This is story about the adventure I experienced on the Toubkal in Morocco.
In the Easter vacation of 2018 I did a 6-day trekking through the Moroccan Atlas Mountains with a group of like-minded people. On site everything was arranged to perfection (donkeys transported the luggage, cooks took care of the food, good guide,…) so it seemed to be a flawless and carefree trip. The main inconvenience were the French toilets, but we survived.
To make it an unforgettable trip, we were going to climb the Jebel Toubkal the last day/night. We climbed already up to 3200 meters altitude during the trekking, and had arrived at the refuge. The whole trip we had sunny and warm weather, so everyone was looking forward to it (except the unfortunate one who was height sick). The atmosphere was good and nothing seemed to stand in our way to reach the top. There were even regular toilets in the refuge! At the time, there seemed to be no real adventure on the Toubkal.
The Toubkal is the highest mountain in North Africa with a height of 4167 meters. Among mountain walkers this mountain is very well known because you can go high without really doing alpinism. One drawback is that you need a guide to get you on the right directions, and on the Toubkal. This is because there is almost no signage, and due to some events in the past (murders and gliding with fatalities). Nevertheless, the standard route to the Toubkal can be done properly and without technical difficulties.
We slept that night with 14 in a 12-person room. We quickly found 2 volunteers to sleep on the ground but we also had 2 volunteers to give a snoring concert. Apart from the 2 snorers, no one really had a decent night’s sleep, but we finally got out of our beds at 3 am to be sure to see the sunrise on the mountain.
When I stepped out of the refuge, I saw an open starry sky. So I was confident it wasn’t going to be a bummer. The first stretch up was physically the heaviest due to the ice and slope, but everyone got smoothly to the point where we were allowed to take off the crampons and tie it to the backpack. A few people had little height sickness but went through with it. A little further we got a beautiful view of the sunrise above the clouds. But the adventure on the Toubkal was yet to begin.
I took a look at the valley from where we came and saw a cloud pulling towards us. At first I thought we were just going to get some fog, because the day before we had the same phenomenon. But soon we got an ice storm over our heads with heavy gusts. Unfortunately, we had been given a material list for the similar but warmer summer trip before departure. So we were not prepared for such weather changes. For example, I had put my pajama pants under my summer walking pants to have warm enough.
We went on anyway, but 3 girls soon suffered from the cold and stayed behind with the tour guide. The moment we could see the summit, the guide said we had to return immediately because otherwise the 3 stragglers stayed still for too long. We quickly pulled a picture in a sheltered spot and went back down in a hurry. “Vite, vite, vite!”.
Arriving back at the 3 girls they were, protected under a survival blanket, singing the song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. At some point we actually had to put our crampons back on, but due to the cold our fingers were frozen and we did the descend into the ice without crampons. Due to the cold precipitation, the rocks had already received a layer of ice, making it a dangerous situation. Luckily, there were 2 additional guides to assist us.
In the end, we all arrived safely back to the refuge. Just at that moment, the air cleared again. Other mountain walkers left upstairs and looked at us as if we were a bunch of lunatics…
Are you a hiker yourself? Then this post about three nice hikes in the Ardennes might also interest you