A return to the Moroccan High Atlas

By the time you read this, I’ll be in the High Atlas mountains in Morocco (hopefully) bagging a few 4,000ers.

I was there three years ago, almost by accident. I left it too late to organise my Christmas/New Year trip that year, so I ended up joining two back-to-back group trips, the first to make winter ascents of Toubkal and Ouanoukrim, and the second a short desert trek in southern Morocco.

Approaching Toubkal Refuge in the Moroccan High Atlas
Approaching Toubkal Refuge in the Moroccan High Atlas

I hadn’t been too impressed by my two summer trips to Morocco ten years earlier, trekking in the Anti-Atlas mountains, and in the High Atlas around Toubkal, so it was quite by chance that I returned to the country, having exhausted other options.

However, trekking the High Atlas in winter is a different saucepan of snow. I really enjoyed it; I even got to see some camels. Despite returning to Morocco as a fallback option once again, this time I will be returning in a very different frame of mind. I know it’s going to be fun, with some enjoyable winter mountaineering.

We were planning a trip to Rwanda this year, to explore the Virunga volcanoes, climb Karisimbi, cross the border into Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where there is an active volcano, Nyiragongo, and see some mountain gorillas. It was a great itinerary, but I left it late to organise the trip again, and the prices seemed a bit excessive. We were quoted something like $4,000 each for an eight-day trip, or $500 per day, each. And that was before we’d even bought our flights.

No way. You have to be pulling my tool. Rwanda may be famous for its gorillas, but we’d have felt a right pair of chimps if we’d gone for that one. I didn’t understand how it could be so expensive to travel in Rwanda or DRC (if anyone can provide any insight on reasonable prices for trekking and safari in Rwanda, I’d be very happy to hear from you).

With Rwanda out of the picture, we needed to find a suitable alternative at short notice. Other than joining another last-minute group trip, Morocco seemed our best option, especially since Edita’s not been there.

Timesguida n'Ouanoukrim (4089m) is another of the 4,000m peaks easily accessible from Toubkal refuge
Timesguida n’Ouanoukrim (4089m) is another of the 4,000m peaks easily accessible from Toubkal refuge

With my previous experience of the High Atlas, I was able to come up with a simple itinerary myself exploring an area where most agencies would be familiar. We found a local trekking agent via TripAdvisor and received an almost instant quote of around €500 per person for an entire week. This seemed a no brainer. I will let you know about the agent after we come back.

Our plan is very simple. We will be based at the Toubkal refuges for a few days and bag a few 4,000ers. This will include Toubkal, which Edita’s not climbed yet. I’ve climbed it twice now, in both summer and winter, but we’ll see if we can find a slightly different route up. We’ll be spending a couple of days either side exploring Marrakesh, which is always a nice place to relax.

We have a local guide accompanying us, and a copy of Cicerone’s guide book Mountaineering in the Moroccan High Atlas to help us plan possible routes with him. There are a number of peaks of around 4,000m that can be climbed easily from Toubkal refuge, including Toubkal (4,167m), Ouanoukrim (4,088m), Akioud (4,030m), Afella (4,040m) and Biguinoussene (4,007m).

By the time you read this, we’ll be up at the refuge preparing to climb our first one. More news next week.

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