Thinking of climbing Mount Toubkal? I’ve taken on the challenge myself and, well, you can barely imagine the scene.
Staring down at an unforgiving cliff face, clouds forming and birds circling below. Standing tall despite utter exhaustion and the kind of hysteric elation that should knock you to the ground, head first.
Forevermore emotions will struggle to match this sense of pride and achievement, save for kids being born and a handful of other ‘major’ life moments.
The hours leading towards the summit have been something else – and, whatever that was, it wasn’t easy.
As sunlight and (possibly) the world’s purest air hit your face, you finally fully take stock of the epic surrounds and realise – this is Earth’s rooftop. It’s unbelievably impressive.
As the highest in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, Mount Toubkal may be smaller than Asia’s giants, but it’s the furthest up anyone gets in North Africa without getting airborne. At 4,167m, it’s taller than the majority of peaks in the Americas, Europe and Oceana. Amazingly, though, you don’t have to be an expert to get it done.
Read more: Solo travel cures a very modern insecurity
Some preparation is advisable— I did none aside from a leisurely walk ending with a pub dinner in northern England. I’d have probably benefited from a more responsible approach.
But the most important thing is being mentally ready for what’s ahead. So here are some pointers on how that could be done based on my own experience of climbing mighty Mount Toubkal.
Get your mind to the finish line – before setting off
Is this the most cliched thing anyone has ever written? Maybe, but it’s also true.
Looking at Mount Toubkal as something that could beat you defeats the object. There’s little chance anyone will give up, but understand that some do and it’s usually born from mental as much as physical surrender. Reassured determination puts your best foot forward.
Get into the group mentality
Few people have the privilege of a private sherpa, but on a Flash Pack trip you do. That said, the sherpa isn’t what you’ll rely on the most – it’s your group of like-minded comrades taking on the Toubkal trek by your side.
A problem shared is a problem halved, and the same goes for struggle. A good group encourages and is patient with one another, understanding some will find it harder than others. Weights on shoulders, aches in legs and weary spirits can be lifted as a team.
Get ready to listen
Once you arrive at the bottom of the very bottom, with everything ahead, you will have already made memories. From hereon out they come thick and fast, the landscape ahead changing from verdant green to dry red, onto grey granite and white snow.
As this happens, animals grow fewer, so too historic sites and variety of flora, but you’ll catch all those en route so remember the guy leading the way isn’t simply here for directions. Guides have a wealth of knowledge about where you are, what lives and what has happened there, so ask questions and learn stuff. And don’t forget to keep an eye out too— an eagle spotted yourself is worth five from someone else (or something).
Endurance anything is all about pacing— from bar crawls to marathons. Your guide will be setting the speed for the group, but this isn’t a frogmarch either. It can be tempting to go on ahead or set about exploring solo, not out of competitive spirit but the buzz of the moment. My advice is be careful.
Don’t exert much more energy than is necessary as you’ll need it later, and if there’s heavy snow this can also prove dangerous. I spent a minute or two waist deep in a drift, legs flailing freely below unsure where the ground was after opting to head off to the left of the recommended route— ignorant king of the hill until the incident struck.
Be prepared to dig very deep
How hard is Mount Toubkal? Very. But it’s not unachievable – you just have to dig deep.
On summit day, you’ll wake at the crack of dawn with a 10-hour trek up 22km of mountainous terrain ahead of you. You’ll stare upwards at a near-vertical incline, snowbound in winter, terrain slipping away beneath shoes during warmer months.
Before all that there’s a full day trekking through some of Morocco’s most unique rural scenes. There’s the pretty village of Aroumd, hanging off the hillside, where you’ll pause for lunch on a Flash Pack Toubkal adventure. Or Sidi Chamharouch, an isolated site of religious pilgrimage by a rocky mountain river, shacks next door used by shepherds as seasonal bases.
Put simply, Climbing Toubkal will be an amazing experience and you’ll see incredible things en route, but be ready to work for them, not least given the altitude.
Be accepting when you get a bit emotional
The introduction to this article may sound OTT but it’s not.
There’s a hugely moving, contemplative atmosphere at the top of a mountain. A place where reflection comes easy because you’ve beaten a tough challenge and got to where very few things ever do.
Unparalleled majestic views, completely unspoilt serenity, the only sign of human impact are the others at the summit and a wooden pyramid marking the very highest point. And, even if none of that affects you, the adrenalin of succeeding might. So consider this section less of a warning and more a recommendation; nothing beats climbing Mt. Toubkal and being on the very top.
Be aware— the summit is not the end
It doesn’t take a genius to read an itinerary, not that you could forget the order of events when there’s a professional there to make sure you don’t get confused, or lost.
Nevertheless, one of the biggest shocks to my system was the descent down Mount Toubkal.
All of the previous day and a half must happen again. Only, now, in reverse – and in far fewer hours. Usually, after beating your Toubkal ascent, you have to get back down to the road for pick-up and return to Marrakech on the same day, before dusk closes in. On a Flash Pack adventure you have the luxury of stopping for the night at a cosy mountain gite in the Berber village of Imlil. But that’s still a solid eight hours trek away.
The sights are still beautiful, the time limit and increasing physical and mental exhaustion are less appealing. So save a little in the tank for this part.
It’s here, when momentum has been broken and motivation starts to flounder following the ultimate high, that you might be glad you read this article – because this is the bit when you can put all of its parts together.
Ready to take on Mount Toubkal? Join our adventure to the roof of North Africa:
Hike Mount Toubkal in Morocco
You’ll spend two days altitude-trekking the Atlas highlands, along ancient mule trails and away from tourist hordes. We’ll put you up in traditional Berber guesthouses and guide you up to the summit of Toubkal up at 4,167m – this will stretch your limits. Then, after your climb, descend back down to a stunning Art Deco hotel in the heart of Marrakech for a much needed Moroccan hammam ritual and some well-earned riad-style relaxation.