Winter mountaineering in Scotland every year was so hit and miss due to my work and the weather conditions to much time had been wasted. If the conditions were right, time off work always seemed a problem and when work was slack the conditions were wrong.
Having seen pictures and read articles of winter in The High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, I decided to go and have a look. Living close to Stanstead and Luton cheap flights are easy to obtain and for under £20 each way I was on my way. Having worked as a tour leader in Morocco I had a good contact in Marrakech who met me at the airport and took me to her office.
With all the logistics sorted out I made my way to the taxi stop in glorious sunshine and in tee shirt and shorts to take a shared taxi to Imlil, a small mountain village about two hours from Marrakech. Piles of snow lay all around, tongues of ice run down the road and icicles hung from roofs, it was cold, very cold. I booked in to a small guesthouse Café Soleil which is run and owned by Abdul, put on every bit of clothing I had and looked around the village just before it got dark. Five more travellers had checked in by the timed I returned and with no heating in the guest house every one was dressed with large coat, hat and gloves seated around a small gas fire. We all ordered a lamb tagine for dinner and then at 8.30pm I retired to the warmth of my four season’s sleeping bag. The morning came after what seemed a very long night with sunshine so bright sunglasses were required. What a beautiful place, high snow covered mountains all around, villages dotted amongst the hills and smells of all kinds of food cooking on the open stoves. I had eggs for breakfast the set off on the path up through Sidi Chamharouch to the French owned mountain hut C A F Refuge at the base of Toubkal, Morocco’s highest Mountain. The path takes you through small villages and settlements, along steep valleys and up through the holy shrine of Sidi Chamharouch on to the hut. There are two huts here now and I headed for the original hut, the French owned hut being the most popular with the climbers.
The heat of the day now going it was a pleasure to enter the hut with its large log fire, warm rooms, good food and excellent company of the other climbers from all around the world. Fed and watered I went to bed and got up at 6.30am for breakfast after a really good nights sleep. I left the hut at 7am on my own and made my way up the snow to reach the summit of Toubkal in about four hours in brilliant sunshine. I was joined on top 20 minutes later by a young Canadian climber, which was handy as we took turns with the cameras and had our picture taken and then descended together. Back at the hut we drank coffee, packed away the warm clothes then walked back down to Imlil just in time to take a shared taxi back to Marrakech. I booked into the Riad Omar, had a kebab for dinner walked around the square then hit the sack, it had been a long day.
After a really good breakfast at Riad Omar I spent hours walking in the souks and in the square Djemaa el Fna watching the snake charmers, dancers and story tellers before making my way to the airport for an early evening flight home. All this in four days and it did not cost as much as my petrol would have cost if I had gone to Scotland and the snow is guaranteed.
We have now done this trip three times, each time in good snow and beautiful sunshine also climbing other ridges and peaks in the area.
It really is so easy to get to and so different as it is Africa and not Europe.