I just love being outdoors. And what better way to enjoy the outdoors than to go trekking. Although there are options to hike in the winter in Europe, mountain climbing is definitely out of the question. What do we do then? We look for nearest possible alternatives.
One of the nearest locations with excellent trekking possibilities is the Atlas mountains in Morocco. The mountains are clearly visible from the city of Marrakesh including the highest point, Toubkal. However, to get a better view and experience, one needs to make a 70 kms journey by road to the village of Imlil, at the foot of the mountains.
Although, one can do the trek without guides, it is always safe and better to hire a guide, especially in the winter. On the day of the start of the trek, I was picked up by Mahmoud from my hotel in the early morning and was taken to Imlil.
On the way, we had time to stop for some beautiful sights of the villages and shops for tourists.
Once in Imlil, I met up with my guide Mohammed and after renting a pair of crampons and hiking sticks, we started our walk.
To reach the trail to the mountains, we had to go through the village of Armad and we could see the many mules who carry provisions for trekkers up to the Toubkal refuge at a height of 3207m. These animals are able to carry loads up to 40 kgs and walk up and down the trail.
From the village of Armad, we had our first view of the mountains in front of us. I guess no one can keep themselves from answering the call of the mountains after such a sight.
The first part of the trek starts from the village up to the shrine of Sidi Chamharouch, who is known as “the king of the Jinns”. My guide explained that the shrine is more well known with Berber people and traditions rather than Islamic.
As I was trekking alone with my guide, I was able to connect with other people who were there alone. My guide Mohammed, is a wonderful person and a guide. A young guy who is full of energy and made sure that I was comfortable and had everything I needed during the trek.
The distance to Sidi Chamharouch shrine from the village is about 7kms but I hardly noticed it as the views were so stunning all around.
After resting here for some time and helping ourselves to some mint tea, we started on the 8kms walk to the Toubkal refuge. The total distance from Imlil to the refuge is about 15 kms with a altitude gain of around 1450m.
From this point onwards, the trail was snowy in some of the places with the dangerous ice formations which will make you fall if not very careful.
With one and half hours of walk remaining for the refuge, we reached a small shop where we would be having our lunch.
The lunch was simple with the traditional bread and mint tea that you find almost everywhere in Morocco.
It was amazing to see the number of people who had decided to do the trek even in winter. Also, the holiday weekend might have made people to set out as was the situation with myself.
After lunch we again set out for the final walk to the refuge. The topography had changed a bit and now the trail was almost straight with minimal altitude gain but exceptional views all around.
Finally, we reached the refuge and made ourselves comfortable in the dormitories. I had more mint tea and a wonderful dinner to end the day. The sleep wasn’t good with people entering and leaving the room almost the whole night, sounds of people fidgeting with their things, coughing, farting, weird sounds from people’s bellies. However, its a part of the experience that you have when climbing a mountain. At least we were warm inside the refuge, safe from the extreme cold conditions outside.
The next morning, after a simple and small breakfast, I put on my multiple layers of clothing. Mohammed helped me put on my crampons as it was my first experience of walking with them. It was great to realise that how easy it is to walk on snow with crampons. I fell in love with these things.
With the first light of the day in front of us, we started our hike to the Toubkal summit. We would need to cover a distance of around 4 kms with an altitude gain of around 960m.
Even under multiple layers of clothing, I was freezing in the cold. However, wonderful sights like this frozen waterfall kept my mind away.
As we started walking, the first light of the sun could be seen at the top of the mountains. The beauty of the pure golden coloured light can just take anyone’s breath away.
The hike started getting tougher, as the trail was continuously ascending at an angle of almost 45 degrees. The crampons came extremely useful on the snow. As we reached a height of around 3800m, the snow was gone again and the rest of the trail was rocky.
From this point, we could see the summit marked by the metal pyramid which can be seen in the photo below. It can be seen in the extreme top left corner of the photo. The views were mesmerising. At this point, I had to take breaks of few seconds frequently as we had reached the height of around 4100m.
Finally, we made it to the summit in three hours and thirty minutes. The weather was excellent and the views were second to none.
This was my first summit experience and a fulfilling emotion for myself.
Mohammed had made this journey numerous times, but he was genuinely happy for me and my summit completion.
After spending around 30 minutes at the summit, we made our way down to the refuge. It took us two hours and thirty minutes to get to the refuge and after a good lunch, we made it down to Armad village in three hours. My knees felt as if they would split apart, but I was too happy to notice much of it.