Mountaineering in the High Atlas

After being struck down with a nasty stomach bug for five days, James and I roused ourselves from our sickbeds to get stuck into a spot of mountaineering in the High Atlas mountains.

Nightfall on our first training walk above Imlil

Despite a couple of local training walks, I was not prepared for the debilitating effects of being at altitude. They say that the first night is always the worst, and after a sound night’s sleep the day after, all was well. To reach the refuges from the trail head of Imlil (an hour and a half South of Marrakech) was a hot dusty trek up the valley, but the view gradually improved, with us arriving eventually in a mountain cathedral – soaring ridges, valleys and rock faces thrusting up in every direction.

On the hot, dusty trail from Imlil to the Toubkal refuges

We had a short itinerary, so made the most of our time. The first day we chose the South West Ridge of Toubkal, a multipitch climbing and scrambling route in inspiring positions. The rock was extremely loose – something I was unused to – and I accidentally dislodged an amount of rubble on the first pitch, which narrowly missed a mule train below. The route consisted of a series of rock towers, including an airy abseil and consequently the final crux pitch. By this point, my body was suffering with the combination of the exertions and high altitude. However, I had done enough to reach the end of the climbing, so we were content to descend to the hut, satisfied having achieved a worthy objective.

James enjoying the abseil from the third tower

The next day was our last, and a good one. A hot, dusty plod up Toubkal on loose scree did not appeal – even if it is the highest mountain in North Africa – so we chose a traverse of the Clochetons and Bigouinoussene (we did not perfect the pronunciation either). We started with an obligatory scree slope, which seem to be a feature of every mountain in the region. However, they disappear in winter under snow, which is a great incentive to visit in the cold months. On reaching the Clochetons, we were perplexed as to how the traverse might be considered a scramble. We had no rope, so were put off by the seemingly technical climbing and the ever present loose rock. On later examination of the guidebook, it became apparent that the ‘traverse’ involves climbing up an easy pitch of the middle Clochetons and reversing the moves.

The vista from the ridge

In any case, we had fun, albeit it rather warily, picking a route that skirted the difficulties and tackled the crest of the ridge that continued to Bigouinouseene. This was the high point for the day at just over 4000m (the heights differ because of inadequate cartography of the Atlas), after which we descended to the Tadat Col, passing the famous Tadat rock tower. From here it was a romp down to the Lepiney Hut, taking in some of the most spectacular mountain scenery of the visit. Potential rock routes and winter lines seemed to jump out at us from every side, and it was hard not to gasp at the magnitude of what was before us.

Checking out the lines!

Lunch was taken at the Lepiney Hut, next to which is a beautiful waterfall; a perfect place to cool off and relax, although rather unusual amidst the parched rock and scree all around. Compared with Imlil, this valley was a lush paradise of flowers and meadows, with several more waterfalls surprising us on the descent. Its quiet and untrammelled nature was attractive and in contrast with the hustle and bustle of the parallel valley with the main trail up to Toubkal.

Relaxing by the Lepiney waterfall

Overall, it was a great few days. Rather short, but packing a punch.

Soaking it all in

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2 Responses to Mountaineering in the High Atlas

  1. Pingback: The High Atlas – a One-Tick Wonder? « When Men and Mountains Meet

  2. Pingback: Rab Baseline Hoodie – First Impressions « When Men and Mountains Meet

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