Jebel Toubkal Ascent
High Atlas, Morocco
William Mackesy’s account of this walk
(Account of climb from the Refuge, October 2004)
We are up at 5am, cross and tired, in no mood for today’s assault on the summit of Jebel Toubkal. After a sullen breakfast, Reggie and I (Ali’s pregnancy has very evident advantages just now) trudge off into the freezing darkness for the dreary three hour slog, clambering over icy rock, crossing the all too aptly named Field of Boulders and zig-zagging up ramps of broken lava and an endless, imperial sized, snow veiled scree slope. You get the idea. Within an hour, the snow has begun to hide the loose stones below our feet.
Early into the third hour, we gain the main ridge and a majestic view north-east, across the chasm of the Tisgui valley to the col we crossed on our third day, so high then but now way, way below us. With a gale now gusting, alarmingly unpredictable as we teeter above the precipice, we plod up the long rough slope to the summit, past a group around a French woman who is in obvious trouble.
The final pull to the top is very slow and breathless, but we get there. Hunched behind a boulder, we survey the magnificent all-round view. To our north-west, the Marrakech plain slumbers beneath its haze; on the opposite side, behind the crags of the great central ridge and the distant Jebel Siroua, lies the endless Sahara. Ahead and behind runs the great spine of the High Atlas, surprisingly narrow (some 100km here) for its height.
The windchill is fierce; despite my 7 layers, I feel myself losing heat. To Larsen’s poppy-eyed amazement, The Reg has come the whole way in shorts. We turn back after a quarter of an hour. We are able to take great sliding strides down the snowy scree slopes, but the icy exposed rock is tough. My neck muscles ache from the tensed concentration.
We are back at the positively tropical-seeming refuge at 11am, exhausted but glad, for tea and a pasta lunch in the mess tent. A long afternoon of sleep, scrabble and some irascible pinochle and a quieter night as the weather turns.
The final day is one of the very best. We wake to a clear and peaceful dawn, and make a beautiful, gradual climb up the western side of the valley, watching the sun run caressing fingers down the flanks of the mountain.
At the Agazin pass, the team reach in perfect unison for their mobiles – reception is back! – while we drink in a final view back up the valley to Toubkal, now reclining placidly under a clear sky.
We look across the Ouarzane valley to the sharp edge of the high Tazughart Plateau, with grand cliffs reaching up into the empty heavens. We start a long descent down a hugh scree slope, taking in 66 zig-zagged bends. The scree is often perfect for long, exhilarating runs down their unstable top. The white Tazaghart Refuge is revealed, tiny, beneath the tremendous cliffs all around.
A long descent takes us to the best-yet lunch spot, a wonderful little perch on a narrow promontory between two ravines. A waterfall gushes off a high rock. Final chance to eat our cook’s salad.
A long, delightful walk takes us down into the boulder-jammed valley, past a grand waterfall, through a belt of huge rocks and gnarled juniper trees, and past hamlets of shepherds’ huts. We traverse a long hillside, as the river falls away into a deep gorge far below, until we trudge, footsore, into the roadhead village of Irkoubeline and our final night. We sit on a narrow finger of rooftop and drink Berber Whisky as night falls on the valley. The mixed sounds of the river and the evening village float up to us on warm, still air. A perfect, peaceful end.