High Atlas Mountains + Mount Toubkal trek / 7 days / April 24 to April 30, 2019 / World Expeditions
Aroumd (1900m); Overnight Refuge du Toubkal (3207m)
It was a beautiful morning when we left the village of Aroumd. The narrow streets were quiet, and we saw no one except an imam sweeping the front steps of his house. Down by the river, there was a plot of young trees flowering with white apple blossoms. Especially with the snow-capped mountains in the background, it was very picturesque! As we left Aroumd, we had to register our presence with the authorities and have our passports checked. There were likely also checking that all hikers had a guide as it is now forbidden to hike here without one. And then, of course, the uphill began.
We were no longer the only group around on the trail. It wasn’t super busy but it was steady, the amount of people we saw. There wasn’t much interaction between groups other than a greeting as one passed the other. Except for one guy with a strong Eastern European accent. One time, he called out to us instructions on how to use our hiking poles properly. One of the women in our group shut that down real quick, haha. Mansplainer *eyeroll* We were also passed by locals riding mules – they weren’t dressed for hiking, so I assume they were heading for the upcoming shrine.
The trail climbed up the mountain but also followed a river. Eventually, we reached the Sidi Chamharouch shrine. It wasn’t much, a giant boulder painted white. Apparently, people visit this place to make sacrifices so their wishes would come true. The area is relatively built up with a number of little cafés (think rickety structures with plastic chairs and tables) and ‘shops’ at which one could buy souvenirs and trinkets. We stopped at a café at the very top which meant we had a nice view of the river, valley, mountains, and the shrine. We had a drink of tea or freshly squeezed orange juice.
Leaving the café, we were now on the trail to the base camp of Mount Toubkal, a place called Refuge du Toubkal. The trail was busy enough that I regularly had to stand mountainside to allow faster hikers (everyone else, really) and porters with their mules to go past. The next break came at mid-day when we stopped by a little shop for lunch. We had our own food but did buy some tea. By then, clouds had started to roll in and I was getting a little concerned. The trail continued to wind its way around the mountains on and on and on, until finally, I could see Refuge du Tobkal in the distance. It was a fantastically dramatic setting of giant mountains surrounding a stone building that almost camouflaged itself into the background.
About 20 minutes away from the refuge, it started to hail. HAIL! I wasn’t amused as I didn’t want wet boots for my ascent tomorrow! But my mood improved when I arrived at the steps leading to the refuge compound because I had a little welcoming committee of three sheep peering over the edge of the retaining wall, haha. Inside the refuge was, shall we say, interesting. It was filled to the brim with people which was a big change from the empty guesthouses we’d stayed at so far. I think there were over 100 persons here! The place was hectic, but it did seem well run. It was definitely too small, however, and it definitely needed a face lift.
My group got put into a large dorm room. The beds really were just one long bed in bunkbed style and single mattresses laid out so people were basically sleeping cheek by jowl. I managed to snag a bed on the end so at least I had one side person-free. Once all that was sorted, we headed downstairs to warm up by the fire and have a snack. This fire was my favourite thing about this place – it was a too small wood stove that got going by connecting a hose to a gas canister and then placing the end in the wood! I was torn between wanting to applaud the ingenuity and being horrified at this accident waiting to happen.
Once we were fed and watered, we had to face the idea of tomorrow’s ascent. The snow was still on the mountain, so we all had to learn how to use crampons and an ice axe. The more I practiced it, the less I wanted to do it. I think I was tired, pissed off that this trek was inexplicably so difficult for me (post trip note: I’ve since been diagnosed with asthma so…yeah.), and frustrated about the snow. Normally I’m happy to learn a new skill, especially if it related to the outdoors. But I hate the cold and I seriously hate snow. This wasn’t even nice snow, just the dirty crunchy crap. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I actually said I wasn’t going to climb Toubkal. But when our guide took my crampons from me, I cried. Actual tears. I was completely mortified. Luckily, I had a phenomenal group. They were supportive and encouraging and somehow convinced me to try even if it ended up being just a little bit of the trail. I took a deep breath, accepted the fact that tomorrow was going to suck big time, and took my crampons back.
Dinner in this place had to be eaten in shifts as there were more people than table space. We had our dinner at 8pm. In getting ready for bed, the bathrooms were mix gendered and run down – while I refused to even look at the showers, there were Western toilets that were tolerable! As for sleeping, it got rather uncomfortable. The room got very humid and hot. My bed against the wall turned out to be a semi-bad idea as the wall got clammy and wet from all the condensation. And since the ladder down to the floor was two beds away, and I didn’t want to crush someone as I fumbled across them to reach it, I was trapped all night. Fun times.