A lot of young people in Morocco are getting into the trekking and backpacking culture through the country. Locals are also starting to notice an increase in the number of hitchhikers with their backpacks and camping gear. Morocco is extremely rich in scenery, and beautiful destinations. Toubkal is one of the trekkers’ favorite destination. Being the highest peak in Morocco and North Africa, Mount Toubkal – at an altitude of 4176m -attracts mountaineers from all the over the world.
Some trekkers prefer to take on Toubkal in winter. However, climbing the mountain during this season is not a walk in the park; it takes a certain amount of preparation and effort. The journey starts from Marrakesh to Imlil village, where trekkers begin their ascend. Having the proper gear – such as crampons and trekking poles – is important for the winter climb. Gear rental shops are available in Imlil, where most trekkers rent their gear before starting the trek to the refuge.
The beautiful view of the Big Atlas Mountains covered in snow is breathtaking and majestic, which makes the difficult climb more enjoyable. Most mountaineers take their first break in ‘Chamharouch’, a superstitious area believed to have the tomb of ‘Chamharouch’, the king of The Jinn (Devils). The area, which resides at an altitude of 2350 meters, is visited by a lot of people who believe they’re haunted by devils. A blood sacrifice is made to the king of the devils himself to release and cure the patients who seek his help. Although Chamharouch is a hospital for many, for Mount Toubkal trekkers, it is a place to drink fresh orange juice, take a breather, and refill their water bottles.
The exhausting climb begins after Chamharouch as the mountains get steeper. Reaching the refuge is everyone’s objective for day one. Getting to the refuge before sundown is important as the temperature drops down around sunset. Meryem Ghalib, a 25 year old nature enthusiast from Casablanca, said that her love of nature and adventure made her take on Toubkal as her first ever summit. “The cold weather, especially on the summit day, was my biggest challenge, but the fact that I was halfway, and that I could look at the summit made me more determined to keep going, and it was breath-taking when I got to the top” Meryem added.
The services provided by the refuge and its staff are essential to the climb. The refuge provides shelter and food for all trekkers. Brahim Ait Elqadi, from Imlim, has been the manager in the KAF refuge for 26 years, but his family has been running it since 1926. Brahim expressed that they have customers all year long, but the most profitable season is spring and summer. Because the refuge receives an influx of costumers during these times, Brahim pointed out that they have problems as the refuge gets overbooked- making it hard to accommodate everyone. With this, Brahim didn’t hesitate to express the major problems from which KAF refuge suffers. He expresses that one of the main issues at the refuge are injuries and casualties that occur during the mountain trek. Brahim insisted: “the local authorities do not provide the necessary help when someone gets hurt, or loses their life”. Ait Al-Qadi vocalized that foreign climbers tend to get better treatment from the authorities when facing an accident during their climb. A battle he has been trying to overcome for some time now. According to Ait Al-Qadi, gendarmerie rescue teams took credit for many rescue missions executed by the locals. “We had many incidents, especially of foreigners, where my friends and I from Imlim performed the rescue with no help from the gendarmerie”. Brahim added: “When the rescue is done, and the survivors make it to Imlim Village, the gendarmerie forces always jump in to take the credit on national TV”. Brahim Ait Al-Qadi insisted that sudden accidents are part of the adventures, but there should be more collaboration between them and the gendarmerie to make sure trekkers survive and get the adequate amount of help they need.
Though the climb offers these setbacks, Toubkal is still a hikers paradise attracting over thousands of individuals a year. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the local traditions, scenery, culture and hospitality of Moroccans living in the Atlas region. A mountaineer from Spain who camped outside the refuge, Jose, stated that it was a very cold experience and he needed ample sleep and energy to summit the second day despite the harsh weather conditions. He added: “Toubkal is my first 4000m summit, and it was a special one”. Jose, as with other climbers state that they plan to come back, and explore and climb the other summits surrounding Mount Toubkal.