Winter in Morocco Marrakesh, Toubkal and Lots of Fun!

So it’s taken a while to update, but in November 2013 I went with 3 friends on an 8 day trip out to Morocco, with the aim of climbing Toubkal (North Africa’s highest mountain) in Winter. We had 8 days including a day and a half in Marrakesh and a day either side of being high up in the mountains in a local village (Around and Imlil).

We landed, picked up our transfer to the hotel and spent the first evening wandering into Marrakesh centre to find food with our guide Lhoucine. We woke up to a beautiful breakfast on the roof terrace with views over a hazy Marrakesh, the morning was spent in the city followed by an hours ride into the Mountains. That afternoon was spent trekking from Imlil to Around, where we spent the night in a very comfortable gite in preparation for our first proper days trekking up to the hut where we based ourselves for the main objective…the summit of Toubkal (4162m).

Nicola at Night time in Marrakesh

Nicola at Night time in Marrakesh

The next morning involved walking from Around to the hut under Toubkal, about 1500m of ascent, we settled in and spent the evening playing with crampons and ice axes. The plan was to summit 2 sister peaks on the first day out from the hut, but the weather forced us to summit Toubkal that day. The walk was pleasant, steep, icy in places and had the most spectacular views from the start. Having done barely anything at altitude before I was surprised to find (what I thought was fit) was reduced to a pace which seemed to be a third of what I would normally walk at. But none the less, all of party managed to haul ass to the summit. The descent was much faster, helped by a huge scree slope in which many had fun running, sliding and tumbling down (not to mention inhaling half of the mountain).

Swinging on the Summit!

Swinging on the Summit!

The second day form the hut was to take us up the significantly more exposed (and more fun!) ridge line to bag the 2nd and 3rd highest peaks (Ras at 4083m and the S summit of Timesguida at 4088m). Overnight the snow came, and we woke up to a pleasant blanketing, not enough to warrant axes and crampons, but enough to hide all of the rocks and make every step undoubtedly slippery. Our plan was to walk back up to the previous days plateau and then take a zig zagged path up to a Col which supposedly gave great views of a high lake…we got to the plateau and the zig zagged paths looked particularly neck breaking, so we gave it a miss and walked back down to Around that afternoon.

Chris and Nicola Yalland in front of our home for 3 nights!

Chris and Nicola Yalland in front of our home for 3 nights!

On reaching Around, everyone threw their mountain boots off and adorned much wanted trainers and ‘soft shoes’ we had walked fast enough back down to make the local Hammam. Hammam in Arabic culture is a public washroom, most homes wouldn’t have a shower/bath unit and the weekly hammam was a way for each gender to meet and wash. Not just an act of cleanliness but for the women a chance to gossip and share stories, a chance to bond. Hammam was led, in our case, by a 15 year old girl from the village. We paid our 30 Dirham (13 Dirham to a Pound) and was led into the changing area where we undressed to bikinis and walked into the first sauna room. The next hour flashed by in a flurry of being exfoliated with black soap(ground olive stones) and gloves to within an inch of my life, having my hair washed and head massaged and being told to lie on an extremely hot floor before having buckets of water thrown at me and being ushered out of the door. After meeting the boys back at the gite I feel we got off lightly, they endured almost wrestling chiropractic moves which ended with cold water being thrown over them!

Myself on the summit of Ras

Myself on the summit of Ras

We transferred back to Marrakesh in the morning and took our opportunity to visit the famous souks. The souks are an undercover market in which its incredibly easy to get lost to the point you don’t which direction you just came from. We enjoyed bartering with the store holders and knocking them down on price. We also ate that night in the square near the souk, a strange experience of being physically pulled to sit down and buy food from the vendor, table upon table in canteen style are laid out each stall selling a mix of meat, veg, cous cous and chips! We took the offer of free bread and sat. Our flight the next day wasn’t until early evening so we took our chance to visit the local gardens and visit a supermarket before catching a taxi back to the airport.

A few things stuck out from the trip for me personally….

-Firstly the culture. The Arabic way of life struck me as respectful and peaceful, parents bring their children up to respect their elders, traditionally children kissing the hands of their parents before breakfast each morning. We talked to a man who had been very happily arranged into a marriage at a young age and very much loved his wife and 6 children. The beautiful call to prayer ringing out over the cities, people taking time out of their day to pray, the way of life, there was something pleasing about it. It seemed that many of the traits I find troubling about British society and that are generally portrayed negatively in the media about Arabic tradition where actually incredibly beautiful and worked well in their culture!

-Secondly the food. The Mountains of delicious food that our cooks made us. Lamb, Chicken, Cous Cous, Pasta, Olives, Cucumber, Courgette, Tagine, Fresh Bread, Oranges…everything was so tasty and cooked in abundance, where weren’t ever going to hungry. They carried eggs via mule into the mountains for us! Albeit cooked in Argan oil and slightly tasting of sheep, the people where so happy to provide us with this food that must have taken hours to prepare it was easy to eat til exploding!

-Thirdly the stunning scenery. Who doesn’t love waking up to snow covered Mountains.

-Fourthly (is that a word?) Yallah Yallah seemed to be the phrase of the trip meaning ‘come on’ or ‘hurry up’…

View from the Plateau

View from the Plateau

I thought hitting Morocco would tick somewhere off my list but if anything it has only added on more things to do, more ridges, more ice and more ‘nearly’ untouched rock to play on.

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