Mount Toubkal - Winter - Morocco
This is a wonderful winter break to climb several 4000m peaks in the high Atlas of Morocco, including the spectacular Mount Toubkal in Winter Conditions. The mountains are only around 40 miles to the south of the beautiful city of Marrakech and on a clear day the summits can be clearly seen from the city. The blue skies, bright sun and crisp snowy peaks are a perfect antidote to the winter of northern Europe.
These winter climbs are different in nature to the summer climb in that they will be over snow and ice and will require mountaineering equipment and snow and ice travel techniques. There is time to get accustomed with using crampons and this climb is an excellent introduction to climbing and thriving in snow conditions and an ideal pre cursor to climbing Mt Elbrus or one of the Himalayan peaks.
Situated in the North-west corner of Africa, Morocco is a land of great contrasts from the white-washed houses on the fertile Mediterranean coast to the arid brown mountains, which are snow capped during winter.
Our gateway to the mountains is Marrakech so called the red city, and Morocco's 4th largest with a population of around one and a half million. We overnight here and have the opportunity to explore this ancient city with its exotic souks, palaces, gardens and heaving mass of dust, noise and colour.
We will hear the muslim call to prayer blasted out across the city at 6am and generally feel a world away from northern Europe, not least as while the UK freezes its way through its short winter days, Morocco usually enjoys clear blue skies, temperatures of 20-30degC and enough sunlight to sunburn the unwary within the hour. The often snow clad summits of the High Atlas provide a wonderful back-drop to the ochre coloured buildings of the city and it can often be quite a shock to see them towering from the horizon, framed by the narrow city streets.
The High Atlas hosts North Africa's highest mountains and offers us an incredible variety of scenery, a superb network of trails, and challenging peaks. Snow capped for half the year, from West to East they stretch from the Atlantic ocean just north of Agadir, until they fade into the desert on the Algerian border a distance of nearly a thousand miles. Centuries ago the famous Roman geographer Pliny described the high Atlas as “the most fabulous mountains in the whole of Africa”.
By the standards of more popular trekking and climbing areas in Europe the atlas are still remote and scarcely touched by tourism. On our trip we aim to explore the less well known areas and climb to the summit of some of the less well known peaks. We want you to experience an authentic Berber way of life, and have an appreciation of what a magnificent wilderness area this is.
ACCOMMODATION & FOOD
We will stay in a beautiful traditional-style Riad for our first night in Marrakech, withing short walking distance of the famous sights of the Jamaa El Fna Square. The riad has ensuite bathrooms and will be on a twin-room basis as standard.
The following night we stay in a guesthouse run by a local Berber family in Imlil. We will again use twin or triple rooms with ensuite bathroom. Fantastic traditional Moroccan meals are prepared by our hosts.
In the mountains we stay at a mountain refuge in dormitory rooms with shared bathrooms. Private rooms are available for an additional charge. Our meals are prepared by an experienced expedition cook and you will be astounded by the quality of the food that he is able to produce for us.
Our treks and climbs in the Atlas mountains are led by a qualified and experienced local mountain guide and supported by a team of experienced staff. This includes logistical backup in the village of Imlil and local muleteers and an expedition cook who is also an experienced guide. All are from the local communities and each has a lifetime of experience of life and travel in this part of the Atlas mountains. We have built up a very close working relationship with our Moroccan staff over the course of many expeditions. Some trips will also be accompanied by an experienced and knowledgeable UK leader.
Our Moroccan guides and staff provide a wonderful opportunity to understand what life in the Berber mountain communities is like. They will lead us through the areas in which they, and their forebears, have grown up and sustained a uniques way of life. They will explain the customs and beliefs of the people and also the nature of the wild open spaces of the mountains and beyond.
Toubkal trip was top class once again. Couldnt fault local guides or Matt. All the staff had smiles that would light up a room for the duration of the trip. I always eat better and feel much healthier on adven alternative trips than I do at home and this trip was no exception, well done to cook, kitchen staff and all invoved in preparing same. Great to have Gav along also for a much needed catch up. Sound bunch of lads in group also which helped to lighten the mood on the early starts. Not forgetting the porters, well done-I'm not even at the races compared to their fitness levels!!. Looking forward to the next trip.
Super trip - in a short space of time you get a wonderful cultural experience combined with some of the finest treks I've seen and done.
What an amazing trip! Four 4,000m summits in 3 days, plus great food, fantastic and knowledgable local and UK guides. What more could you ask for?
Activities and Highlights
The climb will require the use of crampons and an ice axe, it is preferrable to have prior experience using them but this is not essential as full training will be given and the ascents are ordered to provide a good basis for learing the necessary skills. By the end of the trip you will feel comfortable and confident in their use and the trip is in fact a good introduction to the kit before going to the likes of Mt Elbrus or one of the Himalayan trekking peaks.
Dates and Itinerary
Please note that a winter ascent is a more serious and sensitive undertaking when compared to the summer climb. The following itinerary gives a general outline but may have to be adjusted according to the prevailing weather and snow conditions at the actual time of the trip.
We normally climb around the start of February in order to try and coincide with the optimum period for good consolidated snow cover, slightly longer periods of daylight and slightly warmed and drier weather. However, if you have a small group who would like to climb slightly earlier or later then do speak to us about putting together bespoke dates.
|1||Arrive Marrakech, explore medina, briefing & introductions|
|2||Drive Marrakech to Imlil, acclimitisation walk near Imlil|
|3||Trek from Imlil to Toubkal Refuge, crampon and axe lessons|
|4||Climb twin summits of Ouanoukrim (4083m & 4089m)|
|5||Climb Jebel Toubkal (4167m)|
|6||Climb Akioud (4030m), Trek to Imlil|
|7||Explore Imlil, Drive Imlil to Marrakech, Depart Marrakech|
|+||optional extra days in Morocco, contact us for options|
|1||450m||approx 3.5hr flight from London||Arrive on international flight into Marrakech, suggested arrival in early afternoon. Adventure Alternative staff will meet you at the airport with transport to our city accommodation. Unless the weather is particularly bad you can clearly pick out the outline of Toubkal on the horizon as you walk out of the door of arrivals! The warm air and bright sunlight that meets you will also no doubt be a wonderful feeling after setting off from the winter weather in the UK Subject to your flight arrival time, we will have time to explore the city souks and the famous Jamaaa El Fna Square before a team dinner and formal introductions in the evening. We spend the night in a traditional and comfortable city riad.|
|2||1850m||1.5-2 hrs||After breakfast we have around a 1.5-2 hour transfer by a good road that heads almost directly south toward the clearly visible Atlas mountain peaks. Here we will move all of our gear into the comfortable lodge run by our local Berber hosts. During a good lunch of probably a Moroccan salad, and a tagine, we will discuss equipment and the days ahead. We can also make arrangements to rent any gear that may have been left behind. We will then take an afternoon walk up through the local villages to gain some altitude, some exercise and to soak up the local surroundings. The views are spectacular, out into the valleys below and up to the black and white of the snow capped peaks above. We return to the lodge in Imlil for dinner and spend the night here.|
|3||3207m||5-7 hrs||After breakfast we will shoulder our day packs and trek up the valley to a small shrine and buildings of Sidi Chamharouch at the foot of a steepening of the trail and narrowing of the valley. From here we wind further up the Isougouane valley to the Neltner Refuge at the foot of the main west face of Toubkal and surrounded by a cirque of towering peaks.|
|4||4088m||7-8 hrs||Today we will attempt our ascent of Ouanoukrim. The mountain is Toubkal's neighbour and the second highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. First we climb the remainder of the Isougouane valley, up to the narrow but impressive col of Tizi n'Ouagane, with views out and down to the next valley. From here we first tackle a short rocky scramble before emerging on easier ground and traversing across to the saddle between the twin peaks. It is a broad slope up to the wide plateau summit of Timesguida, then after descending the same slope we immediately make our way up the narrower and more rugged ridge to the small rock summit of Ras. The last bit of this ascent requires a short scramble then crossing a short but spectacular snow arete at the head of the NE couloir. We make our way more directly down from the summit of Ras, over rocky ground of the East ridge, into the col and back down the main valley to the refuge. Here we will enjoy another superb, freshly prepared dinner and relax and re-live the day.|
|5||4168m||7-8 hrs||Today we are up early to begin our ascent of Toubkal its self. We traverse and ascend the steep south cwm in the West face, over mixed ground of snow, ice and rock, through various undulations and bowls. Eventually we emerge out into the sunlight at the col of Tizi n Toubkal at 3940m. From here we move up along the SW ridge and a little higher up, get a spectacular view across a small horseshoe at the huge and precipitous SE face of Toubkal and on top the tiny black triangle of the summit trig point. Our steady acclimitisation over the last two days, and in particular our ascent to over 4000m the day before will pay dividends here as we pass other climbers on shorter programmes as they sweat and wheeze their way up the final slopes! After enjoying the views at the summit we will make our way over to the North cwm for our descent. This is a far less used route but allows a very satisfying traverse of the summit and allows us to see more than twice as much of the mountain. We pass the wreckage of a Portuguese plane that crashed in the 60's. The descent is fairly steep but easy to complete in crampons. Eventually, we emerge out into the main Isougouane from behind a spur and make our way around to the refuge. Another fantastic meal will await us, as will an evening of relaxing and re-living the day.|
|6||4010m||7 + 4.5 hrs||Today we will be up very early to make an attempt to climb up to the summit of Akioud. Climbing this peak is a superb climax to our trip as it consolidates all the acclimitisation and skills that we have been building up, into a spectacular and varied ascent with some genuinely challenging sections. We will start in the dark as we make our way south up the valley before turning to the west up a narrow rocky gorge. The stream in the bottom of the gorge is frozen into hanging icicles and in some places a window of clear ice through to the flowing water behind. As we emerge from the gorge the rising sun will be turning the upper reaches of the peaks of Akioud and Afella orange up ahead of us. We make our way up through the bowl of the Amrharas n-Iglioula valley and aim slightly SW to the foot of a steep and tapering couloir. After carefully picking our way up the couloir and through a narrow slot in the ridge we emerge onto the NNW ridge. There is a fairly broad plateau here and we will have a rest and enjoy the superb view of Toubkal's SW face before tackling the remainder of the ascent. First we make our way up to the head of the ice and snow slopes falling away to the west. We carefully skirt the top of this slope where it meets the foot of the ridge's rocky bulk. We begin to make our way up to the ridge-line its self and eventually traverse the very top of the ridge, first as solid rock then a short snow arete before arriving at the small rubbly mound of the final summit. We will carfully and methodically return by the same route for a well deserved lunch at the Refuge before we then complete the trek back down to the village of Imlil. Back at the guest house we will have a good rest, a well deserved team dinner and some local hospitality and festivity.|
|7||450m||1.5-2 hrs||We will have breakfast a little later than for our alpine starts at the refuge and can then take an hour or two to explore Imlil and possibly visit the local argan oil cooperative and village community association building. We will then board our vehicle for the road transfer back down the valleys to Marrakch. We should be in Marrakech in time for lunch leaving the rest of the day free to explore or for an evening flight.|
|8+||If you would like to stay on in Marrakech or Morocco after the trip, please contact us for options.|
In line with good mountaineering practice we will be starting our climbs from the refuge fairly early. The exact time will depend on the peak in question, the speed of the group and the prevailing snow and weather conditions. On the days of the three climbs it is likely that we will be getting up between 0500 and 0700 in order to take advantage of more stable snow and rock in the early morning and to minimise the time spent out in the strong direct sunlight.
We will have plenty of breakfast and hot drinks before leaving the refuge and additional bread and cheese is available for you to make a snack lunch for the summit or one of our rest stops. We will usually be back at the feruge by early afternoon, at which time we will have a full cooked lunch. There will be time to relax and socialise at the refuge before dinner at around 7-8pm. As we are ususally making early starts we inevitably go off to bed fairly early, however there is a roaring fire in the communual area and guests are welcome to stay there until later in the evening.
Mount Toubkal - Winter cost: £595.00
- All food and hot drinks on trek
- Mules or porters to transport main bags
- Western Guide
- Local Moroccan Guides and cook
- All accommodation (Riad, Lodge, Refuge)
- All transportation and airport transfers
- Group equipment
- International Air Fare (LGW-RAK ~£100-£200)
- Personal travel Insurance (~£30+)
- Meals in Marrakech (100-200 dirhams)
- Mineral water/ soft drinks (6-15 dirhams +)
- Snacks on the trail eg chocolate/sweets (£varies)
- Hot Showers at Refuges (10-20 dirhams each)
- Firewood Supplement at Refuge (10 dirhams/nigh/person)
- Single room supplements (Where applicable)
- Additional nights in Marrakech (£Varies)
- Optional tips to Moroccan staff (approx £20+)
- Personal spending money (note Moroccan Dihrams are not available abroad, we can help you change/withdraw some in Marrakech)
It is important that you take out adequate personal travel insurance for the activities on this trip. Please see our information page in the menu to the right for further guidance and suggestions. If you have any questions regarding the required coverage please do not hesitate to contact us.
You do not need to be super-fit for this trip, however the climbs are fairly demanding with some long days of sustained walking with a backpack. The effects of altitude may also further tax your body. You will enjoy the trip all the more if you are in good physical shape having exercised regularly and eaten nutritiously over at least the 6 months leading up to the trip. You do need to be in good health as we will spend some time in locations that are many hours from professional medical care. Any pre-existing medical or dental conditions should be fully appraised by a doctor and their nature fully disclosed to your insurer and to ourselves.
Type of Terrain
The trek from Imlil to the Refuge is on a well established path over sometimes dusty and rocky ground. It winds its way up the valley and is generally of a gentle gradient. In its upper reaches it may be covered in snow or ice but owing to its gentle gradient it is generally passable in normal trekking boots.
The ascents of the three peaks on this trip are given the following alpine grades; Timeguida & Ras n-Ouanoukrim (F), Toubkal South Cwm (F), Toubkal North Cwm (F+), Akioud NNW Ridge (PD+)
The actual perceived difficulty of the routes will be hugely dictated by weather/snow conditions, acclimitisation and fitness/experience. The itinerary has been planned to allow a gradual increase in altitude and technical difficulty so that all the objectives are achievable by a moderately fit person with good coordination and experience of mountain terrain.
Some parts of the climbs will involve ascending, traversing or descending snow slopes of up to around 30 degrees. Subject to conditions, this is easily achievable using crampons and with guides cutting or stomping steps where required. It will however need confidence and concentration in places, including taking direction from guides and leaders.
Some short sections of the climbs also include easy angled and featured rock steps and scrambles needing both hands and feet. In some cases this will need to be undertaken whilst wearing crampons. In the majority of circumstances this is actually no harder than doing it in boots but it does again require an adaptation of techniques and careful concentrated movements.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding the type of terrain or the skills and experience required, please do contact us for a more detailed explanation.
A few days after you return from your trip we will email you a link to an online feedback questionairre. You can also contact us by any of the means listed on our contact page to give us your thoughts. It is very useful to us to have your feedback both positive and negative. This will assist us in continually improving our expeditions.
- The basic idea of the kit we will take is to keep you warm, dry, protected from the sun, able to move efficiently on the mountains and able to be comfortable in the evenings and night. There is a detailed list via the menu below and to the right but the main points to cover are:-
- BAGS - Large Rucksack ~80L (for a porter to carry) + Medium Daypack ~40L (carried by you)
- SHELL - Top and bottoms to keep off wind/rain
- INSULATION - Warm layered system to keep you warm- body hands & Head
- BASELAYER - Thin layers to wick away sweat and to strip down to when it gets hot
- FEET - Crampon compatible boots, more comfortable footwear for evenings/city
- HARDWARE - Crampons, axe, harness etc to allow you to move safely and efficiently
- SLEEPING - Warm sleeping bag to get a good nights sleep at the refuge
- EATING/DRINKING - Water bottles & favorite snacks for during the day
- WASHING & MEDICAL - To allow you to wash and maybe stave off a headache or blister
Additional Kit Info
Please Note - When the snow line is well down below the Refuges we will need to use porters to carry our gear up to the refuge. We will therefore ask you to pack as lightly as possible so that each porter can carry the gear of at least two people. We may therefore have to limit this gear to about 12kg and about 40L per person. Two people's gear may also have to be combined into one large rucksack. We therefore reccommend that you bring a large lightweight rucksack liner to put all your gear in before it goes into the pack. The ammount of kit that we actually need at the refuge is actually very little. The main bulk of it will be your sleeping bag and a few spare pieces of clothing. If you have any questions about this then do speak to us.
Please note - Although there are some kit hire shops in Imlil, much of the kit there is fairly old and worn and they do not have much stock. Therefore we strongly recommend that you bring all your own gear with you and do not rely on it being available in Morocco.
See the Detailed Kit List here.
Please also refer to our page Weather & Climate which further discusses detailed clothing requirements in relation to likely conditions.
Clothing for the Weather & Climate
From our time in Marrakech to 4000m up in the High Atlas, we will of course see a large change in temperature and exposure conditions. On the trek and the mountains we will need to be prepared for cold conditions with the possibility of precipitation as rain or snow. The following table gives a general picture of the annual weather variation in the valley close to Imlil where our trek begins. Obviously conditions higher up at the Neltner Refuge and on the peaks will be colder and the wind chill will greatly lower the experienced temperatures. You can easily knock off another 10 degrees from the temperatures quoted here to convert them to temperatures at 4000m.
Our clothing needs to be adaptable to the variation in conditions and the best way to achieve this is through a layering system, preferably with zips in the front and even armpits. These zips can be opened and closed as we move to regulate temperature without needing to stop and physically remove garments. Another very useful way to regulate temperature is simply by putting on or taking off a hat and gloves. A couple of pockets in your outer layer can be invaluable for this, or evern sufiing them down the front of your top.
The kit list above can be used as a guide but you may have clothing systems that you have found to best suit your own preferences. The general idea is to be equipped with shell layers for wind and precipitation, insulating layers for temperatures down to perhaps -10 or even -15, base and mid layers for layering flexibilty and good quality boots with fully compatible crampons.
In addition, whilst it could be -10 on the summit, it could also be +20 or more with strong UV in the valley as we approach the refuge in the afternoon. It is likely therefore that you will leave the refuge in the morning with maybe a trekking trousers and over-trousers, baselayer, warm mid-layer, soft-shell, belay jacket, windproof layer, two hats and thick gloves. By the time you return in the early afternoon you are likely to be wearing just thin trekking trousers, thin long sleeved baselayer top, sun hat & sun glasses with everything else stuffed into your daysack.
If you have any queries or questions on kit then please do get in contact with us to discuss requirements.
There are small rental shops in the village in which we stay at the start of the trek. You can in theory hire gear from these shops but the rental stock is fairly limited and often quite well-used. So for example, if a large group or several guides happened to have been to the shop the day before, there may not be any decent gear left. We would therefore recommend that you bring all the items that you will need with you.
There are companies in the UK that rent equipment for use on trips such as this. Some also offer the option of buying the kit at the end of the trip, at a 'used' price, if you have grown attached to it! This is sometimes a good idea for the more specialist or expensive gear if you find that you are having to buy a number of new items at once. Examples might be down jackets, 4-season sleeping bags, crampons and ice axes etc.
- Our Winter Toubkal trip has been carefully planned by experienced mountain and expedition professionals to give you the maximum from your week away in Morocco. This includes:
- Training in mountain skills and techniques
- The chance to summit four peaks over 4000m, some that are rarely climbed by other operators
- A traverse of Mt Toubkal rather than just the standard up-and-down route
- A carefully planned ascent profile to maximise your rate of acclimitisation to altitude. This not only improves your safety but also your enjoyment of the trip
- The chance to travel and stay with and hence learn from local people
- A small-scale and personal service by our own staff from booking, right through the trip and even upon your return
- A system of local employment that is fair and responsible and helps to promote development and investment in the local communities and country. We have built up partnerships with local guides and drivers which are mutually beneficial and exist on a fair and open basis so that the host country and its people may fully benefit from tourism without being exploited. We are passionate about responsible tourism and our company supports sustainable development worldwide in a real way.
- We have received the maximum 5-Star rating for sustainable tourism by the Association of Independent Tour operators.
- We have won multiple national awards for Responsible and Sustainable tourism.
- Adventure Alternative underwrites the charity Moving Mountains.
- Financial security is guaranteed as we are ABTOT bonded.
- We are audited and registered as complying with BS8848, the standard for overseas expeditions
- We are members on Interhealth which gives us and you access to pre-trip health information and on-site assistance by phone in the event of an emergency.