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Monday, 31 March 2014 12:00 AM

Holiday Activities in Morocco - Trekking in the High Atlas

Trekking in Morocco

The High Atlas mountains offer a huge range of trekking (or gentle walking) options in stunning surroundings. Their foothills start around 30 minutes drive south of Marrakech, and the main trekking centres are only around 1.5 hours away from Marrakech.

Various treks in the High Atlas are possible, ranging from a half day stroll through gently undulating woodland to treks lasting several days up the highest peak in North Africa, Jebel Toubkal. Whilst we tend to advise our guests that longer treks in mid winter and mid summer are to be avoided, there are options all year round (winter snows may affect this).

Naturally Morocco offers qualified, experienced and English speaking guides in various areas, and helped the travel writer Josh Steinitz with a trek from Imlil earlier this year – he decided on a strenuous trek covering around 17 miles in just under 6.5 hours and climbed more than 7,000 feet, his write up is copied below.

Caveats for Trekking in Morocco

Whilst trekking in Morocco is readily accessible and done in beautiful surroundings, we strongly encourage you to use qualified guides. Qualified guides are locals who have had significant trekking experience, know the routes, can match routes to the abilities of guests and can take alternative routes if needs arise, and know what to do if the unexpected happens. There are many other Moroccans in the trekking centre touting for business, often at lower prices, but you get what you pay for.

The sun is strong in Morocco and, in the mountains, it can have more effect than in the cities – the altitude, lack of shade in areas and gentle cooling breezes all conspire to heat trekkers without their noticing. Make sure that you have a wide-brimmed hat, high factor sun cream and plenty of water, so you can enjoy you exercise without worrying.

Josh’s Trek

Josh writes, after a few days in Marrakech …

“… I awoke early and met a pre-arranged driver who took me 90 minutes south to the village of Imlil for a hike in the Atlas Mountains. In early March, the valley temperatures were still chilly in the shadows, and the peaks were solidly covered in snow. Arriving in Imlil, I met up with Mohamed Aztet ….

He introduced me to Yusef, a fit 23 year-old trail runner from the village just up the road who would be my guide for the day. We had a bit of sweet mint tea and pored over some maps, debating which routes would be most interesting, challenging, and doable in a single long day. Ultimately we selected a loop that offered high altitude and mountain scenery, gorgeous juniper groves, a stop at a mountain refuge, and some traditional Berber villages to boot.

Hiking steeply uphill from the village just upstream of Imlil, we soon encountered snow on the north-facing slopes. As the trail climbed higher, the snow became deeper and deeper, until it was no longer possible to stay on the trail. Following Yusef’s lead, we alternated between scrambling steeply up the south-facing slopes that were snow-free but almost too steep to even gain footholds, and post-holing through the snow on the normal route. I cursed myself for leaving my snow gaiters at home as my shoes quickly became waterlogged with melting snow. The minor discomfort was more than compensated for by the increasingly majestic views, and as we climbed higher I was able to see the route to the base camp of Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa.

Eventually we arrived at the pass at 10,000 feet, where I craned my neck toward the summits of peaks rising another 3-4,000 feet above as we stopped for a snack. Dropping down into the adjacent valley, we stopped at a mountain refuge reminiscent of the Alps, where the hut guardian came out to share some tea with us. It was quite new and impressive, and I made a note to return and stay there when I had more time to attempt the peaks.

Continuing down the valley, we passed several Berber villages where modernity was just starting to make some inroads (literally) with a relatively road that now brought a once-a-day bus to the previously isolated settlements. Lower down the hints of seasonable change where appearing with the first buds on the fruit trees, but it was still really late winter rather than early spring.

Then, needing to return back to the Imlil Valley, we hiked up an over a much lower pass, passing a through a gorgeous forest of massive free-standing juniper trees. It felt exhilarating to seemingly be so “out there” with no other sounds save the rustling of the trees in the wind, despite being only a 30-minute walk from the nearest village and a 90-minute drive from the city.


Reproduced from "In Marrakech, Variety Is The Spice Of Life", by Josh Steinitz, March 26 2014