Trekking: Jebel Toubkal Ascent

North Africa’s tallest peak, Jebel Toubkal (4167m) doesn’t require climbing experience. In summer, anyone in good physical condition can reach the summit. In early October, runners of the Toubkal Marathon scamper 42km up and down Jebel Toubkal. For extreme ultramarathoners, the organisers tacked a 106km High Atlas trail onto the marathon, calling it the Toubkal Trail.

Although the 3313m ascent from Imlil isn’t technically difficult, challenges include Toubkal’s fast-changing climate, steep slopes of volcanic scree and altitude sickness. Hikers should factor in sufficient time to ascend slowly and steadily; for a more leisurely ascent, camp en route at Sidi Chamharouch. An ascent of Toubkal can be combined with satellite peaks, and very fit trekkers ascend Ouanoukrim (4088m) as well.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration Two days

Distance 22km

Standard Medium to hard

Start/Finish Imlil village

Highest Point Jebel Toubkal (4167m)

Accommodation Camping and mountain refuges (cabins)

Public Transport Yes

Summary The most popular walk in the High Atlas, with magnificent views. The route is straightforward, but the trek up the scree slope is hard, and trekkers can be struck with altitude sickness. The trek is best in summer and autumn, but check conditions before departure – there can be snow even in June.

Before You Go: Toubkal Summit Checklist

Maps The same maps are recommended as for the Toubkal Circuit.

Water Purifying locally sourced water is a more responsible alternative than bottled water, but don’t count on finding available water sources between June and October.

Guide Although the route is marked, a guide is recommended for the ascent, especially for inexperienced mountaineers and in variable conditions from October to June.

Food Meals and snacks are available at Toubkal Refuge and Refuge Mouflon, but you can also find lunch supplies in Imlil and a wide selection of portable snacks in Marrakesh supermarkets.

Mule For this two-day trek with limited gear requirements, most experienced trekkers won’t require a mule. If you would prefer one, guides can organise mules and muleteers for you.

Gear Bring a sleeping bag. You won’t need a tent, unless you’d rather camp than stay at refuges – just ask your guide to arrange tents in advance.

Day 1: Imlil to Toubkal Refuge

Ideally leave Imlil early morning – it’s uphill all the way, with little shade past Aroumd. Follow the dirt track leading to Aroumd (Armed) past the Kasbah du Toubkal. Beyond the kasbah, the path zigzags steeply upwards to rejoin the road at Aroumd, where towering slopes begin to close around you.

Past Aroumd, cross the stony valley floor and follow the well-defined mule trail uphill towards a very large rock above the eastern side of the Assif Reraya, which leads to the hamlet and marabout of Sidi Chamharouch (2310m). Beyond the marabout, to the left of the track, are cascades, pools and a prime picnic spot in the shady overhang of the rocks.

After crossing the river by the bridge at Sidi Chamharouch, the rocky path veers away from the river for 2km and zigzags above the valley floor. It then levels off, before rejoining the course of the river. The Toubkal Refuge is visible for an hour before you reach it, immediately below the western flank of Jebel Toubkal.

Duration

Five to six hours

Distance

10km

Ascent

1467m

Day 2: The Ascent

Set off as early as possible to avoid climbing in the sun – there is no shade, only rocks – and be sure to dress warmly and pack extra water and snacks. If you’ve trekked here directly from Imlil, you may not be acclimatised, so walk at a steady, slow pace to avoid altitude sickness. If you experience severe headache or vomiting, descend immediately. However tempting, do not lie down to sleep on the slope.

Two cwms (valleys formed by glacial activity) run down the western flank of Toubkal, divided by the west-northwest ridge, which leads down from the summit. The southern cwm is the more usual route, and starts immediately below the refuge to the left, where you cross the river and head eastwards to the scree slope.

Start to climb the well-defined path to the left of the slope, cross the field of boulders, and then follow the path that zigzags up to Tizi n’Toubkal (3940m), straight ahead on the skyline. From there the path turns left (northeast) and follows the ridge to the summit (4167m). Allow up to four hours to reach the top, depending on your fitness and weather conditions.

Stick to the same route coming down, bearing left when the refuge comes into view. The descent to the refuge should only take 2½ hours, after which you can return to Aroumd or Imlil. If you are planning on spending a second night at the refuge, you could come down the longer route via the Ihibi sud (south) circuit. It’s a straightforward four-hour walk down to the refuge for well-earned congratulations and celebratory chocolate.

Duration

Nine hours

Distance

12km

Ascent & Descent

960m

Trekking: Toubkal Circuit

Beyond the majestic peaks and fabulous views of Jebel Toubkal, this circuit offers fascinating glimpses into Berber life in remote High Atlas villages. You will need camping gear for this route, though with short detours you could use basic village accommodation and mountain refuges.

Since this trek is fairly strenuous, you might want an extra rest day. The ascent of Jebel Toubkal takes place on the sixth day, allowing five days of acclimatisation to altitude. Most of the route is above 2000m, with several passes over 3000m.

Late April to late June is ideal: alpine flowers bloom April to May, and by June daytime temperatures are pleasantly warm. Temperatures often drop below freezing November to May, and snow covers higher peaks and passes. Only lower-valley walking is possible during this season, unless you’re prepared to bring ropes and crampons.

Midsummer guarantees long daylight hours and snow-free passes (though not always a snow-free Toubkal), but in the lower valleys temperatures can be extremely hot and water nonexistent. July and August are the busiest months in the High Atlas, but trekking is best done early morning and later in the afternoon.

Flash flooding can occur in summer after thunderstorms – something to bear in mind when deciding where to camp. Rivers have maximum flow in autumn (November) and late spring (April or May).

The Trek at a Glance

Duration Seven to 10 days

Distance 60.2km

Standard Medium to hard

Start/Finish Imlil village

Highest Point Jebel Toubkal (4167m)

Accommodation Camping, village gîtes and mountain refuges

Public Transport Yes

Summary Easily accessible from Marrakesh, this circuit around (and up) Jebel Toubkal passes through landscapes ranging from lush, cultivated valleys and Berber villages to forbidding peaks and bleak passes. This is a demanding trek, with long, gruelling climbs over rocky terrain. A guide is highly recommended, and good fitness is essential.

Before You Go: Toubkal Circuit Checklist

Maps The 1:50,000 sheet map Jebel Toubkal covers the whole Toubkal Circuit and is sometimes available through the Bureau des Guides in Imlil. The four-sheet, 1:100,000 topographical Toubkal Massif Walking Map also covers the circuit, produced by the Division de la Cartographie (Moroccan Survey) and obtainable from their office in Rabat, in London at Stanfords (www.stanfords.co.uk) or in Marrakesh at Hotel Ali on Djemaa El Fna (Dh150). Government-produced 1:100,000 Cartes des Randonnées dans le Massif du Toubkal marks trekking routes but includes less topographical detail.

Guide Engage licensed guides at Imlil’s Bureau des Guides. Allow at least a day to hire a guide and make trekking arrangements – though if you have specific needs or are travelling in high season, it may take more time.

Mule Mountain guides can organise mules and muleteers for you. Trekkers should be aware that mules have problems crossing Tizi n’Ouanoums, west of Lac d’Ifni, and from November to May, some areas may be impassable. If mules have to take lengthy detours, you may need to carry one day’s kit and food. Talk this through with your guide and muleteer.

Food Basic food supplies are available in Imlil, and trail mixes, packaged soups and other light, portable food is stocked by Marrakesh supermarkets.

Water Purifying locally sourced water is a responsible alternative to bottled water, but don’t count on finding available water sources – bring your own supply.

Gear A stick or trekking pole is useful. Petrol, diesel and kerosene can be bought in Marrakesh or Asni.

Tent Your guide can arrange tents. The circuit may require some camping, but you could add detours to seek out lodging, or possibly do without tents in summer.

Day 1: Imlil to Tacheddirt

Much of the first day's relatively gentle route follows the road linking Imlil (1740m) to the village of Ouaneskra, 2km west of Tacheddirt (2300m). The road climbs gently eastwards zigzagging up to Aït Souka.

After an hour, just past a stream known as Talat n’Aït Souka, you can either take the road north directly to the pass at Tizi n’Tamatert (2279m), or follow a fairly well defined but rocky path east, skirting Tamatert village. The rocky path continues eastwards for 15 minutes, passing through a small pine grove and crossing the road, before climbing steeply northeast to reach Tizi n’Tamatert. The walk up takes 30 to 45 minutes.

At the pass is Bivi Thé, a weather-beaten shack selling pricey soft drinks. To the northeast are great views of Tizi n’Eddi (2960m), the pass leading to Oukaimeden, and Tizi n’Tacheddirt (3230m).

The path and tarmac meet at Tizi n’Tamatert, where it’s an easy 45-minute walk to Ouaneskra. Along this stretch you’ll be treated to views across the valley to neat Berber houses and lush terraces in Talate n’Chaoute, Tamguist and Ouaneskra.

Shortly before Ouaneskra, the path divides. The mule track to the right traverses the southern side of the valley to an ideal camping place near the track, close to the Irhzer n’Likemt stream and the starting place for the next day’s climb.

The longer route via Ouaneskra and Tacheddirt takes the northern side of the valley after crossing Tizi n’Tamatert. There are three gîtes (basic homestays or hostels) in Ouaneskra and a pleasant little restaurant – but tomorrow’s walk is long, so it’s best to have lunch and carry on. The village of Tacheddirt is 2km further along the tarmac road. In Tacheddirt, 50 people can sleep at Tigmi Tacheddirt. From Tacheddirt, the hiking track loops south, up to the campsite near Irhzer n’Likemt.

Duration

3½ to 4½ hours

Distance

9.5km

Ascent

560m

Day 2: Tacheddirt to Azib Likemt

Leave Tacheddirt early to make the two- to three-hour walk up to Tizi Likemt (3550m), winding around the head of the valley on a more gentle ascent instead of heading straight down and across the Assif n’Imenane and up past the campsite. Though the walk is mostly shaded by mountain shadows in the morning, it’s a hard climb, especially a very steep scree slope towards the top.

Close to the campsite, a well-defined rocky path heads up the centre of the gully on the east side of the riverbed (though it crosses over twice). It climbs for about 50 minutes before bearing left (southeast) up to the col (pass). Atop Tizi Likemt are views of verdant valleys and jagged peaks, including Oukaïmeden and Jebel Toubkal on clear days.

The rocky path leading down the other side (southeast) passes a semipermanent water source on the left after 30 minutes, and irrigated pastures above Azib Likemt after another hour. An azib is a summer settlement, and Azib Likemt (2650m) is occupied from May through October by local people growing crops on irrigated terraces.

You may be offered shelter or a place to pitch your tent in Azib Likemt. Otherwise, walk through terraces down to the Assif Tifni, cross the river, turn right and walk upstream to a group of large boulders, where you’ll find a flat campsite close to the river.

Duration

Five to six hours

Distance

9km

Ascent

1200m

Descent

900m

Day 3: Azib Likemt to Amsouzert

This direct route south to Amsouzert is less demanding, but offers some good ridge walking. From Azib Likemt, the well-worn trail leads behind the campsite south, up the mountainside and into the tremendous gorge formed by Assif n’Tinzer. Above the river’s eastern bank, the trail snakes above the Tombe Asmine waterfall before descending close to the river. Follow the river for about two hours past stunning cliffs and through wide pastures, until an obvious track leads up the valley to Tizi n’Ououraïne (3120m; also known as Tizi n’Ouaraï) and brilliant views of the eastern face of Toubkal, Dôme d’Ifni (3876m) and the rest of the jagged Toubkal massif.

Continue over the col, where the trail traverses the head of the valley to a spur and trail crossroads. Heading southwest, a trail leads down the ridge to Tagadirt (after 50m there’s a fantastic viewpoint south to Jebel Siroua), but turn left (southeast) and follow the mule track south. Traverse the head of another valley and along the side of a spur to reach the ridge after 90 minutes; Lac d’Ifni is visible to the west. After a further 15 minutes, just before two pointed outcrops, the path forks. Turn right and continue descending slowly southwards to a large cairn. Descend southwest, then west down the end of the spur to Amsouzert (1797m) in 30 minutes.

Amsouzert is a prosperous village spread on both sides of the river. If you’re planning a rest day, this is an excellent place to take it. Next to the school is an outdoor tearoom shaded by an enormous walnut tree where you may able to camp. Otherwise, you can stay at Gîte Himmi Omar.

In Amsouzert, there are small shops, a couple of cafes west of the river and early morning transport to the N10 highway connecting Marrakesh and Ouarzazate. About 3km south of Amsouzert is another village called Imlil (not to be confused with the Imlil trailhead on the northern side of the range), which hosts a wildly popular Wednesday souq.

Duration

Six to 6½ hours

Distance

15.2km

Ascent

470m

Descent

1380m

Day 4: Amsouzert to Azib Imi n’Ouassif

Between November and June, mules will not make it much beyond Lac d’Ifni, the largest lake in the High Atlas, which means you’ll have to carry your kit to Azib Imi n’Ouassif over Tizi n’Ouanoums (3600m) to Toubkal Refuge.

From Amsouzert follow the level, well-used 4WD track that continues northwest towards Lac d’Ifni above the north side of the river. The path takes you through the villages of Ibrouane, Takatert and Tisgouane before reaching Aït Igrane, where there are a couple of cafes and Gîte Belaïde. There is also a shady campsite on a flat, stony site just beyond the Café Toubkal, with a cold shower and toilet.

Follow the 4WD track along the riverbed northwest out of Aït Igrane, picking up the narrow rocky mule path where the 4WD track crosses the river then turns sharp left. The mule path leads around the north side of Lac d’Ifni (2295m), across sharp, rocky, barren, inhospitable terrain. The climb is steep at first, but it descends to the northeastern corner of Lac d’Ifni, an inviting expanse of green water (safe for swimming). The walk to the lake should take three hours. Before you reach the shore, you will pass a shack marked ‘café’. There’s no coffee here, but if it’s attended, you may be able to buy water, soft drinks and, with any luck, a tajine.

On the small beach on the northern shore are shady (if occasionally fly-filled) stone shelters. If it’s rainy, camping nearer the next pass is treacherous, and you’re better off finding a campsite above the lake.

Every October, villagers from the surrounding area gather at Lac d’Ifni for a three-day moussem (festival) in honour of a local marabout (saint), whose tomb, Sidi n'Ifni, sits high above the southeastern corner of the lake. A track leads from the northeast shore up to the tomb.

From the northwestern side of the lake, the track crosses the wide, dry part of Lac d’Ifni before the long trudge towards Tizi n’Ouanoums (3600m). The path climbs through a rocky gorge, keeping to the south side of the river. About 3.5km from the lake, you’ll reach Azib Imi n’Ouassif (2841m), situated at a crossing of dramatic gorges. Beyond this point the path climbs steeply to Tizi n’Ouanoums, with winds near the summit and small, frigid waterfalls. You’ll find flat, rocky areas for pitching tents and shelters in surrounding cliffs long used by local shepherds.

Duration

5½ to six hours

Distance

10.5km

Ascent

1100m

Day 5: Azib Imi n’Ouassif to Toubkal Refuge

The path to Tizi n’Ouanoums is immediately northwest of the campsite. It’s a steep, demanding climb, but the views are spectacular from the top over Assif n’Moursaïne, hemmed in by jagged ridges of Adrar bou Ouzzal and Ouimeksane. The path crosses the river several times after leaving the camp, reaching a stone shelter and water source after an hour and the col another hour further. Even in midsummer it’s cold and blustery at the top.

Coming down the other side, there’s treacherous loose rock and snow until July. From here you can see Jebel Toubkal and, to the west, the path to Tizi n’Melloul (3875m). After the descent, the track levels out and heads due north to Toubkal Refuge (3207m), about two hours from Tizi n’Ouanoums.

CAF’s Toubkal Refuge, sometimes labelled Neltner on maps, suffers from overcrowding, damp, and a lack of facilities. The newer Refuge Mouflon provides more facilities, a better-stocked shop and good meals (Dh90) in the chilly lounge. You can also camp downstream from the refuge or 20 minutes south of the refuge on flat pasture (Dh20).

Assuming you reach the refuge before lunch, there are trekking options to occupy the afternoon – including the three- or four-hour descent directly north back to the starting point, Imlil, if you don’t want to climb Jebel Toubkal. You could ascend the second-highest mountain in the region, Jebel Ouanoukrim (4088m, five to six hours return). The best option is to rest all afternoon to prepare for the climb up Jebel Toubkal the following morning.

Duration

Four hours

DIstance

4km

Ascent

759m

Descent

393m

Day 6: Toubkal Refuge to Azib Tamsoult

From the Toubkal Refuge pick up the mule track that heads northwest then gently climbs north across the slope for about 15 minutes. You will come to a fork near a small rounded wall, used as a sheepfold. Turn left, westwards, up the zigzagging mule path, which will bring you to Tizi n’Aguelzim (3560m) after two hours. It’s a slower trail but less treacherous than the southern route at Tizi n’Taddert, which is often abruptly closed due to dangerous conditions.

Panoramic views await at Tizi n’Aguelzim pass: east to the Toubkal summit, northeast to the Imlil valley, northwest to Azzadene and west to the Tazaghart plateau. From here, the track twists in some 92 hairpin bends downhill for almost an hour. At the bottom, it crosses a stream. Twenty minutes further on, at a fork, take the left-hand track, and take another left 15 minutes later. Here the track leads uphill for 10 minutes to cosy CAF Tazaghart Refuge, which sits beside a stunning waterfall. There are mattresses for 22 people, gaslights and a basic kitchen.

You’ll probably find the place closed unless you’ve made a reservation, and the gardien (caretaker) is based in Tizi Oussem. Phone ahead, or else try passing a message to him via muleteers or shepherds, who may run all the way to Tizi Oussem to fetch him. Campers can pitch tents beside the refuge, or on flat ground above the falls.

Tizi n’Melloul (3875m), southeast of Tazaghart refuge, offers a harder route to and from the Toubkal Refuge, but provides access to Afella (4045m) southeast of the pass and to the jagged ridge leading north to Biginoussen.

The route down to Azib Tamsoult (2400m) passes the impressive Cascades d’Irhoulidene, where vegetation and tree coverage increases. A five-minute walk from the falls brings you to a pleasant wooded area for camping. To reach the village, walk north for 10 to 15 minutes.

Duration

Five hours

Distance

8km

Ascent

493m

Descent

1300m

Day 7: Azib Tamsoult to Imlil

If you have made good time and you have the legs, you could continue down to Imlil at the end of day six. From the vegetable patches of Azib Tamsoult, with the Assif n’Ouarzane down to the left, a mule track traversing the forested valley is visible to the north. Head towards it past the village and over the stream, and stay on it, avoiding left forks into the valley.

Climbing slightly and heading steadily northeast, towards the juniper forest with Tizi Oussem due west, you arrive at Tizi n’Mzik (2489m), where a sheep shed might serve as shelter. Imlil is a 90-minute descent along a well-worn mule track; there’s a spring to the right of the trail after 40 minutes. Comfortable beds and hot tajines await in Imlil.

Duration

Four to five hours

Distance

7km

Ascent

89m

Descent

749m