Trek in the High Atlas Mountains

With the increase in direct flights to from UK to Marrakech airport, more and more people are visiting not only the touristy city of Marrakech, but are heading to the atlas mountains to do Trekking.

For those with a bit more time and a sense of adventure the Atlas Mountains are a relatively short distance away and are well worth visiting. Toubkal, North Africa’s highest mountain, at 4167metres is a demanding but exhilarating climb, while there are many other walks for the less energetic or adventurous.

In 2010 a group of us decided to do a 6 day trek to the Atlas in early June.

We had been told that the Atlas Mountains of Morocco offered challenging walking, fantastic scenery and the opportunity to experience the largely unchanged Berber way of life. After some research on the web, we decided it would be best to hire a guide and mules. Up till then we had always been strong believers in independent trekking – Best Time To Do Annapurna Base Camp Trek wild where possible, carrying everything with us and choosing our own routes.
The Atlas was different. First there was the possible language problem – as we discovered not everyone speaks English or French – the trails are often not waymarked and are sometimes very difficult to find. Food is also difficult to obtain: the small villages often have no shops and accommodation and campsites are uncertain.

The other factor which led us to hire a guide was to give us a greater insight into the way of life of the Berber people who are the main inhabitants of the area. We would also be contributing more to the local economy which is still largely based on subsistence farming. There was also the attraction at our ages of having mules carry our rucksacks and muleteers and cook who set up camp and provided excellent, traditional meals conjured up with basic equipment at idyllic camp and picnic sites. A big improvement on our usual “boil in the bag” meals!

Our guide Abdou was superb. He spoke excellent, colloquial English and took a pride in explaining and showing us the Berber way of life as we walked through the small high mountain villages. When one of our group had severe altitude sickness and was doubtful of continuing, Mustapha organised an extra mule and muleteer to enable him to carry on – which we would probably have been unable to do on our own. Abdou’s local knowledge and language carried us through.

The climb to the summit of Toubkal was the highlight of the trek. Unusually for the time of year it was snow covered – we had a fall of snow overnight – and as we set off at dawn the scene was stunning and the sense of achievement when we finally reached the summit was exhilarating despite the bitterly cold wind. The hot picnic lunch – delicious Moroccan omelettes – which Abdou had arranged for us when we returned to the refuge was very welcome!

At the end of the trek as we celebrated with a meal out in Marrakech, we had no regrets about our “package” trek. Apart from the obvious benefit of not having to fly out with tents and camping equipment, we had been picked up at our hotel for the drive to the trailhead in Imlil. As we had no responsibility for route and campsite finding we could concentrate on the walking and the scenery.


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