Mount Toubkal located in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco is the highest peak in North Africa. It reminded us of being home in Colorado as the hike, while culturally another world from Colorado, was similar in size and scale to a challenging “14er.” The 14ers are Colorado’s 58 mountains that are more than 14,000 feet in elevation and represent most of the highest mountains in the Continental United States.
The hike is typically completed in 2 days although many elect to complete it in 3 days and spend 2 nights at the refuge.
We did our hike in September so there was no snow, however, many complete this hike in the winter and ski or hike down the mountain, which is a very different experience, the post includes only recommendations for hiking in the summer. Our friend David hiked a Toubkal several years ago in the winter and noted that certain portions of the trail are actually easier in the snow (with crampons) as you avoid hiking up the rock scramble. Coming down on skis is only possible part way and he notes that it wasn’t the best ski conditions.
Mt Toubkal Summit Packing List
When we hiked the summit, it was cold and windy with hail and the day before it was hot without wind, which makes it difficult to know what to pack. We didn’t buy any new gear, our Minimalist RTW Packing list served us well. We only brought the small zip off pack of our Osprey Farpoint with the following items:
- Hiking Boots
- Full Long Underwear
- Hiking Pants
- Shorts & T-Shirts
- Hat & Gloves
- Hiking Socks and small change of socks
- Flip flops (For the communal shower and to walk around the refuge. Quan brought a pair and Jesse didn’t and regretted it)
As we’ll cover later, there are several places along the way to pick up water so there is no need to carry a ton of water. We recommend having a 1.5 liter bottle to start and picking up a 1.5 liter at each stop as needed.
We were able to leave our bigger pack at our hotel, but for those coming directly from Marakesh it is also possible to rent a mule for about $15/day to carry your bags (and even yourself!) up the mountain to and from the Refuge.
To Hire a Guide Or Not?
A guide is recommended for the hike because the trail is difficult to follow in certain parts, we found the trail easy to follow most of the way for even moderately experienced hikers. We will warn that because of this decision we did make a few costly wrong decisions on the ascent which added to the climb up.
We had read about the flurry of tour operators/ mountain guides that harass tourist upon arrival to Imlil and saw them first hand as we approached the town. The key is to walk away from the town entrance where the taxi stand is located and where mini buses drop off. We found Atlas Trek Shop which provided us with a wealth of free information, they are located in town making a right turn at the main corner. We appreciated that Idriss, who manned the shop, was not pushy about us using the shop’s guide service. He did recommend that we buy a map and gave us instructions for how to find the trail as well as hooked us up with the phone number for the refuge on top of the mountain. With his help we were able to secure a room on top of the mountain the night before the summit. We also rented hiking poles for $3 per day from the Atlas Trek Shop.
Where to Stay in Imlil
Many people elect to take a taxi or bus from Marrakech (approximately 1.5 hours from Imlil) in the morning and start their hike later that day spending their first night at the refuge on top of the mountain. We really enjoyed the serenity and slow pace of Imlil and are glad we opted to stay a night before we started the hike. We even decided to stay a few days longer after climbing Toubkal for some R&R.
We stayed at the Riad Atlas Prestige hotel overlooking the City of Imlil, which was a beautiful 6 room hotel that includes breakfast and costs from $24-$36/night. The hotel is about a 15 minute walk uphill from Imlil where food can be bought and supplies such as hiking poles or boots can be rented.
In the town of Imlil there are several options for purchasing food for the trek up. We found a tiny sandwich shop that made a phenomenal Tuna Fish sandwich to take for the hike the next day and also picked up nuts and cookies to take with us. We came back for this tuna fish sandwich several times during our stay!
After breakfast we set off on the hike at 8 AM as there is very little shade and we wanted to hike as little as possible in the hot sun. The hike from Imlil (5,900 Ft/1,800 meters) starts uphill to the town of Around, about 30 minutes away and is the first place that you can buy water. From Imlil to the Refuge (10,522 Ft/3,207 meters) there are 4 places to buy water or snacks along the way, the last being the refuge.
Water costs 15 Dirham’s or about $1.50 for 1.5 liters of water. The hike is a pretty slow climb till about 2 hours when we arrived to the small town of Sidi Chamarouch where we found the holy grail…cold seltzer! Quan was farther up the trail and screamed in excitement to Jesse to run up. The cold seltzer (only 20 Dirham) was made cold by having a pipe run water from the river that borders the trails and then hosed over the bottles of beverages in a make shift irrigation system. This was the most eco friendly refrigeration system we have ever seen! We made friends with the owner who laughed at our excitement over cold seltzer and played with his daughter who was at the shop. We promised to stop by again on our way down and asked if they could save us a cold bottle for our hike down the next day.
The next 3 hours of hiking to the refuge is the hardest of the first day as it’s a pretty steep uphill. We climbed slowly getting out of the way for several mules and Europeans along the way. About 30 minutes after Sidi Chamarouch there is the very last stop for water before the refuge. It is another hour to hour and a half hike from there to the refuge, so don’t make the mistake of not picking up water here if you are low!
We found some shade next to a large boulder shortly after this stop and had our our tuna fish sandwiches and arrived around 2 PM. Perhaps it was the heat or the tiredness from the hike, but we all thought it was the best tuna fish sandwich we have ever eaten!
Shortly after this we came upon a pass where the valley opened in front of us and provided an amazing spot for photos:
Where to Stay Before Summiting: Refuges on Toubkal
There are 2 refuges, the Mouflon Refuge and the lower end Neltner Hut, or you can camp with your own tent. The links show pricing. We were told by fellow travelers to pay the extra cost for the Mouflon Refuge as the conditions and food are substantially better. Quan was nervous about the summit and wanted any possible comfort to prepare her for that task. For both the camping and the Neltner Hut option we would have had to bring up our own sheets/ sleeping bags.
You’ll know you’re soon approaching the refuge when you see this:
Our Stay at the Mouflon Refuge
Both Helen and Jesse arrived to the Refuge early and checked into the room which slept 4 with queen bunk beds, it was $160 for the night including both dinner and breakfast. Waving from the window with a pink scarf Quan spotted them hiking up 20 minutes from the refuge. Within that 20 minute to the Refuge Quan snapped about 40 photos.
For dinner at the Refuge, we had the choice between Chicken Tagine and Spaghetti. For the past week we were used to having 2 choices for dinner which was Chicken Tagine or Chicken Tagine. Sick of having the same dish we went with Spaghetti. According to Jesse, the spaghetti was awful but delicious. To Quan, the soup they served was one of the best she’s had in Morocco and the spaghetti really hit the spot!
Toubkal Final Summit
After a hot shower and good night sleep we woke up at 6:00 AM, had breakfast and departed around 6:45. With good weather the hike to the summit takes about 3 hours. We were not that lucky. It was cold, windy and rainy/haily/snowy when we left. We began our hike in the dark.
After descending uphill for about 20 minutes we missed a very loosely marked turn to the left out of the boulder field and continued up the boulders for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, Helen who was ahead spotted us and yelled to us to go left, this was a tiring and long delay we wish we would have avoided. The next 2 hours we hiked in the freezing weather with snow and hail coming down and watched as others ahead of us turned around. The hike was primarily up slippery small rocks (which we found out were much harder coming down), a degraded trail reminiscent of the 14er Mt. Columbia at home in Colorado.
We only brought long underwear with long sleeve shirts, hats and gloves. We should have rented a coat from the Atlas Trek Shop. We were freezing. Two Danes we met who had hiked just the day prior complained of the blistering heat in the uncovered slopes so it is really a toss up in terms of what mountain weather system you will get for your summit. At one point the winds were so strong it knocked Quan over, as you can see in this video she was filming when it happened. She now has a Toubkal size bruise on her leg as a result of this fall:
We made it to the pass at 12,800 feet/3,900 meters before the final climb to what we found out later was a false summit.
We then climbed up the middle instead of bearing right (taking the stupid way again) which was the harder route up. Going up we met some very animated people from Bilboa, Spain who cheered us on. About 5 minutes before reaching what we thought was the top, Helen informed us that it was a false summit and we had another 20 minutes after that. The next 20 minutes were relatively easy, less windy and beautiful hiking along the ridge. We were lucky that the clouds had cleared and we had blue skies for our final ascent.
Everyone else at the summit we had not met before. Quan thought everyone was cheering for her when she reached the summit but after watching the video she realized that the cheering only began after she started clapping for herself.
Jesse and Gontzal celebrated the summit with some swinging.
Overall it was an amazing view surrounded by the High Atlas Mountains. Most people began climbing at 5:00 AM and got to the peak when it was snowy and there was no view. We were lucky to summit to blue skies with clear views of the surrounding Atlas Range. We stayed up at the peak for about 20 minutes, as the winds died down and the views opened up.
Toubkal: The Long Way Down
The hike down was not as rewarding. We planned to stay in Imlil so needed to cover the distance from the summit to the refuge and then travel the distance of the first day’s hike down to Imlil. Typically it’s a 10 hour hiking day, at Quan’s pace it’s about 8. The experienced hikers (Jesse) get down to the refuge in 2 hours, walking down the small rocks of the steep mountain, it took us 3 hours, Quan kept falling on the rocks and started sliding down on her behind.
Close to the refuge as Quan did not want to walk the next 3.5 hours to Imlil, Jesse ran ahead and got her a mule to ride down for about $15. When Quan got on that mule her spirits went back up:
On our way down we saw our friends Helen and David eating lunch in Sidi Chamarouch. We were happy to see them but we were more happy to drink our cold seltzer. Quan got off her Mule and we shared that cold seltzer goodness and hung out with our friends again. We found out it was their last one as Helen tried to buy a bottle, but they told her they had none left as they were saving that last one for us.
After we left the town we bumped into Gontzal and our other friend from Bilboa walking to Imlil and walked with them the next 1.5 hours Imlil.
When we got back to Imlil we were exhausted. We celebrated with the cold brews we had stashed in the fridge before our hike. It was straight to bed after dinner for us.
Overall it was one of our most rewarding days. It wasn’t only that we got to climb the highest peak in North Africa, it was that we also got to meet great people along the way. Overcoming winds and hail we felt that we earned the views from the top and for a moment on top of the mountain we felt close to our last home in Colorado.