Climb Mount Toubkal | Complete Guide to North Africa's Highest Summit
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Climb Mount Toubkal – Complete Guide to North Africa’s Highest Summit

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Welcome to our complete guide to trekking Mount Toubkal!

Immerse yourself in the vivid culture of Morocco and climb the highest peak in North Africa. With breath-taking views of the Atlas Mountains, green valleys, and endearing Berber villages, Mount Toubkal will not disappoint.

The trek may be moderate in difficulty, but the journey will be difficult to forget.

Below you will find a full guide on everything you will need to know before you trek Mount Toubkal.

This guide will be especially useful for trekking Jebel Toubkal from the south side (i.e. most common route) but we will also share information about the North-side route that is best for experienced hikers, and details on Winter ascents of Toubkal.

Mount Toubkal Overview

Mount Toubkal or Jebel Toubkal is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco, and North Africa. Toubkal is apart of the Atlas Mountain Range and is located in the southwestern part of Morocco, about 60 km south of Marrakesh.

Mount Toubkal is a non-technical summit with its highest peak at 4,167 meters. At the peak awaits views of a dramatic border between land, ocean, and desert.

There are two approaches to reaching Toubkal, the South and the North. The Southern approach is the most popular and straightforward, while the Northern route is longer and best for experienced hikers.

One of the popular features about Mount Toubkal is that you can trek the mountain and be out of Morocco in 4 days. You would want to do this with caution in order to allow for acclimatization due to the high altitude, but this makes an excellent long weekend holiday full of adventure.

In 1923, Vincent Berger, Hubert Dolbeau, and Marquis De Segonzac were the first Europeans to summit Toubkal. A year later, the height of Toubkal was formally recorded and the trigonometrical structure was carried to the peak in 1931.

mount-toubkal-summit

Summit of Mount Toubkal (4,167m)

Toubkal is for keen walkers and hikers with a moderate fitness level. Toubkal is a fun and challenging trek with gratifying views from the peak. You will see the remote villages of the Berber people, roaring waterfalls, rivers, and the crash site of a cargo plane, depending on your route.

If you join an organised tour group, your guide will bring along food and mules with muleteers will be used to carry all of your things. If you decide to trek independently, then you will need to arrange refuges to eat and rest, and carry your own gear.

Independent Trekking vs. Guide Treks

An experienced hiker could most definitely trek Mount Toubkal alone. There are many villages and settlements on your way to the peak in case you get lost. If you are trekking during the spring, you are likely to be surrounded by numerous amounts of hikers who could guide you in case you get lost. There are two Refuge at the base of the mountain (more on this below), where you can get food and sleeping quarters (please note: these refuges get busy during the peak season so booking ahead is advised). It is important to note that there are many summits in this area. Ensure you are using the correct path to get up Mount Toubkal. Otherwise, you could get lost.

If you are not very experienced in hiking at altitude or just prefer having the logistics of a trip arrange for you, then we recommend you employ the services of a guiding company. Guide companies typically arrange the whole trek for you - including accomodation, transport to and from Marrakech, food on the trek and mules to carry gear. A guided group trekking experience allows you to interact with other hikers. This is an opportunity to make friends with people who have similar interests. A guide provides peace of mind, so you can focus more on the views and less looking at a map. They are likely to have gone up Toubkal hundreds of times and know exactly where to go and when to take breaks. They ensure you get plenty of food and water, which is crucial for any trek. There will be water sources along the way but it is best to bring your own water bottle and water purification tablets.

Overall, having a guide is best for convenience and safety. A guide is especially useful when visiting Toubkal in winter due to the dangers of slipping and getting lost in freezing temperatures.

Popular Routes

There are two main approaches to trekking Mount Toubkal - the South and North Side routes. There are a few other variations but these require more experienced hiking and a longer expedition. The most common route begins on the South side.

Mount-Toubkal-Topographical-Map

Topographical map of the Atlas Mountains, with Toubkal in the south eastern corner, and Imlil due north of the peak.

The Southern route is mostly commonly used because it is significantly easier and has worn paths making the trail easy to follow. It is followed by 98% of trekkers. The Northern approach is a longer route and requires a skilled hiker. Even when taking the more difficult route for the ascent, it is recommended that you use the popular South side route for your descent.

During the spring and summer months, Toubkal is certainly a hike/trek rather than a climb.

It is non-technical but moderately difficult due to some steep slopes (no climbing required, but you will need to scramble occasionally) and the high altitude. You should be prepared to walk for several hours each day, depending on the route and duration of your trek. There is a risk of altitude sickness, but this is easily avoided through proper acclimatisation.

During winter, Toubkal becomes a technical hike and requires special gear. You should highly consider booking a guide and ensure you are familiar with using an ice axe and crampons (see details on a winter ascent below).

Trekking Toubkal from the South should take you 4-5 days in order to properly acclimate and allow for a nights rest at Imlil and the refuge. From the North, it will take you 6-7 days on a secluded path with fewer trekkers.

Toubkal-Refuge

A cool Refuge at Azib Tamsoult.

Acclimatisation Hikes

As trekking Mount Toubkal requires your body being at high altitudes, it is crucial to allow time for adjustment.

A rule of thumb is “climb high and sleep low.” It’s important to gain height slowly, about 500m a day once you are at 2,500m. You should be drinking plenty of water as well.

The best way to acclimatize to trekking Toubkal is to start with a good nights rest in Imlil and then stop at one of the refuges to sleep for the night. This allows your body to adjust gradually, as the walk from Imlil to the Toubkal Refuges is about 12km alone. After spending the night at one of the Refuges, you will wake up early, feeling refreshed, and begin your trek up to the summit of Toubkal. It is best to begin your trek in the early hours of the morning, with a headlamp, to avoid returning too late in the day and being obligated to sleep at the Refuge again. It is also great to get up to the summit for sunrise!

berber-village-toubkal

Inside a Berber village. Many of these villagers have Gites (hostels), where you can sleep the night.

Another option to acclimatise is to spend the night in Aroumd. This is on the way from Imlil and the village has plenty of gites (villagers homes) available. This way you would spend one night in Aroumd and the other at the refuge.

For a longer acclimatization, you are able to begin the trek in Ouirgane rather than Imlil. Ouirgane is a Berber village further from Imlil. You will have to spend two nights in different gites before reaching the refuge. This route is ideal for those who want to ensure they are properly acclimatized.

mount-toubkal-trek-water

There are many streams in the High Atlas where you can collect water. Just make sure you bring water purification tablets to purify the water.

Typical Itinerary

This itinerary follows the most common route to Toubkal on the South side. As mentioned above, if you have extra time we highly recommend itineraries that build in one or two more days for acclimatisation.

Day 1: Arrive in Marrakech, drive from Marrakech to Imlil, and spend the night in Imlil      

Day 2: Trek to Refuge Camp and spend the night

Day 3: Trek to Toubkal via South Side and descend via South Side

Day 4: Return to Imlil and spend night

Day 5: Return to Marrakech Menara Airport

Toubkal-Winter-Ascent

A Toubkal Winter Ascent is an awesome challenge, but does require some technical mountaineering skills.

Toubkal Winter Ascent

Toubkal in Winter is more technical than a Spring or Summer trek as the terrain is completely covered in snow and ice.

Winter ascents of Toubkal start in November and run all the way through to the end of April.

A winter climb of Toubkal is achievable by someone who has never hiked on snow, but we highly recommend you do some basic winter mountaineering practice before undertaking the challenge.  

The skills you need to be confident with are:

  • Walking in crampons across snowy / ice surfaces, with mixed rock
  • Using a straight handle ice axe to sturdy your balance and anchor your hike in areas that are a little exposed
  • Confidence on 30-35 degree snow slopes
  • Ability to traverse steep sections (sometimes you may need to hold or clip into a fixed rope, although this is rare).
  • Ability to scramble up a mixed terrain surface of rock, snow and ice with crampons on

None of these skills are particularly difficult, but if you are doing this for the first time they can be scary and challenging. Hence, why we suggest you get some practice winter mountaineering skills.

Also, at high latitude and when the weather is bad, seemingly easy terrain can appear very challenging.  

We recommend taking an experienced guide / joining an organised group if you are not very experienced. Guides are not instructors though. Most will not be able to formally train you on how to hike in snow, use an axe and crampons. It is up to you to determine whether you can handle utilizing these tools and manage on snowy terrain.

Toubkal Refuges

Les Mouflons vs. Cabine Alpine Francais (CAF)

When climbing Mount Toubkal, you will most likely begin from the village of Imlil. It will take you about 5-7 hours to get to the Toubkal Refuges. It is not recommended that you complete the trek to Mount Toubkal in one day. You should be stopping here or at other villages to get your rest before completing the trek.

There are two Mount Toubkal Refuges. There is Les Mouflons and Cabine Alpine Fancais (CAF). The Les Mouflons is named after a deer (Mouflons) found in the Atlas Mountains. Cabine Alpine Francais is also called the “Neltner”, named after Mr. Louis Neltner, a geologist, and mountaineer. You are able to book both refuges online in advance.

The Refuges’ are by no means luxury, but they do the job. They are dorm style and have shared bathrooms.

When choosing a refuge, Les Moulfons is less expensive than CAF, so if you are on a budget choose Les Moulfons.

CAF has slightly better amenities (kitchen, rooms, toilet / bathroom facilities) and because of the higher price tends to be less busy.

It is always a good idea to bring some snacks of your own, as the Refuges offer very basic food. Take advantage of your time in Marrakech and purchase some delicious dried fruits and nuts.

If the weather is good and you have camping equipment, it is possible to camp outside the Refuges.

Best Time to Trek Toubkal

best-time-to-trek-toubkal

During the Spring and Summer months, the weather is hot throughout the Atlas. Temperatures drop in the evenings and early mornings. Winter months in the High Atlas are cold. 

Trekking Mount Toubkal can be done all year round.

The best time to hike is in the Spring, April or May. The weather is not too hot and you are still able to see some snow on the mountains. Due to the rewarding weather, Spring is peak season.

The Summer months - June through to August - are usually very hot. Trekking in the Atlas is fine, but make sure you drink loads of water.

September and October are good shoulder months for trekking.

In Winter, from the month of November to April-May, Toubkal becomes a technical climb. You will need special equipment such as an ice axe, crampons, and fixed rope (see Toubkal Winter Ascents above).

How Difficult is Toubkal?

toubkal-difficulty

The summit of Mount Toubkal (4,167m)

Toubkal is a moderately difficult hike due to the high altitude. The actual hiking itself is pretty easy and the summit approach from the south side from May-October is relatively straightforward. 

Winter ascents from November through to April are much more challenging. To undertake a winter ascent we highly recommend doing a basic winter mountaineering course, where you will learn how to use crampons and an ice axe. You should know the basics of how to do an ice axe arrest and be confident on 30-35 degree snowy slopes. 

In terms of training, you will need to be comfortable walking for numerous hours each day for several days. At a minimum you should do one or two multi-day practice hikes that last 4-5 hours a day in your home country.

It would also be smart to build up endurance by doing a month or two cardio gym training before your trek. If you have managed 4-5 day treks in the past you will do just fine.

Mount Toubkal Gear List

The packing list for climbing Mount Toubkal is relatively straightforward. If you are trekking in the Spring and Summer months, then you can expect pretty good weather. Rain is always a possibility and temperatures in the Atlas mountains do get quite cold at night. 

In terms of clothes you should think about layers - base layer, fleece layer, warm outer layer. See recommend items below.

In terms of Winter ascents on Toubkal, you will need more layers - specifically a hard shell waterproof jacket and trousers, a warm outer jacket (down or synthetic) and additional layering for your hands, feet and head. You will also need some technical gear, like crampons (and rigid sole boots that can take crampons), a straight handle ice axe and potentially a harness and carabiners to clip into a fixed rope (please confirm requirements with your tour operator).

toubkal-packing-list

Packing list! In the summer and spring months, the climb doesn't require a lot of gear. Winter ascents will require more gear.

Clothing

  • Thermal baselayers (temperatures decrease in higher altitudes)
  • Lightweight waterproof jacket
  • Fleece jacket or warm jumper
  • Trekking trousers and shorts in Summer
  • Socks
  • Good trainers for valley treks / to wear after a days hiking
  • Mid-weight hiking boots
  • Lightweight thermal or fleece gloves
  • Sunhat/warm hat
  • Sunglasses

Gear

  • Head torch and spare batteries - the summit push usually happens before sunrise!
  • Personal lock (for unattended bags)
  • Water purification tablets or water filter
  • Trekking Poles
  • 4 season sleeping bag (winter), or light 3-season sleeping bag (summer)
  • Water bottle
  • Soft Sided duffel bag (50-80 liters) - carried by mules. If trekking independently, then a 50-60L backpack.
  • Lightweight day pack

Toiletries and First Aid

  • Sunblock for body and lips
  • Antibacterial hand wash
  • First aid kit: antiseptic cream, diarrhea treatment, throat lozenges, painkillers, plaster and blister treatment, hydration salts, insect repellent

Other Items:

  • Toilet paper
  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Therm-a-Rest (cushion for sleeping bag) - optional!
  • Camera
  • Pen knife (keep in hold luggage when traveling)
  • Repair kit (thread, needle, duct tape)

Winter Trekking Gear 

  • Ice axe - straight handle (60-70cm)
  • Crampons - and hiking boots that can fit crampons
  • Waterproof hardshell jacket
  • Waterproof, lined trousers
  • Gaiters
  • A warm synthetic or down jacket
  • Gloves (inner thin and outer thick pair)

Before Your Trek

mount-toubkal-trek

Classic Morocco tea, served whilst on the trek to Toubkal!

Getting to Morocco and Toubkal

To get to Mount Toubkal, you need to fly into Morocco. The closest big city to Mount Toubkal is Marrakesh. The only international airport in Marrakesh is the Marrakesh Menara Airport. The drive from the airport to Imlil is about 1 hour and 30 minutes. If you are planning to trek with an organised group then most meet in Marrakesh where you will likely overnight and explore the city.

The trip from Marrakesh to Imlil will cost you around 75 dirhams ($8) per person in a shared taxi, or 300 dirhams ($30) in a private taxi. Be careful when taking a private taxi and agreeing on a price. They will overcharge so negotiate with the driver as much as you can. The shared taxi station is near the Sidi Mimoun Garden.

Please note: There is no need to obtain the Moroccan Dirham ahead of your trip. You will be able to exchange currency upon arrival in the airport. It is a good idea to have some cash on you for your taxi, food, and the tipping of guides.

Visa, Vaccinations and Safety

When entering Morocco, you are required to have a passport that has at least 6 months of remaining validity and two blank pages within the passport for entry and exit.

Most countries do not require a tourist visa to enter Morocco for a duration of 3 months. These countries include Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, U.S., Japan, and other EU countries. South African citizens require a visa. Check with your relevant embassy or official Moroccan consulate for other nationalities.

If you are arriving from an area at risk of Yellow Fever, you will need your International Certificate of Yellow Fever.

Other vaccinations that are a point for good measure include diphtheria-tetanus-polio, measles-mumps-rubella, hepatitis A, and typhoid.

Road safety in Morocco is a concern. Make sure you only take rides with licensed taxi drivers and don't be afraid to ask your driver to slow down.

Morocco is a predominately Muslim country and therefore a conservative approach to dress and public behaviour should be adopted at all times. Sexual relations outside of marriage and homosexuality is prohibited. If you are travelling with your partner it is not unusual to be asked to show proof of marriage before checking into a hotel.

For more information on safety whilst travelling in Morocco, check out the UK FCO website.

Insurance

We highly recommend you get travel insurance when visiting Morocco.

As with any trek, there are risks. The main risk while trekking Mount Toubkal is altitude sickness.

For good measure, consult with your insurance provider and confirm that you will be covered for up to 5,000 meters. It is not common for this to be included in a standard travel insurance package so it is always a good idea to confirm you are covered to a specific altitude.

World Nomads offer travel insurance that covers trekking up to 6,000m. Use the calculator to get a quick quote.

People, Culture and Other Things To Do

Moroccans are people of Berber, Arab and Arab-Berber descent. The population is 33 million and most people follow the Islamic faith.

Morocco has many other cultural influences from countries like Europe, The Middle East, and Sub Saharan Africa. Women and men dress in a djellaba and men wear a red cap, a burnoose, for special occasions.

Moroccans are known for decorations and rich colours. The red colour is found naturally in most of the buildings. Moroccan cuisine is something you must try while visiting. It is extremely flavourful. Moroccans are famous for couscous, tajine, pastille, halwa, and mint tea served from a traditional long spouted teapot.

morocco-colours

The amazing colours of Morocco!

Moroccans are hospitable and welcoming to tourists. As most people follow the Islamic faith, it is important to be mindful of this. Both men and women need to be considerate of their dress, especially in rural areas. Women should cover their arms and shoulders, and wear garments that cover from the knees up. Men should cover their shoulders and be covered above the knee as well.

When entering a home, it is expected that you remove your shoes and follow the host. You are expected to leave tips. The rule of thumb is waiters at cafes receive about 1dh each, restaurants 5dh, and porters 5dh. However, taxi drivers do not expect a tip.

On Mount Toubkal you are able to go on skiing towers in wintertime, horseback and camel riding in the Atlas Mountains, and visit other mountains and Imperial cities. Morocco has so much to offer other than trekking Toubkal. Whether you want to shop the marketplace of Jemaa el-Fnaa, visit the Majorelle Garden, or explore the Sahara Desert and its wildlife. You are in for a vivid adventure.

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