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Toubkal General Info

The Atlas Mountains – a brief history

The name ‘Atlas’, given to these mountains by Europeans, but never used by the native races, is derived from that of the mythical Greek god represented as carrying the globe on his shoulders, and applied to the high and distant mountains of the west, where Atlas was supposed to dwell.

From time immemorial the Atlas have been the home of Berber races, and those living in the least accessible regions have retained a measure of independence throughout their recorded history. Thus some of the mountain districts had never been visited by Europeans until the French military expedition of 1857.

Jbel Toubkal is the highest mountain in the High Atlas and in North Africa. Throughout the story of exploration by Europeans it must be remembered that some  of the main summits of the Atlas, including Toubkal, were almost certainly reached by Berber tribesmen in the course of hunting trips long before recorded ascents began.

Two Frenchmen, the Marquis de Segonzac and Louis Gentil explored the area in the early years of the last century. During these explorations de Segonzac climbed Ari n'Ayachi in 1901 and Gentil came within an ace of reaching the top of Siroua in 1908. Both men continued their work into the 1920s resulting in the mineral wealth of Morocco being exposed and developed on a large scale.

The Moroccan section of the French Alpine Club was founded in 1922 and in that year de Segonzac climbed Iferouane believing it to be the highest point in the range, only to observe the mountain now called Toubkal was distinctly loftier. An attempt on Toubkal in April the following year was rebuffed by fresh snow but de Segonzac and his party returned in June and got to the top. The height of Toubkal was determined in 1924 and the strange  trigometrical signal was raised on the summit in 1931.

Flights and travel:

Easyjet, Ryanair, Atlas-Blue, Royal Air Maroc, Thompson Fly and British Airways  amongst others, fly into Marrakesh from various major UK airports. EasyJet have the best baggage allowance (20kg). The airport is a short drive (25 mins) from the city centre and 50 miles from the trail head at Imlil.

Visa Information:

At time of writing, British, American, Canadian, Australian, and Irish nationals do not require a visa to travel to Morocco, just a valid passport. Be advised that if your date of exit from Morocco is less than six months before the expiry of your passport you may be refused entry into the country. Similar rules apply to most EC countries, but please check with the relevant Consulate well in advance of your holiday as it is your responsibility to ensure that you have the correct documentation to enter the country. On arrival in Morocco, you will have to submit a visitor’s card which you will have been given to fill in on the plane and this will entitle you to stay in Morocco for up to 90 days.

Money:

The currency in Morocco is the dirham (dh). There are about 12dh to the £ Pound (in 2012). It is impossible to get Dirham outside of Morocco - therefore take € Euros, £ Sterling or US$ and exchange on arrival. Alternatively or in addition, there are plenty of ATM’s in the airport and Marrakesh.

Do not depend on your credit card for purchases – cash is best.

Tipping (local leader and staff): Our local staff are paid well and fairly for their work and tipping is entirely at your own discretion. However, as a guideline, we suggest you offer a few pounds in tips for the guides, cook and muleteers - about £3 - 5 a day would seem reasonable.

Accommodation/ Mountain huts:

We stay the Refuge du Toubkal during our time on the mountain. It has a kitchen and dining facilities (our guides will prepare food for you) and dormitory beds with mattresses. The main thing to remember is that the hut can get very cold, particularly in winter (but also in September and October, towards the end of the summer trekking season), and you will need a good sleeping bag.

The Refuge du Toubkal has a roaring fire in the downstairs social room and no heating whatsoever in the dorms. The dormitory's can get a bit 'sweaty' at night and it's a good idea to open a window.

Expect to pay an extra fee for fire logs, which have to be carried-up to the refuge by mule.

The hut sells snacks, fizzy drinks and bottled water. Whilst our cooks can boil water for you, it's better if you buy bottled water from the hut guardian. Typically, a 2 litre bottle of water will cost DH12 - so don't forget to take some cash with you (small denominations).

There is electricity and showers with 'on-off' hot water (hope for the best, prepare for the worst), bring wash kit. It's a good idea to take a universal charger to recharge your phone (there is a signal) and camera - but don't rely on being able to get access to a socket. They're in short supply.

Off the mountain, we use a small Riad near to the central square in Marrakesh. This is 'top-end budget' accommodation with small rooms, en-suite bathrooms and air conditioning. We are able to keep the cost of your trip down by not splashing-out on expensive hotels after the climb. However, if you'd like to upgrade, please let us know.

Food on the trip:

The price includes all food on-the-hill. You will have to provide your own food in Marrakesh (there are countless good restaurants within walking distance of the hotel).

A typical menu on this trip would be:

Breakfast: Fresh bread with cheese, jam, margarine, tea, coffee, hot chocolate and hot milk.

Lunch: A light lunch consisting of fresh mixed salad, tinned fish or meat, bread and cheese, followed by fresh local fruit.

Afternoon tea: Tea / coffee / hot chocolate with dates, figs, nuts and biscuits.

Dinner: The evening meal is always a hot meal and is different every night - traditional Moroccan cuisine of Tajine or couscous with meat and vegetables or the occasional pasta meal.

It’s always a good idea to bring a few snacks of your own. Take nuts, chocolate, biltong etc It's also a good idea to take a couple of Wayfarer or similar packaged camping meals as a 'just in case'.

Please let us know if you have any particular dietary requirements.

Language:

The language is Arabic / Berber but French is also spoken widely. Little or no English spoken outside of the main tourist areas. Your mountain guide will speak good English.

Alcohol in Morocco:

Alcohol is not widely available in Morocco although larger hotels and upmarket restaurants sell it. There are a few bars in Marrakesh but small towns usually have no bars and no off-licences.

Morocco isn't a great destination for drinkers, and it can be hard work looking for somewhere for a post climb celebration, my recommendations are:

Rumours (220 Bd Mohammed V). Stays open until 1AM, good tunes/ DJ. There are loads of bars on this end of Mohammed V.

Piano Bar Les Jardins de la Koutoubia (26 Rue de la Koutoubia) , in the hotel near to the main square. Plush. Shuts at 11PM.

Expect to pay DH50 for a bottle of Casablanca beer and DH140 for a bottle of local wine.

Climate:

Morocco is generally a dry country, but the High Atlas, like all high mountain ranges, are subject to variable weather conditions, so wet and windy weather, is a possibility at any time of year...when packing, it’s a good idea to adopt a ‘prepare for the worst’ approach.

Summer: Expect hot weather in Marrakesh and lower down the mountains. At 3000m or above, it can be cool after dark, but rarely cold. There may be a few patches of snow around.

Spring and Autumn: Expect warm conditions in Marrakech. It’s usually mild in the mountains, but can be cold at night and early in the morning. Patches of snow higher up. Don’t be surprised if temperatures fall below freezing level after dark.

Winter: Marrakesh is generally warm and sunny in winter but nights can be cold, especially Dec-Feb. Temperatures are lower still in the mountains. You are very likely experience snow on high ground and nights can be very cold, often as low as -10C.  High passes and peaks will have thick snow cover

Best climbing and trekking seasons:

Summer conditions: May, June, July, September, October

Winter conditions: November, December, January, February, March, April

Vaccinations and medicine:

There are no compulsory vaccinations for Morocco, and it is not considered to be a particularly high-risk destination, but the following diseases are prevalent.

Hep A - water-borne disease found in areas of poor sanitation. Visitors staying for long periods, or staying with local families / friends / wild camping in rural areas are considered high risk and are advised vaccination.

Hep B - prevalent in Morocco, but only transmitted through body-fluids. Healthcare professionals and military personnel are vaccinated but there is no need for tourist visitors.



Rabies - prevalent... avoid the dogs and you don't need a vaccine.



Tetanus - Make sure your boosters are up to date.

TB - This is still about in Morocco. Those who have not been vaccinated are advised not to visit Morocco for extended periods without a vaccine.

Typhoid - Another water-borne disease that many UK nationals will not be vaccinated against. A vaccine is advised only if you are staying for long periods in very remote areas or wild-camping.

Schistosomiasis - There is no vaccine for this, and you can catch it by swimming in pools and rivers in which it is present. Trekkers are advised not to cool down with a dip in a natural pool.

Moroccan Customs do not have a list of prohibited medication, but they do advise anyone travelling with prescription medication to ensure that they have a copy of the doctor’s prescription with them and that the quantity of medication carried is within the limits of the prescription.

Standards for travellers: 



European travellers should remember that taking photographs can cause great offence to Muslims. As a general rule, always ask people before taking a photograph of them, and never attempt to take photos of women, or any government buildings. 

All public displays of affection, including men and women holding hands should be avoided. In Arabic countries it is common to see men holding hands – this is an accepted sign of friendship, but affection between the sexes is not expected in public. 



Also, travellers should adhere to accepted standards of dress – remember that in the Berber culture people are simply not accustomed to many practices of Europeans, and inappropriate clothing can easily and innocently cause offence, particularly to the elderly. Knees should always be covered when out in public, so long trousers or long skirts should be worn rather than shorts. Likewise, shoulders should remain covered, so avoid wearing sleeveless T-shirts or strappy tops unless on high crags well away from shepherds, farmers, and villagers. 



Altitude issues:

The highest point at which we sleep (and not the highest point to which we climb) is the critical issue. The huts are clustered together at about 3200m.Whilst you may feel some initial effects of altitude you are unlikely to have any serious AMS issues.

Toubkal is a 4000m peak so you will feel the altitude if you climb too quickly. Even if you ascend slowly, you will feel out of breath as you near the summit because it becomes more difficult to breath in the thin air at this altitude. By spending a couple of nights at the refuge before you attempt the climb itself, you will make things much easier because your body will have had extra time to acclimatise.

Things to do in Marrakesh:

Most people on our Toubkal treks have a spare day in Marrakesh. It isn't hard to find things to do in this exotic city. Here's a couple of pointers:

Start the day with a traditional Hammam (steam room, scrub and massage - take a pair of swimming trunks). You're best-off going to a traditional establishment rather that one of the more touristy places. My personal favourite is a small place off Rue de Bab Agnaou (just off Djemma el-Fna square) - it's down a small alley opposite the Riad Omar hotel/ restaurant which is at the top of Rue de Bad Agnaou where it meets with Ave el-Mouahidine. It has separate male and female rooms.

Restaurant Cafe Berbere (Jamma El Fna Rue. Derb Dabachi No 38) is an excellent cheap place for lunch.

You can spend the rest of the day seeing the sights with a licensed tour guide or wandering around the souks/ running away from snake charmers on the main square.  D'Jamma el Fna is a great place to be at dusk.