I made it to Imlil in central Morocco. A 90-minute, 300 dirham (€27) taxi ride from Marrakesh is all it took. That 300 was split down the middle with Zach from Colorado, my new best friend who I’ll be hanging out with here in the mountains. We went for a walk in the hills around the village this afternoon looking for waterfalls, at far-off snow-speckled peaks & down pretty valleys.
Date || May 9, 2014
— davidMbyrne.com (@ByrneDavidM) May 9, 2014
As expected, it is cooler here at 1,740 metres in Imlil than it was in Marrakesh but not markedly so. I guess I gotta get higher really feel the chill. Speaking of which, tomorrow I’m setting out from here on the overnight hike up the 4,167-metre high Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak. There is snow up there but not a lot, so I’ve been told – I can’t actually see the peak from here in Imlil. The 22-kilometre round-trip hike from Imlil to the summit & back is an advertised at 11 to 14-hour excursion – 4 to 6 hours to the overnight location of somewhere called Toubkal Refuge (tomorrow, day 1) and another 7 to 8 hours to summit & return here to Imlil (day 2). The whole thing sounds eerily similar to the 17.5-kilometre overnight trek up 4,095-metre high Mount Kinabalu, in Malaysian Borneo that I completed in late-June 2012, although the Jebel Toubkal trek is longer (by almost 5 kilometres), to a higher elevation (by 72 metres) & with a higher start-to-summit ascent (by 198 metres). Oh, and Jebel Toubkal has snow. Not much mind, but it has snow. I’m looking forward to it. Camera batteries are charged and I’m well rested. Pictures and aching legs to follow in the coming days.
Date || May 11, 2014
I’m back in Imlil, back from the 4,167-metre summit of Jebel Toubkal, the highest point in North Africa. The last 30 hours or so hiking in the High Atlas, a trekkers paradise & one of Morocco’s most remote & beautiful regions, have been tough going but worth every slip, every (almost) sprained ankle & each & every bead of sweat.
— davidMbyrne.com (@ByrneDavidM) May 9, 2014
Day 1 || Imlil (1,740 m) to Toubkal Refuge (3,207 m), 10 kilometres, 3 hours 40 minutes (with stops)
High Atlas Villages & the Berbers
I reached the Toubkal Refuge, the end point for day 1, at 1:50 p.m. having set out from Imlil at just after 10 a.m. I was quickly reminded how restless a traveller I can be – I was bored within a few minutes of arriving & after securing a bed for the night I was quick to take myself and my camera to a point further up the valley beyond the refuge to pass some time. I sat there at the top of the valley, all Green Giant like, listening to music, reading about & deciding where next to go in Morocco, all the while eyeing with dread the almost-vertical scree slope to my right that I would have to surmount in black darkness the following morning when I resumed the hike to the summit.
Day 2 || Toubkal Refuge (3,207 m) to summit (4,167 m), summit to Imlil, 12 kilometres, 7 hours (with stops)
Having set out at 5:30 a.m., I reached the summit at 8:10 a.m., very glad to do so. It took over an hour to get over the scree slope visible from the refuge (I was about half ways through my struggle with said slope when the ambient light was sufficient for me to dispense with my iPod torch which I had been using to light the way up to that point) & another 1 hour 40 minutes to reach the summit once it came into view from the top of the scree slop – it was/is relentlessly uphill the whole way & slow going given the slope, the terrain & the altitude.
Needless to say as the highest point in Northern Africa the views are spectacular – mountains stretched for as far as the eye could see. The approach to the summit is up the western flank of Jebel Toubkal, meaning the rising sun isn’t visible until on the summit itself – assuming of course you, like me, climb very early in the morning.
Four hours twenty minutes of knee-pounding descent is all it took to return to Imlil from the summit earlier today, for a total up & down time of 10 hours 40 minutes for the 22 kilometre trek – Lonely Planet puts an estimate on the trek of between 11 & 14 hours. I took the following picture towards the end of the trek as I was approaching the Mizane Valley, seen in the distance, when I passed a herd of mountain goats, one of which was perched precariously on a rock.
The Pending Hurt
I’m back in Marrakesh now for one more night having decided to come straight back from Imlil after descending from the summit rather than wait around there for the onset of the pain that’s coming. I’m banking on walking gingerly tomorrow and maybe not being able to walk at all the day after. I’ll ride out the discomfort in the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate, my next stop where I’m aiming to arrive tomorrow. I’m heading east towards the desert, which will necessitate me passing over the Atlas Mountains. This time, however, I’ll be quite content with viewing them from the comfort of a CTM bus. Quite content indeed.