocco people, particularly women, dress conservatively. Consider your clothing but be practical. A scarf can provide quick cover when passing through villages.

Trail Notes

Day 1:

Imlil (1740m) to Aremd (1945m) 1.2km (30min): Perhaps the most difficult navigation of the route is the first section exiting the village. Walk up the main road from the bus stop, past souvenir shops and follow the road around a curve to the left. Do not follow the hairpin turn to the right, instead continue straight on past a building on your left that houses a women’s’ cooperative. The road has now given way to a narrow trail. Continue on up a small valley filled with shady trees and past a smattering of buildings. At a watercourse the trail turns right and ascends the side of the valley to a road (if you follow the stream you will have to scramble up scree to re-join the road). Walk along the road past the waterfall to your left and a handful tourist stores on your right including Robin Hood 2, who proudly proclaims to steal from the rich to give to the poor while offering various merchandise. There are a couple of basic stores selling chocolate and water here. You can see the town of Aremd across the valley – stay on the right of the valley.

Aremd to Sidi Chamharouch (2350m) 2.7km (2hrs), 3.9km total: Continue along this relatively flat section on the right of the valley. The valley floor flattens and the trail follows the road, between stone walls and orchards, until eventually reaching the vast stony riverbed. Follow the trail across the riverbed towards the south-east head of the valley. 1.2km from Aremd the trail climbs again. There is a series of switchbacks as the trail gains altitude and you pass a watercourse which offers a welcome respite from the heat. Having gained altitude the trail now hugs the side of the valley on its approach to Sidi Chamharouch. At Sidi Chamharouch you can make a minor detour through the village to a large white rock.

Sidi Chamharouch to Refugio (3207m) 3.8 km (2 1/2hrs), 7.7km total: Turn south across the valley and start ascending at the downstream edge of Sidi Chamharouch village. The trail passes a building on a switchback before continuing uphill and continuing left around into the valley. The watercourse will now be on your left and you will have a good view of the white rock over your shoulder. The trail is ambiguous leaving Sidi Chamharouch but soon reforms in earnest. The trail now continues without deviation until meeting the refuges.

Day 2:

Refugio to Toubkal (4167m) 6km return (2 1/2hrs ascent, 2hrs descent): Leave your overnight gear at the refuge and head uphill briefly before crossing the stream. There are a number of clearly visible trails up the scree slop; most are time-consuming and modestly treacherous distractions. The main route approaches the scree field but then turns left, skirting the bottom of the scree and ascending the fringe of a series of cliffs. White paint and occasional cairns mark the route. After navigating the scree slope continue up the valley until it flattens.
The peak of Mt Toubkal will now be visible ahead. Continue to walk and scramble up the slope to the saddle located south-west of the peak. Even in summer you will pass patches of snow in this section. There are a couple of well-worn tracks leading from the saddle to the summit. The summit is clearly distinguished by a survey trig.

Refugio to Imlil 7.7km (4hrs): Retrace your steps back to the trailhead at Imlil.

Planning your trip

The ascent of Toubkal is usually undertaken as a 2 or 3 day hike. There is sufficient time on the first day to travel from Marrakesh and ascend from Imlil to the Refuges. The final ascent from Refuges to the summit of Toubkal is usually undertaken early morning to catch the sun rise. It is possible to return to Imlil on the afternoon of the second day however onward transport to Marrakesh can be more expensive and difficult to arrange in the afternoon.
Walking in the peak of day can be uncomfortably hot in summer, although compared to the rest of the country it is positively cool
Alternative options include starting early from Imlil and reaching the summit in one day, overnighting at the refuge and descending leisurely on the second day. This option means you are at the summit late in the day and doesn’t give you the night to acclimatise. If considering a longer route to other refuges it would be wise to get information and make a booking with the Refugio de Imlil that manages the network of refuges.

Starting elevation: 1,740m
Summit elevation: 4,167m
Total ascent: 2,427m
Trail distance: 21.5km
Average gradient: Moderate

Trail Grading

Rough donkey trail with loose stones for most of the distance. The ascent from Refugio starts with a loose scree slope with can be difficult to navigate, final stretch to summit lookout is on a narrow rocky trail.

Gear

• Leiki poles, sleeping bag/liner (blankets on request at the more expensive refuge), pillow cover and travel towel
• Snacks. Note dinner and breakfast can be bought at the refuges.
• Cold weather gear for storms, especially if on fringe seasons
• Take sunscreen, sunglasses, a good hat and water. At these altitudes the sun is very strong and there is very little shade on the trail.
• Map: purchase Toubkal Alto Atlas 1:40,000 at minimum. This map is available in souvenir stores in Marrakesh and Imlil. It may be possible to purchase a more comprehensive map in the UK or Europe before arriving.
• Sturdy shoes or boots are an asset on this walk. This is due to the large loose stones, rocky terrain and rock scrambling required.

Access to and from the hike

The trail head is located at the Imlil, roughly 2hrs drive south-east of Marrakesh in Morocco.

Imlil can be accessed by car, bus or taxi from the city of Marrakesh. Public transport options include:

Grand Taxi – can take up to 6 persons in an old Mercedes taxi, you usually pick these up in the Grand taxi station 1-2km south-west of Bab er-Rob. Rates are usually 200-400Dhr for the taxi (irrelevant of the number of people on board). Alternatively arrange this at your hotel in Marrakesh if not on a budget.
Bus – this requires a change in the town of Asni and needs to be started early in the day to reduce the risk of getting stranded. From Marrakesh the bus leaves from outside the Grand taxi station south of Bab costs 30Dhr pp to reach Asni and has seats and air-con. Asni is roughly 1.5hr from Marrakesh and has a few shops on the main road but otherwise not worth visiting. After arriving at Asni be wary of touts that try and show to their ‘bus’ which is actually a taxi or a jewelery shop. Instead stay at the bus stop and look out for a huge old green Mercedes van. The driver/ticket taker will be shouting “IMMLIL IMLIIL IMMLIL” rapidly. Show the driver the name Imlil on a piece of paper to confirm you have heard correctly, pay your fare of 20Drh pp and squish on the bus (this one is less comfortable).

There is no carpark at the trailhead so if you are driving consider leaving your vehicle at a lodging in Imlil.
Leaving the trail is more problematic. The last green Mercedes van allegedly stops running around 4-5pm daily. If you finish the trail after this there are two options. Spend the night in Imlil or take a 600Drh grand taxi to Marrakesh. Be wary that drivers that may take advantage of your predicament and charge exorbitant rates

Navigation & Facilities

There is no proper signage on the trail, a topographic map is relatively essential. Once on the trail there are only two turn-offs which need navigation. There are a number of shortcuts and false trails along the route; fortunately donkeys frequent the trail to the refuges so when in doubt follow a donkey or the trail of droppings. Carpet shops are another good indicator you are heading in the right direction.

Note the ‘Toubkal. Alto Atlas. Marruecos’ 1:40,000 topographical maps for sale at Imlil are printed about 10% smaller than a true 1:40,000 map. In Imlil you may be quoted up to 160dhr for a map, this can easily be negotiated down to 70dhr or even lower.
Local vendors have set-up stalls selling snacks and souvenirs on along the trail. The greatest concentration of stalls are on the road in Imlil, on the road near Aremd and half a dozen surrounding Sidi Chamharouch. Ad hoc stalls are found in some very remote spots and make for a convenient top-up. At these stalls the range of beverages include water, Orangina, Coke and freshly squeezed juice. Food options include packaged chocolate, snickers, chips, nuts and any in-season local produce. Prices are higher than Marrakesh but surprisingly reasonably given supplies need to be hauled in on donkeys. If you have the time and inclination to engage with the vendor he will often gladly sell you a hot meal or drink.

There is a small shop at the Refuge Les Mouflons. You can also take half-board lodging or just buy dinner. The refuge puts on a nice 3 course meal of soup, tagine or pasta, and fruit salad. .

Locals may encourage you to take a guide. Official guides undergo a strict training program and carry certification badges with photo ID. One reason to take a guide is that they can assist if something goes wrong: their local knowledge may become invaluable if you need to shelter from a storm or get medical assistance from local villagers etc.
In good weather it is possible to attempt this walk unguided but only if you are independent minded, have good navigation skills and are fit enough to carry a backpack up the 2,290m ascent.
The trail is relatively popular with walkers and villagers. The majority of tourists take a local guide and/or a porter for their bags. Porters cost roughly 200dhr per day.

Safety

The weather is the major risk, snowstorms can hit even during summer so be prepared for adverse conditions and carry cold weather gear. The trail would be extremely difficult to navigate in poor visibility as there is no signage en-route. DO NOT ATEMPT IN WINTER WITH OUT A GUIDE AND WINTER EQUIPMENT
The summit sits above 4,000m and therefore altitude sickness is a real risk. Overnighting at the refuge will give your body some time to acclimatise before the final ascent.
The trail to the refuge is well-used by donkeys so evacuation in summer would be possible, if uncomfortable.

Flora and fauna

In summer bright green foliage lines the well-irrigated river valleys. The hills are dotted with stumpy looking Moroccan pines. Above 3,000m you encounter some mossy alpine grasses and daisies sitting interspersed amongst the rocks. The refuge has a small area of grass irrigated by the adjacent stream. You will encounter donkeys and herds of goats on the trail.

Accommodation

There several places to stay in Imlil before or after the walk.
There are two refuges located next to each other at the base of the final summit ascent:
• Refuge du Toubkal: €9pp dorm, €25pp half board
• Les Mouflons, Refuge de Toubkal: €29pp half board
There is plenty of dorm room capacity at the refuges but for peace of mind or privacy consider calling ahead to reserve a space. There are also cheaper camping options and more expense private rooms.

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