Morocco Day 12: High Atlas Mountains (& the time I hiked to base camp of Jebl Toubkal in sandals)

Morocco Day 12: High Atlas Mountains (& the time I hiked to base camp of Jebl Toubkal in sandals)

My visit to Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains began the second half of my 3-week Moroccan adventure with a new group of travelers that were beginning the Intrepid South Morocco Discovery tour.  The first half of the tour, which I’ve already written about, was mostly focused on Morocco’s biggest and most vibrant cities, while this second half was dedicated to much of Morocco’s natural landscape, smaller villages, and more …athletic… adventures.  I know that our trip notes mentioned a hike was one optional activity in Aroumd, a village in the High Atlas Mountains, and that our guesthouse would require a roughly 30-minute walk from Imlil.  Well, let me share with you the day and a half that followed…

We arrived by van to Imlil, a small village in the High Atlas Mountains, which was clearly a hiker’s retreat.  There were mules carrying packs, locals selling homemade products such as rugs and jewelry, and a guest house where we were meant to leave our bigger bags that featured only a squat toilet.  That’s when you know it’s going to be a good day!  So we left our bags, handed our night packs over to our local mule, and began our trek to our guest house.  I wasn’t exactly sure how strenuous this hike would be, but it was definitely more challenging than I had expected.  The paths through the forest in this area are not at all flat, so the entire walk to the house was a game of not falling and breaking your ankle while trying to avoid stepping in mule poop and making way for mules that were practically charging up and down the trail- and trust me, these mules stop for no one.  This is what it looks like, for instance, when a mule is pushing you out of the way:

Good thing they’re cute.  But, I made it after about 40 minutes of heavy breathing and frequent stops for “photos”.

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And then I finally made it to the village of Aroumd!  It’s an even smaller village where it was immediately clear that we were the only tourists around, and we were staying in a beautiful mountain guest house that was propped up right in the middle of everything!

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We were seated at a big table outside the house upon arriving for the obligatory serving of Moroccan tea, the sugar in which was actually incredibly welcome after the exertion spent on our hike there.  We sat for a while in the shade enjoying the company of the other travelers on the tour, our guide, and the local hosts before we were told it that it was almost time for our optional hike in the mountains surrounding the guest house.  The hike was meant to take us to a shrine at Sidi Chamharouch that caters to suffers of mental disease should they make a pilgrimage and offer an animal sacrifice. I asked our Intrepid guide, Mohamed, if the hike would be similar to the one we’d just undertaken to get to the guest house, and he laughed and said it was just going to be longer.  Now, after nearly 2 weeks spent already traveling with Mohamed, he certainly knew I wasn’t the most athletic individual in our group which definitely accounted for his laughing at me, but I figured, “how bad can it be?” and headed off with the group for the hike.

Maybe this is when you’re beginning to realize the end of the story based on the title of this post, but this was not when I realized the end of this story as it was happening.  I was still far from realizing the adventure that was about to be undertaken.  In fact, the hike started out well, barring of course, the experience of a young village child slapping my butt as I walked by, presumably as a funny joke between him and his friends.  The walk from the guest house to the valley was lovely!  Why?  It was downhill!  But then we joined the trail from Aroumd and things began to look up.  And by up, I mean very up.

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I was committed.  And, I was wearing sandals!  These sandals, in fact.  Fantastic sandals for traveling, not such fantastic sandals for hiking up a mountain on gravel while avoid mules that were still barreling up and down the very small pathways.  The hike took about 2 hours up and then 2 hours back.  The up part was actually the easiest part, little did I know.  But getting to the end of the hike was absolutely worth it- the views along the way were some of the most spectacular that I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was incredible to see the natural landscape open up before us as we inched our way closer to the end.

And then, finally, we made it to the summit.  Except, it wasn’t actually the summit.  It was the base camp of the highest peak in North Africa, Jebl Toubkal!  So, now I’ve realized what you all realized several sentences ago- I just climbed to the base camp of the highest peak in North Africa and the second highest peak in the entire continent in sandals, and trust me, I felt it.  Despite the physical pain I felt, though, knowing that I’d made it all the way to Sidi Chamharouch was an absolutely amazing feeling, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat- just maybe in more sensible shoes.

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Once we arrived to the camp and shrine, we realized the the famous white rock which housed the shrine was not-so-natural, and we all got a pretty good kick out of it.  It was, however, really interesting to learn about the superstition surrounding the shrine, and the contradiction that the pilgrimages and sacrifices have with Islam, the official religion of those that visit it.  As non-Muslims, we weren’t permitted to enter the shrine, but the area surrounding it was beautiful, as were the people that live there.

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Even more amazing, however, were all of the animals that live there.  We found goats jumping around, mules grazing, and gorgeous birds flying through the skies.  It made me want to hike to the actual summit (again, with hiking boots), to see the views from above.  But instead, I will leave you with a photo of jumping goats, which demonstrates the excitement I had after getting back to our guest house in the evening, washing an entire mountain’s worth of dirt off of me and my feet, and falling asleep in a nice, cozy bed.

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Next up I have a recap of my time spent in the Sahara including a close call with a camel and a fear-inducing 4-wheel drive in the middle of the night.  For more of my Moroccan adventures, check out Days 1-3 in Casablanca, Days 4 & 5 in Rabat, Moulay Idriss and Volubilis, Days 5 & 6 in Fes, and Days 7 & 8 in Chefchaouen!

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8 thoughts on “Morocco Day 12: High Atlas Mountains (& the time I hiked to base camp of Jebl Toubkal in sandals)

  1. This is one of those places I do want to see. Have always been interested in the Berber people. Especially since I started running my rh negative site. Supposedly 40 percent of some Berber tribes have rh negative blood. So it would be something like a pilgramage to go there.

  2. Nice. From a trekker, basecamp and the altitude excite me. How high was the basecamp? I intend to do multiday treks in the Atlas one day. I didnt realize how accessible the highest peak is in N. Africa. That is surprising.

    1. It was roughly 2,350 meters/7,710 ft. I imagine for seasoned trekkers, getting to Sidi Chamharouch would be fairly easy, but I can’t speak to the trek to the summit. I would love to go back and conquer the mountain now that I’ve already gone this far- it was an absolutely amazing experience!

  3. Morocco is on my bucket list. Sounds like an amazing climb! I’m not sure that I could do it but I’d love to try!

  4. Places like this are always amazing but sometimes I fail to appreciate the journey. I remember being out of shape, as usual, when I had to walk up a very steep road to get to the ruins of an old fortress. As I drug my poor butt up the hill a little old lady that lived there breezed past as if I was standing still. Makes you appreciate all those people that live in places like this.

    1. I felt the same way! There were locals who seemed to be running up the mountain, and I could barely get down it. I’m thankful for the journey, though, it was absolutely incredible 🙂

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