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 potentially 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 Toubkal area treks begin. (click on it to enlarge) Obviously conditions at camps/refuges higher up and on the peaks will be colder and the wind chill will greatly lower the experienced temperatures. To convert the temperatures for higher altitudes you would usually take off another 6-10 degrees C per 1000m of altitude gained.
There are also detailed annual average temperatures charts at a website called Weatherspark and another also with rainfall statistics called World Weather & Climate. You can get good forecasts for the next 6 days at different altitudes on Toubkal at Mountain-Forecast.
As with the weather anywhere, the temperatures on the treks are slightly unpredictable. How hot or cold it actually feels is also affected quite a lot by whether you are in direct wind/shelter or sunlight/shade. However, the following will give you an idea of what to expect and how you should plan your clothing and equipment to suit.
Conditions & Clothing for Summer Trips (May & September)
Expect the daytime temperature in the mountains to be between 10 and 25 degrees C. As previously mentioned, temperatures ususally drop by a degree or so per 200m of altitude gained as well, so they will vary according to where we are on the trek. For example, on the top of Mt Toubkal it could potentially be several degrees below freezing.
Lower down, we will need to be prepared for maximum daytime temperatures of around 30 degrees C or perhaps slightly more, which will feel quite hot if we are out of the breeze and the sun is bright. If it is cloudy and there is some wind then on the higher ground and summits we may also have conditions in the day that could feel more like 0 degrees C or lower.
For some summits we will also be making an early start. At this time we may spend the first few hours of the trek in the shade of the surrounding mountains before the sun comes up. We will therefore probably start with a light jacket or top on, which we will remove when the sun hits us later on.
As an example of clothing to wear;
In the lower valleys we will probably set off in shorts or light trekking trousers, a lightweight trekking shirt or top and maybe a light mirco-fleece or softshell top if the sun is still below the peaks. By mid-day we will be in single layers of lightweight clothing, sun hat, sun glasses and sun block on any exposed skin.
On the upper parts of the trek and peaks we may be leaving quite early in the morning in order to complete the hardest part of the day’s ascent in the cooler conditions. We may leave the camp or refuge in trousers, lightweight top, microfleece or softshell and even perhaps a warm hat. As we begin to climb and the sun comes out we will probably be down to just our lightweight layers and the sunhat and sunglasses will come out. Once we are up on the summit the air will be cooler and, especially if you have been sweating, you will soon need to throw on an extra layer and maybe your hard-shell windproof jacket.
In all situations you will need to have an extra insulating layer, a waterproof hard-shell jacket and thin hat and gloves in your day-sack in case the weather changes or we are forced to remain stationary for any reason.
At night, temperatures would normally not drop below around 0-5 degrees C at our highest sleeping places such as the Nelter Refuge. But again, there is obviously some variation year to year. It is worth having a good sleeping bag to ensure a good night's sleep. We usually recommend a 3/4 season sleeping bag for our summer treks. If you only have a warmer bag then you can of course use this and just leave it un-zipped if it is hot. When selecting sleeping bags for this trip, look for something with a comfort temperature of around 0 degrees C or lower.
Clothing for Winter Trips
Expect daytime still-air temperatures to be between 5 and 20 degrees C but factor into this that we will see a huge variation in the actual perceived temperatures. If you are high up, in the dark or shade and the wind is blowing across the snow onto you it can easily feel more like -15 deg C and if you are climbing a steep incline in still conditions at mid-day in the full force of the sun it can feel more like 25-30 degrees.
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 even stuffing them down the front of your top.
The kit list provided 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 winter boots with fully compatible crampons.
As mentioned above it could be -5 leaving the refuge in the dark of the early morning, -10 on the summit including wind-chill and +20 or more with strong UV in the valley as we return to the refuge in the afternoon. It is likely therefore that you will leave the refuge in the morning wearing trekking trousers, maybe shell over-trousers, base-layer, 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 base-layer top, sun hat & sun glasses with everything else stuffed into your day-sack.
The snowline can vary quite a lot between Imlil and the Refuges. At some times you can walk pretty much all the way to the refuge on the rocky/dusty path. However, you will need to be prepared, in terms of footwear and clothing, for the possibility of there being snow underfoot and potentially cold conditions, well below freezing.
The path to the refuge is not steep so even if there is snow on the ground it is very rare that crampons would be needed to get to the refuge its self. We would usually have our crampons in our mule bag anyway, unless our local contacts report difficult conditions. As we get close to the refuge there may be some ice and old neve snow on the ground that can be slippery. However, we will move slowly in this case and take whatever steps needed to get through.
The other aspect of walking on snow, aside from grip, is that it makes your feet a lot colder. This is especially true if there is fresh snow in the ground into which you are sinking. Therefore, even if you are going to change to different boots for the peaks, you do need to have good quality, stiff and supportive boots of 3-4 season warmth rating for this lower part. It is a good idea to have some nice warm socks and boots sized to accommodate them inside too. If you would like to send us the make & model of your boots, or a photo, we can let you know if they are likely to be OK. Gaiters are also extremely useful for keeping any snow out of your boots.
In terms of warm clothing, you will definitely appreciate some good warm layers. A good warm down or synthetic jacket is essential, although it does not need to be one of the huge expedition-style ones. This should travel with you in your day pack even when you are walking in the lower valleys. You also need other warm fleece/wool layers for your body, hat, warm gloves and wind proof layers. It is more likely to snow than rain, but it is not impossible that we could have rain or sleet lower down in the valleys. I usually layer-up with my upper body and head and wear just normal trekking trousers, though slightly thicker, warmer trousers like softshells may be useful to have as an option.
For your time in the refuge; the building in general is not heated and can be quite cold. As we are in a valley running North-South between steep peaks, this means that the direct sunlight arrives in the valley quite late in the morning and disappears again quite early. I tend to put on warm base-layer leggings and top as soon as we get there, along with other layers on top.
There is a shower/toilet area downstairs that can be rather cold, a common dining area on the ground floor that is moderately cold and a common room on the ground floor that has a log burner in the corner and can be very warm. The sleeping rooms are upstairs on the first floor, and can be moderately cold. To get a good night's sleep I would say you will need a sleeping bag that has a comfort rating down to say -5degC. Though if you tend to get cold at night then a warmer rating or a silk/fleece liner can be a good idea.
Boots generally stay at the entrance hallway in big racks so it is good to have either some big, thick socks + flipflops/crocs or some down booties to walk around the hut in. Unfortunately hut slippers are not supplied like they are in the Alps.
With all of this, I would say that it is better to bring too many warm layers than not enough. We will have various briefings and chats in Marrakech and in Imlil so we can always review what you have there and leave any excess kit in Imlil.
We appreciate that it can be hard to visualise what the conditions may be like, and therefore what to bring. Hopefully the information and examples above will help you to plan. However, if you have any queries or questions on kit, then please do get in contact with us to discuss it further.