High Atlas Mountains in Morocco: A Preparation Affair (Part I)

Preparing for our trek up the mighty Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, we took a grand taxi from Marrakech to Asni, which has a great ‘souk’ on Saturdays, a type of farmer’s market, where you can buy provisions at a much cheaper cost than in Imlil. Being late to the souk, all that we discovered were the remnants of onionskins and some spongy carrots.

In Asni, one can also stay at a cheap and clean hostel, but if you have time, it’s best to continue up the road to Imlil, an almost old-western feeling roadside town. Several ‘hanoots’, or small stores, line the paved lane. One store looks like a mini supermarket, has a cash register, and you’ll even get a receipt with your purchase!

In Imlil, we bought our provisions for the next morning’s departure: bread, cheese, tuna, and trail mix, along with a few bottles of water. It’s recommended that you pack your own water filter or water treatment purifying agents to save the area from too much plastic waste. If you only want to snacks, and will not be hiking past the Toubkal Refuge, then you can buy your nightly meal once you arrive for around 6 US dollars. The price to sleep at the refuge will be in between 80 and 300 Moroccan Dirham per night, depending on the season. On your trek, bring a warm, wind and rain proof jacket, hiking boots or shoes, a hat and first aid gear, and if you’d like, some hiking poles.

In Imlil, you can easily hire a mule, along with a muleteer. They are not guides but will load and unload your bag on and off the mule and will lead the mule wherever you might be heading. The muleteer is in no way responsible for your safety. And, if you lag behind, he may not wait on you. So, in Imlil, you will probably find a guide ready to speak any language and who will take you on your next day’s venture. Ask the guide to see his official papers and make sure he is certified in leading expeditions. The guide will be the one to hire if you want to be shown more than just the way up.

Since there are not set prices listed anywhere, you will have to do some hard bargaining to get a deal. If you agree to the first price stated, you’ll probably let him down! In general, a muleteer will cost you 17 to 40 US dollars per day. And one mule can carry about 200 pounds of weight. That price for a muleteer’s services is standard except in the high season. However, the price of a mountain guide will vary. We finally stumbled upon one guide who was willing to negotiate and give us a fair deal. Omar Jellah was honest and professional with us, and that’s what we had been looking for. He pulled out his papers from his jacket pocket to show us his credentials. He also gave us his business card so we could contact him and spread the word.

After complaining about the bedbug bites I received after staying at a 3-dollar hotel in Imlil, Omar recommended we stay at his family’s mountain inn just a 45-minute walk up to the amazingly scenic village of Armed, which sits well over a mile high. Upon entering, we were greeted by Omar’s uncle who told us a bit about why he opened the ‘auberge’ or inn and called it Les Roches Armed. After spending the night, he definitely knows how to make his customers happy: by offering clean and spacious rooms, hot showers, and a terrace on top where you can have breakfast overlooking valleys as well as Mount Toubkal.

Getting yourself prepared for a trek will take a good part of an afternoon. Give yourself plenty of time and be patient as you hunt around for a muleteer and guide. If you come during the high season, it may be best to reserve in advance. Otherwise, you can simply show up in Imlil and try to bargain for everything yourself. After buying your provisions in Imlil, work your way up to Armed, which is the best place to begin an early morning outing up to the Toubkal Refuge.

We’ll talk more about the actual trek and climb up to Mount Toubkal in our next article: High Atlas Mountains, A Thoroughbred Affair, Part II.