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As promised, here’s a closer look at what it takes to reach the highest peak of the Atlas.

It was my first major climb and I knew it wouldn’t be easy - 4167m is not a walk in the park. Toubkal is a really tough hike, rather than a technical climb, but nonetheless serious business. I prepped what I could beforehand: sorted out my attire including thermals, coat, gloves, hat, trekking trousers (I actually wore three layers altogether, putting them on or off depending on the changing temperature), bought a new pair of sturdy shoes and a sleeping bag. And I’ve also been hitting the gym regularly for the last few months. Most importantly though, I did the climb in the company of an experienced guide and the weather conditions were perfect considering its winter season: around 4 degrees Celsius in Aroumd where I spent the night before and just a few degrees below zero when I reached the top 2 days later. The sun shining brightly on both days.

This is my little hostel in Aroumd. No thrills. And pretty damn COLD. I slept fully clothed in a sleeping bag. No shower that night either, brushed my teeth and tried to get as much beauty sleep as possible.15euro per head (well, everything is negotiable in Morocco). And for those in need of WI-FI: none. Barely any reception from this point on.

Breakfast of champions in the morning at 8am.

The first bit I was all smiles. It felt like it was just going to be..a long walk. Famous last words. I was so wrong.

It’s 9km from Aroumd to the refugee at 3200m. It took me just under 5 hours, including two stops for tea and toilet. I was sweating a fair bit - took my coat and thermals off while the sun was out and walked the first few kilometres in a T-shirt.

I started to feel my legs and knees quite early on, I’d say about two hours into the climb. I thought I trained really hard at my HIIT sessions at the gym, but boy this was a new level of pain… and it only got worse the next day during the final ascent. I consider(ed) myself fit, but I started to take notice of muscles which I never knew existed. I guess the more experienced you get, your legs get use to this kind of workout…but it was a whole new body sensation!

There are two refuges: one a 3207m and 3200m (12km from Imlil and 9km from Aroumd, takes 6-7 hours if you’re staying in Imlil and 5 hours from Aroumd). I stayed at CAF refuge, the one higher up at 3200m. As you can see from the photos… what a treat! About 10 to 20 people in the room. Stinking to high heaven from everyone’s sweat. You could take a cold communal shower, but don’t think anyone was up for that. I got to the refugee somewhere around 1530, arriving fairly early gave me time to acclimatize and get some rest. 25 euro including dinner and breakfast for this unforgettable experience.

Dinner at 6.30pm. Yet again very basic stuff: vegetable soup followed by some chicken and vegetables (the same ones that went into the soup)

I then tried to get some sleep as the wake up call was at 5am. Not sure whether it was the excitement, adrenaline…or it was it was just too cold and smelly, but in the end I barely got any sleep, only an hour or two of a light snooze. Sleeping with other strangers in the room doesn’t help either but that’s how refuges work in general.

I was nearly about to give up when I had to move my ass at 5am. My head was aching and I could barely keep my eyes open. But I said to myself: I just have to do it. I managed to get so far, I can go a bit further. It was pitch black when we were leaving. Torches (that included an iphone torch too…) came to the rescue. We had 3km to reach the summit, which would eventually take 3.5 hours. And it was bloody tough. We took the South Cirque (Ikhibi Sud ) trail, which It’s the most popular and straightforward ascent.

Only when it was started to get a bit light I saw the bit I climbed in the first half an hour. Yikes.

It’s technically a moderate climb (at least everyone said that in good weather you just need proper clothes and trekking shoes), but still it requires a HELL of a lot stamina. Climbing up you come across boulders and scree and these become most tiring especially for inexperienced walkers like me.

There were moments on the way where I thought I’m not gonna make it, what is the bloody point… but every time I sat down (or rather lay down) I thought, right, Justine, either now or never. Have faith.

The peak is above 4000m, so the air gets thinner and I was told I could get altitude sickness: a mix of symptoms resembling flu or hangover, from headache to dizziness or severe fatigue. I have to say I personally didn’t feel much difference between 2000m at the bottom to 4167m at the very top, apart from being super tired from the night at the refuge. But this so depends on the individual. Either way, take caution if you’re just starting out your mountain adventures like me.

The summit is marked by a tripod reached by a winding path. Usually in the winter it’s a snow climb so the easiest route gets much tougher and you need ice axes and crampons. I was really lucky with the sunny weather, barely no ice at the top and a gorgeous, clear view of the Atlas. Even though I was beyond knackered when I reached the top (never mind how I felt after the descent….jaysus..) I was sooooo happy and proud of myself!

Now.. going down. Not as easy as it seems...the problem was the loose scree, very rough on the knees. Although not as bad as the mule ride down which I opted at the very last bit... while the legs recovered after a couple of nights, my ass was still sore after a few days. So if you ever think about taking the mule THINK TWICE.

I was epically tired and cold when I finally got back to Aroumd. My whole body was shaking and I was super hungry (even though I had a few sandwiches during the day, nuts and dried fruit, plus drank a lot of water). I drove back to Marrakesh and headed straight to KFC followed by a McDonald’s ice-cream. I well deserved it that day J

I don’t think I’ll become a serious mountain climber anytime soon, but I’m hoping to do another peak next year!


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