Imlil Area

High Atlas: Toubkal Area, 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)

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.

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