High Atlas, Morocco
William Mackesy’s account of this walk
(A walk eastward from Imlil on Day 2 of the Jebel Toubkal Circuit, October 2004)
Jebel Toubkal is, at 4167m (13,750 ft), North Africa’s highest mountain, and the five plus day circuit around the great ridges of its massif crosses three passes of over 3550m (approaching 12,000ft). The circuit starts in the mountain village of Imlil, which nestles among walnut groves beneath its kasbah (castle), now a thoughtfully restored little hotel, at the junction of two rushing streams. Directly up the valley, 2,400m (8,000ft) above, looms the high Toubkal ridge, deceptively close-looking in the clear air.
We stroll for a delightful first hour through the walnut shaded terraces and farmsteads of the village edge, past our guide, Larsen’s, spanking new estancia, to which he adds each year from his profits. The walk begins in earnest thereafter with a long, steady climb up a side valley to the Tizi n’Tamatert pass at 2,280m (7,500 ft). The walnut harvest is in its full October swing. Men perch precariously on high branches and thrash the foliage, while their sons swat tentatively at the lower boughs with long poles and the womenfolk gather the fallen green trophies on the ground below.
The path winds through traditional mud bricked Berber villages and tiny terraced, irrigated fields of wheat and two-crop maize, a different world from the breeze-blocked tourist prosperity of the lower valley, then enters scented, stunted pine forests, eventually emerging rather suddenly at the pass.
Far behind us, the Kasbah de Toubkal nestles among its walnut groves, tiny now at the bottom of the valley. Our three mules patter past, laden with our tents, bags and a week’s food. The vast, wild bowl of the upper Imenane valley displays itself ahead. Far below, dirty ochre villages cling to harsh, barren hillsides of blue-grey rock streaked with pink and auriferous green, above the trees and terraces of the valley bottom. Sheer, ferocious crags soar high above. This magnificence is only slightly undermined by a stolid stone bothy selling Coca Cola.
The track follows the contours for several hours, so smoothly that we are free to concentrate on the unfolding view around us. The vegetation has now shifted to the tussocks of tough grasses and small shrubs clinging to bare earth which characterise the high mountains, some so perfectly sculpted that they would fit comfortably into a Japanese garden. A shower lashes down as we catch up our mules, and we dive with mild embarrassment into a hastily erected tent. We eat our first “Berber Salad”, accompanied by “Berber Whisky” (sweet mint tea), as we lounge on tribal rugs; all very Victorian.
(Walking west from the Refuge, October 2004)