Mountaineering in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco

Mountaineering in Atlas Mountains of Morocco

The Atlas Mountains of Morocco are a popular destination for mountaineers and trekkers, with their enviable position near Marrakech. The highest peak, Mount Toubkal, stands at 4,167 metres tall and there are many other peaks between 3000 and 4000 metres to climb. With striking seasons all year round, this range of peaks is characterised by snow and alpine greenery and there is an abundance of wildlife to see while you are trekking. The Atlas Mountains remain a sought after destination for visitors to the area and trips cater for climbers very well.

About the Mountains
Mount Toubkal was conquered in 1923 by the Marquis de Segonzac, Hubert Dolbeauby and Vincent Berger, although locals had scaled the mountain before this event. The Marquis enjoyed dangerous expeditions and Toubkal earned him respect among the mountaineering community. Soon the range began to appeal to European climbers and geologists and a commercial infrastructure was put into place.

The mountain range features several areas: the Anti, Middle and High Atlas, with the latter being the most popular for climbers.

Where to Start
The Atlas is a premier trekking attraction because of the warm climate and unusual geology and part of its charm is that the activities are very Moroccan in style and not as organised as those to be found in the Alps.

Mount Toubkal is easily reached from the city of Marrakesh and this makes it popular for trekkers, as well as mountaineers. The ‘starting point’ is Imlil, a village at the base of the mountain, which has accommodation for travellers as well as equipment, guides and mules. Mountaineers and trekkers need to make sure they come prepared and know exactly what they will need for their expedition, such as ice axes, boots and crampons, as well as sensible clothes. Mount Toubkal is generally about two and a half days hike from lmlil. Azilal is another suitable base camp for trekkers, and also offers mountain biking and riding in the area. On the north side of the High Atlas, you can marvel at the valley, Ouzoud waterfalls and the lmi-n-lfri bridge. On the south side there are many gorges, such as those of Mgoun, Todra and Dades.

What to See
There are many visual treats for climbers in the area, such as the Berber village of Megdaz and Imilchil for its September wedding festival. There are mosques and kasbahs, showing the rich culture of Morocco, and Berber families offer visitors generous hospitality. The Berbers make ideal guides for mountaineers as they are able to walk quickly along trails and handle the mules with expertise. Their villages populate the mountainsides, with houses called ‘kasbahs’ that are made from mud.

Marrakesh sits below the mountains and is an exotic city, well worth exploring. Here you can see snake charmers and Berber drummers and taste the delicious food of Morocco, from meat and vegetable stews to kebabs and m’choui, which is slow-roasted lamb.

Preparing for your Trip
The Atlas Mountains are a highlight for many people visiting Morocco, but, as with all trekking trips, you should be prepared before you set out. The conditions can change fairly dramatically in the Atlas range and amenities vary considerably depending on the villages en route. Because the Atlas Mountains are not as commercialised as the Alps, a higher degree of preparation will stand you in good stead for your expedition.

Guides are useful for your transportation needs and for food replenishment and Berber guides have the core strength and knowledge to traverse the mountainside with confidence. Guides in the Atlas Mountains are worth their weight in gold.

Water purification tablets should be brought with you, to avoid parasites that inhabit some mountain streams. Remember that out on the trail there are few places to fill up your bottle, apart from the natural sources.

Clothing needs to be considered carefully in Morocco. Whilst you will be hot on the plains, up in the peaks there can be snow in summer. The answer tends to be to wear layers of clothing that are thin and warm. Also remember headgear and sunscreen to accommodate the temperatures and volatile storms that sometimes roll in over the mountains.

Whether you are planning to summit Mount Toubkal or to enjoy a trekking holiday on the trails of the mountain range, the Atlas region of Morocco offers stunning scenery, fascinating geology and a rich culture just waiting to be explored.

Many thanks to JULIE LYNDHURST for this great article