Monday, 24 June 2013

Toubkal at Imlil

13-06-2013 - 15-06-2013
Imlil from above
Trouble at the mill, sorry I mean Toubkal at Imlil.
After the altitude difficulties I met at Mgoun, there was no way that I was going to tackle Morocco’s highest mountain – or indeed, the highest mountain in north Africa – in a single day. Jebel Toubkal is 4166m, P3755 and destined to be the highest point I have walked to and the most prominent peak. Obviously it is also an Ultra.
Toubkal in the clouds
Around Aroumd
By the time I reached Imlil (1734m) it was late afternoon and too late to set off on the supposedly five hour walk to the refuge. I managed to get a parking space undercover and guarded overnight at the top of the village – and the car park people had no problem with me wanting to sleep in my vehicle. I went for an evening walk on a track that took me high (about 2200m) directly above Imlil and then across to Aroumd which is the next village on the route to Toubkal.

I returned to Imlil on the usual track that is used to get up to the refuge – so I was now familiar with how the main walk starts. There would have been a grand view of Toubkal itself if it hadn't been covered in cloud. I was to realise eventually that it seems to get clouded quite regularly in the evenings – and indeed a bit like the Alps there are local thunderstorms in the late afternoon.
Next morning after a fairly restful sleep, despite being quite close to the main thoroughfare, I made an early start. The path is very well used by hill walkers, trekkers, locals and mules. Once you find the start of the real uphill stuff at N31.11511 W7.91991 (1959m), after crossing the valley floor you would be hard pushed to get lost. I believe that the West Highland way is known to some as the Andrex way because of regular deposits, this path could be named the mule-pooh way. Nevertheless there are some demanding stretches that get harder as the altitude increases and the air pressure drops. I am glad I was not doing it in the midday heat. There are good views of the mountain and a number of stalls selling jus d’orange etc. along the way. 
A view of Toubkal on the way up to the refuge
First view of refuges
Both the refuges
Refuge Toubkal
Sounds like thunder
As I managed to get to the Toubkal Refuge N31.06295 W7.93790 (3207m) in less than four hours it was still morning when I arrived there. I debated with myself briefly about carrying on to the top and then thought better of it. Although my acclimatisation was better I still felt a little groggy. I thought I would have a siesta sleep and then review the situation later. As it happened I slept until after 4.00pm  - and I wasn't the only one; indeed I got the impression three young Germans in the same dormitory as me slept right through from early afternoon to the following morning. And when I awoke there was cloud and frequent rolls of thunder. I went for a stroll higher up the valley, giving me a chance to have a quick look across to the main route to the summit, and then back to the refuge for a delicious barley soup and a vegetarian tajine.

I was up at first light and after a quick breakfast was ready for the off. I wasn't the first party to leave but – to my surprise, especially as I was easily the oldest person there and I was in no rush - I soon overtook everyone else. I learnt later that several people who set off after me, who like me had not hired local guides, were using me as their route finder (if only they knew me, they would have not been so trusting) and I assume that  although they could have possibly overtaken me they chose not to. As a tourist route it is fairly obvious, well worn and with frequent graffiti/tags. Some of the micro navigation – i.e. do you go right or left of that  big rock was a bit of a puzzle at times but quite soon you could find the most worn route. 

The hardest route finding is where the snow lingers. Couple of clues to others turn left N31.06192 W7.93433 (3334m) and then right at N31.06274 W7.93273 (3390m), up to a false col at N31.06056 W7.92807 (3604m). At this point you realise there is still a long way to go but don't worry you soon get a view of the false summit. My advice, take the track that keeps to the right before getting to the ridge and turning left. Save the track down the middle for a quick descent on not very good scree.
Highest point in north Africa
I had the pleasure of the summit to myself for several minutes and as it was still earlier than 9.00am the sun was at a low angle. Unfortunately the haze meant that the distant views were limited. But, hey, I was there and with only little awareness of the low air pressure.
Without a shadow of doubt
Hazy summit view

Later, I was talking to one of the guides who had reached the summit some minutes after me and he had heard me talking about Mgoun to someone else the previous evening. He told me he came from nearby there. I asked him which village and, of course, it was the home of the children of Assaka. He agreed the gorge was not friendly and sarcastically referred to it as the ‘happy valley’.
Is that the way down?
On the way down
Mind the mules
The return to Imlil was long and arduous but didn't take as long as I had been told it would, despite falling over twice – once because a fully laden mule barged into me. I was tired and felt fractious with the stall-holders imploring me to ‘look inside my shop’ and a late afternoon thunderstorm was brewing. Time to go I thought.

Toubkal mouflon
Overnight at literally the road summit of the Col of Tizi n Test pass (2100m)

1 comment:

  1. great photos & experience in the high atlas mountains! well done