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NoFear Travel in Africa (1) | Climbing Toubkal – Atlas Mountains

We (Cor and Grietje van NoFear Travel), be with our Toyota Hilux 4×4 camper traveling in Africa. The African continent is the Mecca for 'overlanding' with many challenging routes and beautiful destinations. The first African country we visit on our trip to South Africa is Morocco, where we want to climb the Toubkal mountain (4167 m). In this article we tell you all about it.



About Toubkal

The Toubkal is a mountain peak in southwestern Morocco. With a height of 4167 m, it is the highest mountain in the Atlas Mountains and from Morocco. This mountain range is also the highest point in North Africa and the Arab world. The mountain is located 63 km southeast of the city of Marrakesh, in the Toubkal National Park.

Off to the Atlas Mountains

From the Moroccan west coast we drive south of Marrakesh towards the mountains. From the dry landscape, which takes on a bit of desert-like features, it looms
Atlas Mountains. Beautiful buds in many different shades are getting closer and closer.

Sunset from the Auberge | On the way to the Atlas Mountains
Sunset from the Auberge | On the way to the Atlas Mountains
Desert Landscape | On the way to the Atlas Mountains
Desert Landscape | On the way to the Atlas Mountains

It is getting late so we look for a place for the night. We have read that in a small hamlet there is an auberge where you can eat and spend the night in their yard. That seems like a nice place to us.

On arrival in the village we cannot find the auberge at first. But our searching attitude is noticed by a villager who leads us to the auberge. It is not far, but the narrow streets and sharp bends in combination with steep slopes make accessibility a challenge. We therefore advise not to look for this accommodation with means of transport larger than 6 meters.

the auberge

No one is present in the auberge, but we are shown around by the villager. There is a toilet and a shower, which is nice! Later it turns out that the shower does not give any water and for the squat toilet you are expected to bring your own paper. Fortunately we are used to it. The villager asks if we want to eat.

Gradually we begin to realize that he is more than just someone who shows us the way. Communication is very difficult, there his French is even worse than ours. But the proposal of the food seems to us a good one. We make an appointment to join us at seven o'clock. We sit in a room where he serves a tasty tagine. The national dish, this time with chicken. It turns out that the man is also the cook and waiter… We still haven't seen the owner of the auberge.

Playing kids

It has been clear to us for some time that children like to seek the attention of tourists. To them we are almost strange creatures. Immediately upon arrival we see some shy faces peeking through the bushes. They are curious about us. It is a nice spectacle to see how they gradually come closer.

Seeing the sweet, questioning and curious faces, it's hard not to give them a candy or cookie. We give in to the pressure and spend half a pack of cookies on it. And then….an angry neighbor sticks his head around the corner and the children make them run away. They have learned not to bother tourists, but this time the challenge was too big for them. In the evening and the next morning they repeat the game again, but we have learned not to go along with it anymore.

Departure without paying

After our yogurt breakfast it is time to continue our journey towards the Toubkal. But there is no one to be seen around the auberge. We want to pay for our overnight stay, dinner and tip for the good care…but to whom? There is nobody. And just depositing an amount somewhere doesn't feel good either. After we had opened all the doors, called around everywhere, waited and waited a little longer, we decide to leave. In the village we ask at the various shops for the villager or possibly the owner, but nobody knows anything. We leave the village with a strange, dissatisfied feeling.

On to Oukaimeden

Because we want to avoid the touristic Imlil - which is actually the starting point for a walk to the Toubkal - we drive to Oukaimeden (2650 m). We have read that there are also starting opportunities there. We are looking for a guide. Climbing the Toubkal with a guide is mandatory, partly because two Scandinavian girls were killed in the area.

Looking for a guide

We walk into a random restaurant that looks somewhat western and we ask the owner for a guide. He walks out and asks one of the "men" on the street. It doesn't take long before it spreads like wildfire that there are tourists looking for a guide. Calls are made and mopeds are driven back and forth. Then someone comes to tell us that he knows someone, but this person doesn't speak English.

The man in question is called up and taken out of his daily Berber life. We find it difficult to communicate with him, but we manage to make arrangements about the route. We will be on the road for 5 days, starting tomorrow morning. There is also a carrier with horse. This luxury means we don't have to carry our own luggage. Mustafa speaks only Berber with a touch of French and English. Together with our “hands and feet” we will figure it out.

Mosque

Then we have to find a safe place for the camper for about 5 days. He knows someone for that. We park the camper in the yard near someone's house. A little later we find out who our neighbors are. The mosque… That's not so bad, but the best Muslims have the habit of calling to prayer five times a day.

The horses look to see if there is still something in the dirt | On the way to the Atlas Mountains
The horses look to see if there is still something in the dirt | On the way to the Atlas Mountains
Spend the night next to a piste bully | On the way to the Atlas Mountains
Spend the night next to a piste bully | On the way to the Atlas Mountains

Well, if you spend the night next to such a mosque, you will be upright in your bed at 5.30 in the morning. Fortunately, we have to be ready for the walk at 7 o'clock.

Climbing the Toubkal Mountain

The first walking day

The first day we walk into the mountains together with the guide Moustafa and the porter Omar with his horse and start a gentle climb to a col. From here we have a fantastic view. We take pictures and enjoy ourselves to the fullest. Communication with Mustafa and Omar is a bit difficult, but they turn out to be friendly men who do their best to be understood.

Toubkal . National Park
Toubkal . National Park
Berber houses with sheep farming
Berber houses with sheep farming
On the first col | Climbing Toubkal
On the first col | Climbing Toubkal

After the pass we pass a hamlet called Tamguist, where we eat a tagine in the only local restaurant.

Then continue through the Berber village and see the living and living conditions of the residents. It is all very poor and deprived by Western standards, but we have the strong impression that people are having a great time.

Hidden Cottage | Climbing Toubkal
Hidden Cottage | Climbing Toubkal
Village Boys | Climbing Toubkal
Village Boys | Climbing Toubkal

We climb further to the next col and see Imlil on the other side. Descending we reach some settlements just outside the village. Here we pass many gites, auberges and hotels. You can see from everything that it is touristy here. Many tourist buses with a day tour from Marrakech are parked along the street. We walk through the main street and are regularly approached by sellers of all kinds of goods. Now we are used to that, but you notice that it is a bit more unfriendly here.

Our overnight address is fortunately far outside Imlil at a small cozy gite. After we enter our room, we stretch out on the bed and enjoy the peace for a while. After 20 kilometers and 2100 m ascent and descent, we have earned that rest.

From Imlil to refuge les Mouflons

After a delicious Moroccan breakfast (with almond cheese, peanut butter made from almonds) we leave in the direction of the refuge les Mouflons, the starting point for the climb to the top.

Moroccan breakfast with almond cheese | Climbing Toubkal
Moroccan breakfast with almond cheese | Climbing Toubkal

A police check soon follows. The guide must show that he is entitled by means of his ticket and we must show our passports. After this check we meet more and more hikers. And porters with horses and donkeys, a lot of stuff is being swept back and forth.

The path ascends slowly but surely. We do not experience it as a tough walk, although the rise is about 1400 meters. On the way we pass a team of hard workers who level the path, lay aside thick stones and rake everything up. Tough job, hats off!

Hard workers | Climbing Toubkal
Hard workers | Climbing Toubkal
Cooling installation with mountain spring water | Climbing Toubkal
Cooling installation with mountain spring water | Climbing Toubkal

Sunrise on the Toubkal

The refuge les Mouflons (3207 m) turns out to be a modern, luxurious mountain hut. There is a choice of dormitories and even private rooms. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided by friendly staff.

We agree with our guide to leave early the next day, half past three. We then walk to the top in the dark and can admire the sunrise. We go to bed early to get up early tomorrow.

Refuge de Mouflons at 3207m | Climbing Toubkal
Refuge de Mouflons at 3207m | Climbing Toubkal
les Mouflons | Climbing Toubkal
les Mouflons | Climbing Toubkal

The last piece

When the alarm goes off at three o'clock there is already some noise in the hut. There are several people who apparently want to climb the Toubkal at this hour. There is no lighting in the cabin except for a few emergency lights. Power saving! Fortunately, we have our headlamps with us, which we will need during the climb.

After a simple breakfast we meet Mustafa and we enter the dark night. With the headlamps we can at least see where to put our feet. The steep path turns out to be less easy than yesterday's climb. Loose stones regularly roll under our feet. After about two and a half hours of climbing, some light comes carefully from behind the mountain tops. Continue for a while.

We have been informed in advance of altitude sickness and of course the thin air as soon as you get higher. But it is not that bad, at most accelerated breathing, but that can also be due to the effort.

When we reach the top, an adrenalin rush goes through us: WE MADE IT!

We get our camera ready and now we have to wait for the magical moment, the moment when the sun ushers in a new day. In our enthusiasm we take many pictures.

Waiting for the right moment | Climbing Toubkal
Waiting for the right moment | Climbing Toubkal
Looking for the best position together | Climbing Toubkal
Looking for the best position together | Climbing Toubkal
Just before sunrise | Climbing Toubkal
Just before sunrise | Climbing Toubkal
Toubkal 4167m | Climbing Toubkal
Toubkal 4167m | Climbing Toubkal

plane crash

After we have recovered from the wonderful experience, it is time to start the descent. The vast majority of people take the same path down. But Mustafa, our guide has long realized that we prefer to go off the beaten track and are up for an adventure, so we take an alternative route. After half an hour we come close to a slightly lower mountain top. Mustafa takes us upstairs and what we see there really amazes us. On top of the sharp mountaintop is an airplane engine.

Totally twisted aluminum, but clearly visible what it was. Gradually, the story of a plane crash becomes clear to us. A huge accident has happened here. Mustafa tries to explain to us what happened here. But that is quite complicated if you have difficulty understanding each other.

Aircraft engine 1 | Climbing Toubkal
Aircraft engine 1 | Climbing Toubkal
Aircraft engine 2 | Climbing Toubkal
Aircraft engine 2 | Climbing Toubkal
Aircraft engine 3 | Climbing Toubkal
Aircraft engine 3 | Climbing Toubkal

Later we found out that a four-engine propeller plane crashed here in November 69. Initially, it was only known that the aircraft had disappeared from the radar, but was untraceable. Only in July 70 did mountaineers find the wreckage in the inhospitable area.

The military plane was en route from Faro, Portugal to Sao Tombe, carrying ammunition and eight people. The wreckage is spread over a huge area as the impact against the mountain top broke the plane in two and the wreckage fell on both sides. On our descent down we encounter many more wreckage including a second engine.

View | Climbing Toubkal
View | Climbing Toubkal

Gruesome find

Four of the eight bodies have been recovered and buried on site. What happened to the other four…unfindable? Buried in the mountains means covering the bodies with a few large stones. No nameplate, nothing else. Now, more than 50 years later, we could see the human remains of the dead between the stones. Parts of non-decayed garments were also visible. A gruesome find.

We needed the last part on the way back to the refuge to process a few things.

Back to Imlil

In the refuge we drink a cup of tea, pack our bags and leave for the 1400 meter descent back to Imlil. Going down alone seems easy, but that is an error of judgment that we experience more and more often. In the end we ascended about 4 meters and descended 1100 meters from 2400 o'clock in the morning. Like a bag of salt we plopped on our beds in the gite where we stayed the first night.

The fourth day

The next day Mustafa, Omar, the horse and we leave for a ride of about 13 kilometers to conquer two coltjes. It is another route far off the beaten track where we enjoy the mountainous environment and pass a number of Berber villages.

Bivouacking so close to the Berber population for a little longer gives us a fantastic insight into their lives. The villages look absolutely shabby and prehistoric from the outside. Lots of junk, no cobbled streets, unfinished buildings that are just square, just whatever things you come across. (There is no question of any round shape)
But when entering it is sometimes surprisingly modern.

Berber house exterior
Berber house exterior
Inside Berber house
Inside Berber house

On to gite Gliz

Then we ascend further to the next pass, as it starts to thunder. We put on our raincoats and continue on our way. Over the col the landscape changes to red stone with larger trees. On the other side of the valley we see a small settlement where our gite is also located. The last part we have to climb hard to reach it.

On the way to Gliz 1
On the way to Gliz 1
On the way to Gliz 2
On the way to Gliz 2
Impressive landscape
Impressive landscape

On arrival we are immediately referred to the room and are amazed at the luxury. A spacious shower, toilet paper, towels and a made bed are the special features.
After a refreshing shower we go for lunch and get a salad with fried egg. On the balcony we have a fantastic view. We enjoy the stormy skies against the mountain tops.

Later during dinner we are again treated to a beautiful sunset and can't resist taking a few more pictures.

Different shades | Climbing Toubkal
Different shades | Climbing Toubkal
View gite Gliz | Climbing Toubkal
View gite Gliz | Climbing Toubkal
Sunset from gite Gliz | Climbing Toubkal
Sunset from gite Gliz | Climbing Toubkal

The last day

We are served a delicious breakfast and settle with Hassan, the hotel owner. In the overnight register we see that the last guests have been here in June. And before that, guests in early 2020, before corona. How is it possible that such a beautiful property does not have a larger occupancy? Well, later we realize how remote these houses are built. Nobody likes this! There is really nothing to do besides walking.

We leave at 9 am via the only access road. We have to climb about 600 meters and the road is easy for walkers. Furthermore, only 4×4 vehicles can pass. There is absolutely no question of a taxi or bus. The residents are therefore dependent on a horse or donkey. We realize once again how remote the village is and what that means for the residents.

We continue and arrive at the col where we have a beautiful overview of the area. Here we see that a mountain top next to the Toubkal is covered with snow. The first snow of the season. So yesterday during the thunderstorm a cloud left the first snow. It is far away, but we manage to take a picture of it.

The first snow
The first snow

Then we continue to the camper, but on the way we are still invited for a traditional tea with a friend of Mustafa.

Here we go to the toilet. A super small booth, with a hole in the ground. Very primitive, but fun to experience. After tea with biscuits, oliebollen, bread, olive oil and honey we go to the camper. To top it all off, Mustafa invites us to have dinner with him in the evening.

Tea with Berber family
Tea with Berber family

Eating with a Berber family

We have no idea how Mustafa lives, but in the afternoon he pointed in the direction of the village where the most traditional structures are located. At seven he picks us up and we walk to his house. He proudly displays his belongings. A building with crooked walls and an entrance door made of a zinc roof that reveals that we are not dealing with architecture.

We enter the part where the 20 goats and a flock of chickens also have their overnight quarters and we meet the 18-year-old son who has spent the whole day with the goats in the mountains.

Then we go through another tiny door and enter the kitchen where Mustafa's friendly wife fills the small space. Then on to the room that is also a bedroom. The 3×4 concrete cubicle is covered with some rugs and cushions. No chairs, just a small table. There is no electric lighting in the room and the little light comes from a gas flame.

Berber houses
Berber houses

Also read: Itinerary Morocco in 2, 3 or 4 weeks | All must-sees and travel tips

We settle down on the cloths around the table and immediately get tea. Traditionally accompanied by many biscuits and sweets. We can communicate a little with Mustafa but not at all with the son and the wife. They only speak Berber.
After tea we are surprised with a bowl full of couscous, vegetables and goat meat. A spoon for each and so deliciously cozy eating from the bowl together.

Although we cannot communicate with the son and wife, it is still cozy and we enjoy a unique moment with very friendly and lovely people.

After the couscous we get some melon and we say goodbye. Mustafa takes us back to the camper through the pitch dark.



NoFear travel

NoFear Travel

A Drent and a Frisian have caught the travel bug and travel the world with their 4×4 camper. We are Cor and Grietje from NoFear Reizen and we will take you on roadtrip adventure.

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