Mount Toubkal Winter Expedition - December 2022
Between 8th and 15th December we hosted a small expedition to Morocco to ascend Mt Toubkal under winter conditions. The trip was a a fabulous success with all clients reaching the summit on what was a perfect morning on the hill. The trip was led by Ady Sanders and Matt Le Voi.
Day 1 - Arrival in Marrakech and onward to Aroumd
For this expedition, all the team were flying out of Manchester on the same easyJet flight which made logistics nice and simple for us. After meeting at the check-in at silly O'clock in the morning, we made our way swiftly through the airport processes and soon enough we were in the air. One of the best things about this expedition is the fact that the flight time is about 3.5 hours! Couple this with the fact that there is just a 1 hour time difference and it means you suffer from very little travel tiredness and no jet lag.
Upon landing in Marrakech we had a pretty good trip through the airport and our transfer was waiting for us by the time we got outside. We hopped onto our private minibus and chatted away throughout the 90 minute journey to Aroumd (2000m above sea level). Unfortunately, the weather on this day wasn't too great, and so we didn't get many great views, nor did we venture about much when we got to the tiny village perched nicely on the hillside. The accommodation in Aroumd is a Berber Gite, serving fantastic food, and hosting excellent views up into the valley we'd head up to go towards Toubkal.
Dinner on the expedition is traditional Moroccan cuisine, which will often consist of a Tajine, salads, breads and much more. After we consumed this first dinner, we were off to our beds for a good night sleep.
A room a the Gite in Aroumd
Day 2 - Acclimatisation Day from Aroumd
This is a day you won't see on all itineraries, but we like to include it as it offers an opportunity to not only experience the area more, but get the body used to a bit of altitude before making the big jump from Aroumd (2000m) to the Refuge at (3200m).
After a nice sedate morning and an excellent breakfast of bread, boiled eggs, porridge, jams, cheese and yoghurts we ventured out for our hike. Over the course of 7 hours we plodded up a nearby valley, and onward to a spot height up at 2640m above sea level. We took a long break at the top and made the most of the sunshine that had appeared after the morning rain before heading back to Aroumd via some lovely waterfalls and freshly squeezed orange juice near Imlil.
Day 3 - Aroumd to the Toubkal Refuge
With our bags packed and another excellent breakfast enjoyed we set off up the valley. We stopped at the shrine at Sidi Chamharouch purchasing yet more delicious freshly squeezed orange juice. After this point the trail gains height quicker and becomes a bit more rugged. After 5 hours of walking and short breaks, we reached the Toubkal Refuge which would be our home for the next two nights. We had a bite to eat and then donned our winter kit to have a play in the snow with the crampons and ice axes. A couple of members of the group hadn't spent much time, if any, using this kit before so this was a brilliant chance to introduce it and alleviate some nerves.
The refuge sleeping arrangement is essentially a massive bunk bed with 8 mattresses on each level - a very different setup to that of the Gite in Aroumd, but a fun change all the same. We got our heads down at a good time with our bags packed and ready for a fun day in the snow.
Day 4 - Toubkal Refuge to the South Col
The weather on this day wasn't set to be too great, with low cloud and fairly gusty winds. At the point of leaving the refuge it wasn't too bad, but it wasn't long into our 5 hour walk before it broke down and we were forced to pull our hoods up and don our snow goggles. We reached a wild South Col at about 3,800m and called this our high point as it was just too brutal to go too much higher. Either way, we'd climbed a good chunk of height above the refuge which will all go towards aiding our acclimatisation and enhancing our success of reaching the summit. Despite the weather and the fact all our kit was pretty soaked by the time we reached the refuge again, the group loved the experience of being out in the harsh weather, and again getting in a few hours of practice in the crampons.
By 8pm we were all in bed with our alarms set for 3am....
Before the weather got a bit tasty!
Day 5 - Summit Day
I don't think the alarms had a chance to go off, as minutes before everyone was suddenly out of bed making their final preparations. We had chance for another great breakfast of porridge, bread and jams and then ventured out into the night. The weather had done as forecast and cleared up nicely, leaving us with a moonlit vista of snowcapped mountains and a few billion stars to gawp at.
The ascent up Toubkal from the refuge doesn't have much 'flat', and the bits that are a bit more gradual are certainly not in the opening stages! Despite this, the team fell into their now well versed steady plod. We had regular breaks to take on fluids and calories, and of course to take on the beauty of the morning. We must have all commented a dozen times how lucky we felt to be out on such a stunning morning - little did we know it would get better.
Thanks to our acclimatisation routine on this expedition, it was pretty smooth sailing up to the 3,900m col. As I've already eluded to, some expeditions will head for Toubkal from Marrakech in just 2 days of trekking, forcing an ascent of over 3,500m in this time. We however felt confident thanks to our friendlier approach that now we had everyone at this altitude, we'd all get to the top.
As we reached the final slopes we got our first view down over to the Sahara which was being headlined by a deep red as the sun was clearly on it's way. The cameras were out and we were all snapping away. The Atlas mountains soon turned golden, as though they'd been painted and that was when our jaws really dropped. Seeing the shadow of Toubkal cast across Morocco was also pretty spectacular.
There was one narrow traverse on a small ledge to take on before we were allowed access to the summit, but some excellent teamwork and coaching got everyone across, and not long after the infamous Mt Toubkal summit pyramid came into view. We hit the summit and the emotions ran high, it clearly meant a lot to everyone. For some this was their first ever expedition, first 4000er, and first time winter mountaineering. Shedding a tear for this success would of course be the only natural response in my eyes. Heidi, one of our lovely clients, was also celebrating her 50th birthday and on the summit we sang to her, gave her a cupcake that had somehow survived the trek up there and handed over cards and presents. We were all grateful to be at this birthday party, and I'm sure it'll be a tough one to beat.
After several minutes on the summit taking pictures we readied our brains for the descent. We didn't just retrace our steps however, we took Ady's advice and descended towards Imouzzer, a nearby peak. We had this entire descent to ourselves, and spying bits of a plane wreckage as we walked added some great interest too.
Shortly after hitting the main track down the valley to Aroumd we had a bite to eat and changed into some lighter clothes and shoes (some craftly Mule arranging by Ady allowed this). With full tummies we trekked downward back to Aroumd where we could smile back up at the mountains we'd just enjoyed, but also get clean again. All in our summit day lasted about 12 Hours.
Day 6 - Back to Marrakech
On our listed itinerary for this trip we actually have the option to spent a third night in the refuge, but if it isn't required and there is availability in Aroumd we can head back on Day 5. As we were back to Aroumd a night early, we took the opportunity to go for a wander from Aroumd and down to Imlil, acting as an excellent leg stretch. Our taxis met us there after we'd been fleeced by a few local traders and it was back to Marrakech for a bit of rest and relaxation. We checked into our lovely accommodation, showered once again, and met on the roof terrace for a well deserved team drink.
Marrakech is a brilliant place, with market squares and winding Souks to explore. This occupied our afternoon.
Jemaa el-Fna Square
Day 7 - The day in Marrakech
A whole day in Marrakech is offered up on this trip, which provides ample opportunity to continue exploring and eating. We all went on a horse and carriage tour around the town, an experience that was made all that much better by the fact the whole expedition were wearing Moroccan football T-shirts in preparation for the country's world cup semi-final game against France that night. The entire place was in hysteria, and the Moroccan's were incredible thankful that we were supporting them. Sadly, that night the Moroccan dream was over, but it didn't stop them from celebrating and being so very proud of their football team. It was lovely to experience, but obviously something that was very unique to this trip!
Becoming Moroccan for the day
Day 8 - Home Time
With just an hour to spare after our breakfast and before the taxi rides to the airport we had the opportunity to spend a little more cash in the local markets. Soon enough we were back at the airport and on our way home. Our time in Morocco was over, but with a 100% summit success rate, new skills learnt, friends made and another bunch of memories forged, we all felt pretty satisfied.
A huge thanks to everyone who joined us on this expedition, and to Ady for taking the lead and making sure it all went off without a hitch.
One last team selfie.