Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jebel Toubkal

Ah, now after a three week lull what better way to get into the swing of things than to trek to the summit of the tallest peak in the High Atlas mountain range? This is what makes Morocco such a wonderful country for me - within a two hour drive of Marrakesh you can find yourself at the foothills of Jebel Toubkal, at 4,167 metres North Africa's highest peak. I got back to Morocco on the 16th March - Paddy's Day is shit anyway - and had 8 days to kill before I could enter Mauritania so I decided to hit the hills again.
The base for trekking on JT is the village of Imlil which is about two hour drive in a grand taxi from Marrakesh. I spent the first night in a little réfuge in Imlil, the owner of which seemed a very agreeable woman upon arrival but quickly morphed into a cleanliness freak who, almost literally, followed me around the place rearranging anything I put my hand on. I sat on her couch and she emerged from a back room to rearrange the cushions I'd put behind my back as I sat there. She spoke no English and I speak whatever French Miss Dennedy drilled into me back in the day and so communication was limited to my shrugs and muted apologies and her sighs of frustration and not so muted exasperation at my presence there. Little wonder I was the only guest there.
I wandered around Imlil and venture into an mountaineering equipment sore to see if crampons would really be necessary for climbing Toubkal in March. I've never worn crampons before and was hoping that in mid-spring the going would be good enough to go without specialist equipment. But no, crampons were essential and I was given a swift demonstration of how to attach them to my boots. I feigned understanding reasoning that I'd tie them my own way when I needed them.
Spent the night chéz Miss Clean Freak and hit the trail the following morning having left as many crumbs on the floor following breakfast as possible. It surprised me that she wasn't there to catch each one as they fell. On the trail it was a pretty steady upward climb all the way to the village of Sidi Charmhamouch and from there it was snow all the way, though firm enough for me not to need the crampons just yet. The mountain réfuge was four and a half hours away, some 950 metres from the base of Toubkal and the place was surprisingly busy. The views everywhere were stunning - the réfuge is at 3,200m and there's snow in all directions.
I hit the trail the following morning at 6am, taking 20 minutes to properly strap on the crampons, one of which came loose after 10 minutes of trekking. I've never done a snow trek before and this was tough going but the rewards were in direct proportion to the effort required. It took just under three hours to reach the oddly shaped summit marker atop Toubkal and the views in all directions were majestic. By now I couldn't feel my toes or my fingers but I didn't care for the 15 minutes I spent gazing in all directions. Hard to believe as I stood there that I was just two hours from the chaos of Djemaa El Fna but such is the joy of Morocco.

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