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A Touch of Toubkal Altitude Thickness

By Phil on 2014.10.22 In Toubkal

I recently returned from the Toubkal Two Valley trek in Morocco with outdoor adventure company Exped Adventure. I managed to drag Ian, Joe, Jason, Alan and Andy G along for the ride also.

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Day 1: Into Africa [Right Back to Where We Started]

After a smooth trip to Marrakech airport, the taxi drive into Marrakech was as crazy as I expected, as we bustled our way through the chaotic traffic and crazy sights to a soundtrack of blasting horns. There also seems to be some kind of competition to see how many people or boxes one can fit on a motorbike while constantly cutting each other up on the road. Quite a bizarre sight. Welcome to Marrakech!

The taxi driver dropped us off on the outskirts of Marrakech where we were greeted by a tiny elderly man with a square wheelbarrow for our luggage. This was our porter who would guide us through the winding streets to our hostel accommodation, Equity Point. I have to say it was quite an experience as we followed our elderly porter through the streets, with him stopping every 5 minutes to hold his chest, while smiling, obviously trying to show us how hard his job was to get a bigger tip.

After wandering through the Souks of Marrakech, we finally arrived at our digs. Which I have to say is better than some B&B’s I have stayed in here in the UK. Our six bed dorm overlooked the swimming pool and just below the sun terraced roof with stunning views over Marrakech. We quickly checked in and headed out to the main square for some food.

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I had heard about how amazing the Moroccan street food was, so was looking forward to sampling it. As soon as you hit the main square it was just a sea of outdoor food stalls shouting “cheap price” to tempt you in. As we headed past the first food stall, we made the big mistake of looking at a menu, before being hassled to step in and eat there. We were just about to ignore the guy tempting us in and head further into the square, until he told us in excellent English: “It’s the same shit everywhere man, you might as well eat here.” After his very honest sales pitch, we decided to take his word for it and grab a table. I have to say, the display of fresh food on show, looked nothing like the cooked stuff we were served, which was quite disappointing. We quickly ate what little food we had been given and headed on through the rest of the main square, looking at all the options we had missed out on.

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After a long day travelling we were ready for some alcohol. Not easy to find in Morocco. Luckily we found a fancy rooftop restaurant which did serve beer and headed there for a few. We then wandered the streets looking for another bar before admitting defeat and heading back to our hostel only to find we had a great terrace bar selling beer right above our heads.

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Day 2: New Disciples [A spade’s a spade unless it’s a shovel]

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After breakfast we met our guides, Sam and Jamie from Exped Adventure as well as our fellow trekking mates Lydia, Sally, Rory, Alex, Andy and Tony for a briefing on our trek. As we had a few hours to kill before we headed to the mountains in Imil, we had time to have another wander around Marrakech and a spot of lunch. During lunch (where I managed to be the only person to order a chicken tagine which came with no chicken, only bones!) we discussed some of the things we might encounter during the trek. Ian started to tell Lydia that he had brought his bat repellent which sends out a high pitched sound to scare off bats during the night. Lydia was worried at this point as she hadn’t brought any bat repellent, until we all started laughing at Ian’s joke.

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We returned to our hostel to be picked up by our mini bus for the 1.5 hour drive to the mountain village of Imil where we would start our trek from the following day. Our accommodation for the night was the excellent Dar Ardar in the hills above Imil which stretched before us from the balcony view. After being served a great meal of soup, tagines (with chicken this time) and gallons of green tea a few of us had a game of cards to pass the time. This card game was more challenging than expected, as Lydia struggled with the card suits, getting her shovels and spades and clubs and clovers mixed up. To which Alan came out with the comment which was soon to be used a lot during the trek of: “Have you got altitude thickness Lydia!”

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Day 3: Two Tribes go to Walk [A Night Under the Stars]

After a great night sleep in a proper bed (unlike half the group who reported being awoken by the sound of some sort of Wickerman festival in the valley below during the dead of night), We woke to stunning views of the mountains above Imil as the clouds lifted while we got ready for our first day of trek.

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We split into our teams of 6, with Sam leading our team and Jamie leading the others and headed off. It was quite a steep ascent to start the day off as well as blistering heat as we headed to the Col Tizi Mzik pass at 2400m.

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Once at the Col we dumped out rucksacks and headed off to first summit of 2580m. Once at the summit were had our first experience of the truly stunning views we would encounter on this trip. We then headed back to catch up with the muleteers and mules who had gone ahead to setup out first lunch stop of the trek. We were treated to a great first meal and gallons of green tea by our personal chef before the steep decent to the Berber village of Tizi Oussem at 1900m and our gite for the night.

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Each team of 6 were given our own dorms for the night. Ours was a long brick annex from the main building with cushioned bench around the wall for us to sleep on with our sleeping bags. While most of us were unpacking, Andy came into the room with a huge grin on his face, happy that he managed to survive his first attempt at using the hole in the ground toilet without incident. He was so pleased he hit the target that he felt like celebrating and throwing his hands in the air but he was too busy using his hands to keep the door shut and balancing.

After dinner Joe decided to get his phone out and play a game he has on it called, “Guess The Animal”, where you hold the phone on your forehead facing the rest of the group and you have to guess the animal based on the clues given by the others looking at the phone on your forehead. During Ian’s turn the animal on display was Walrus, to which Joe gave the perfect clue. “A Beatles song, I am the….?” To which Ian replied. “Yellow Submarine.” It seemed like Ian was next to succumb to altitude thickness.

A few of the group decided to sleep on the balcony under the stars rather than in our team rooms. Me and Ian managed to last an hour or so, before returning to our room where Joe and Andy G appeared to be having a snore-off. With hindsight I think we would have been better off staying on the balcony and putting up with the sound of morning prayers, music procession, singing and many other bizarre noises during the night rather than listen to Joe and Andy G snoring.

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Day 4: Diker Grove [Meat is Murder]

The next day was a long trek up the Azzadene valley to Lepiney refuge at 3000m and the famous outside toilet with amazing valley views (even if the toilet itself was anything but amazing), I had heard so much about from my friend Rhiannon (her blog post An Atlas Mountain Adventure & an Extreme Shewee can be found at her blog site here: Away to the Hills).

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On the way we stopped off at a new posh refuge for some green tea and snacks. Posh means it had normal flushable toilets, which the group made sure to make the most of before hitting the unique Lepiney refuge.

Before lunch we passed a stunning waterfall where Alan and Ian decided to strip off and take the opportunity to have a dip to cool down.

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Although our meals cooked by the muleteers were great considering what equipment they had to cook them with during the trek, we were starting to miss some real meat. So Jamie asked the chef if there was any way we could have some meat for our evening meal at the refuge. We were told we could pay a little extra and sacrifice a goat, which for 40 Dirham a person was bargain.

As we headed up the mountain to the refuge we started to see and hear a little black goat following us all the way to the refuge on its own accord. Little did we know at the time that this was soon to be our dinner, before finally arriving at the Lepiney refuge and the famous toilet with a view!

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While some went out to watch the sacrificing of our goat (which is done as humanely as possible and instant), the rest of us settled into our accommodation for the night which was the attic of this very small refuge. We basically had to climb a vertical ladder from the kitchen through a hole in the attic and sleep on cushioned mats along with a group of Dutch people who had somehow picked up on some of our teams accents and kept saying “Byker Grove” to us. I’m amazed how such a kids TV show had made it on to Dutch TV, but obviously had.

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Day 5: Ziga Zig Za [Up to the Bottom]

The Dutch had obviously planned on leaving the refuge a lot earlier than us, as they woke some of us up with their singing during breakfast while we were still trying to sleep. No doubt singing the Ant and Dec classic hit song “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble”.

Despite the singing Dutch, it was actually my best night’s sleep of the trek and felt great as we headed up the never ending zig zag path up the valley to the Col on the shoulder of Aguelzim at 3550m. The hard slog up the valley was the first time I noticed people splitting from our usual walking groups and often walking on their own, this was due to people wanting to set their own pace.

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This was the highest I had hiked and was starting to feel the first effects of hiking at higher altitude which wasn’t helped by the blistering heat and steep scree terrain.

Our muleteers had found us a perfect lunch stop as we looked down towards the Toubkal refuge as well as seeing our first glimpse of the Toubkal summit we would be ascending the following day.

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It was a fairly rocky descent to the Toubkal refuge at 3200m, which was very busy with well over 100 trekkers staying the night. We were placed in a dorm with 4 strangers which included an American couple who were getting up at around 4am to summit Toubkal before long walk back to Imil. Luckily we weren’t leaving till after 8am and returning back to Toubkal refuge for another night.

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Day 6: Through the Bleak Mid Winter [There and Back Again]

After a bad night’s sleep due to increase in snorers in our room, I still felt quite fresh and ready for our 8am ascent of Jebel Toubkal. Unlike our previous Dutch companions the Americans must have had ninja training as they quietly left our dorm for their early morning ascent without disturbing us.

We set off in our teams of 6 with the plan of meeting at the col prior to the final ascent of Toubkal. It was quite a cold morning due to us being in the shade for most of the way up to Toubkal, so it was the first time we all had to wrap up with extra layers, hats and gloves during the day.

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It was another steep scree ascent before hitting a large patch of snow which we had to carefully navigate across. It wasn’t deep or hard enough where crampons or ice axes were essential, but was still very tricky to navigate through and had to be done with caution.

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We all arrived safely at the Col to perfect conditions of clear blue skies, sun shining and stunning views for miles around. We then made our final ascent to the summit of Toubkal, the highest point in North Africa at 4167 metres high.

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As there had been so many people staying in the refuge the night before, I was expecting a lot more people on the summit when we arrived, but I was so pleased there weren’t hordes of people like you see on top of Ben Nevis or Scafell Pike at weekends back in the UK. After a while we pretty much had the summit of Toubkal to ourselves. It was perfect!

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Sam and Jamie had planned this route with this in mind and this allowed us to spend over an hour on the summit chilling and taking many summit photos while admiring the amazing views all around us.

After enjoying the summit of Toubkal, it was time to head back to our refuge, which also meant passing over the snow we crossed on the way up. It was a lot harder going down over the snow as it was going up it, as Alan soon discovered as he slipped and slid down the snow only to be stopped by Sam.

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We arrived back at the refuge just before 4pm where our chef had our first of two large meals ready waiting for us.

The evening ended with some muleteers partying, playing music and singing outside their tents in front of the refuge and joined by many hikers staying at the refuge.

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Day 7: Breaking up the Band [Beer, Belly Dancers]

After another loud snore fest in our room, it was another early start for our descent back to Imil through the Mizane valley.

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It was quite a busy descent back down to Imil, as we passed many hikers on their way up to ascend Toubkal direct from Imil. This would easily add 4 hours to an already hard hike up Toubkal and so glad we did the route designed by Sam and Jamie.

We finally arrived back at Dar Ardar in Imil where we had started this amazing trek from and were provided with another slap up meal on the terrace before being joined by our muleteers and chefs to thank them for all their hard work and give them gifts such as shirts, head torches, hats and sunglasses as a thank you.

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After a few hours chilling at Dar Ardar we were picked up by our mini bus to take us back to the craziness of Marrakech. After a quick shower and change it was time to head to the only restaurant we knew which served great food and more importantly, alcohol!!

Needless to say the drink went down like it was going out of fashion, as we kept doubling up on our beer orders throughout the night. We were even treated to some belly dancers at our table, who had appeared from nowhere but for some reason had dumped their clothes in the men’s toilets.

Day 8: Time to Go Morocco [Yallah Yallah]

Following the heavy night of drinking, there were quite a few sore heads amongst the group, some more sore than others and nobody was in much of a hurry to get up for breakfast.

Our flight home wasn’t until 7pm, so after saying our farewells to some of the team, we headed off to the Souks of Marrakech for some last minute shopping and so Andy G could continue his Moroccan slipper fetish which he seemed to have acquired during our trek.

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Summary:

The whole Toubkal Two Valley trek was an amazing experience and one I would thoroughly recommend to anyone wanting to do such a multi-day trek. It had everything from stunning scenery, mixed terrain of dusty tracks and snow as well as a great group of people.

It was also my first experience of doing an organised trek and so glad we chose Exped Adventure over the other companies offering the same trek. Sam and Jamie have a lot of experience of trekking in Morocco and this has helped them establish a great relationship with the locals and design a unique route which helps with acclimatisation. It also avoided having to start the Toubkal ascent at the very early hours of the morning like many of our fellow trekkers and allowed us to spend more time and mostly private time at the summit of Toubkal. Their route and timings is spot on as was their choice of muleteers and chefs who were with us all the way.

Although I’m glad to have experienced the craziness of Marrakech, it’s not somewhere I’m in a hurry to return to. It certainly is an experience you won’t forget, but I was ready to leave it behind and would much rather have stayed the extra days/nights in the mountains.

As a lover of winter adventures over summer ones, I’m very tempted to do Toubkal in the winter, though I think I need to recover from my first Marrakech experience and flush out all the green tea and cumin from my body before revisiting for a winter encounter.

You can view the profile and full trek details here

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    Welcome

    Welcome to my blog about hiking, trekking, Fjällräven Polar 2014, in fact anything where you require boots and the outdoors.

    My name is Phil, and following my outdoor epiphany which started in the summer of 2012 I’m now hooked on everything outdoors. So far my biggest treks have included the 250km Cathar Way, the 170km Tour du Mont Blanc and best of all, winning 1st place to take part in the Fjällräven Polar in April 2014.

    I plan to use this blog to write about all my adventures, which will include my personal goal of becoming a Munroist (completing all 282 Scottish Munro mountains), summer treks, weekends in the Lakes and many more.

    I like to try and make my blog posts humorous so I hope you enjoy reading and that I can put a smile on people’s faces while showing you some amazing places.

    If you have any questions about the blog or the places I'm writing about, don't hesitate to contact me on: phil@philyourboots.com

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