Toubkal National Park

Home to the highest mountain in the Arab world, the 4,167m high Toubkal, the surrounding national park gave a good taster of the High Atlas Mountain Range. I didn’t have time to head to the summit of Toubkal, but enjoyed exploring the villages on the route to it.

The gateway is Imlil, a cluster of neighbouring villages home to about 10,000 people, at ~1,800m above sea level. Over the past fifteen years it has become an increasingly popular spot for hikers heading into the national park. We walked up a switchback road, with views of the still autumnal (in mid November) valley below.

The destination was the village of Aroumd, ~2,200m above sea level. Built on a hillside it was a pleasure to explore the steep narrow streets running down to a large and well maintained Mosque.

From our guesthouse we could clearly see Toubkal ahead on the left hand side of the valley. From this angle, and only being 1,900m below it’s summit it didn’t look that high to be honest. Apparently it is a relatively straightforward if tiring climb to the summit which takes 2-3 days. The track starts from Aroumd and heads up through the small community at Sidi Chamharouch to Refuge du Toubkal. Most groups leave the refuge around 3am to get to the summit for sunrise, before returning to Imlil.

The next day we started at dawn to walk the ~12km up to Sidi Chamharouch and back to Imlil. Heading along the dry river bed Aroumd with autumn colour was behind.

The track then heads up the side of the valley. It’s a pretty barren landscape with a scattering of juniper trees, though their numbers are decreasing due to overuse by the locals.

The small village of Sidi Chamharouch (2,310m) is built around shrine honoring a saint reputed to cure mental illness, the large white rock next to the mosque. Judging by the number of shops it gets plenty of foot traffic. From here it is about 5km to Refuge du Toubkal.

Around the village were good examples of the door designs common across Morocco.

Less appealing was this animal skin and accompanying feet.

We were the first group to reach Sidi Chamharouch. On the way down we passed a dozen groups heading up. It was obvious from their footwear and pack size who was heading toward the summit, and who was doing a similar day walk to us. For those less used to walking up rocky tracks there is the option of riding on a mule.

Returning down the valley late morning the sunshine had finally reached Aroumd. We finished the walk through the woods down to Imlil in time for lunch.

To end on a tragic note that explains why guides are now mandatory for anyone walking here, even for short walks. In December 2018 two women from Denmark and Norway were murdered while camping on their way back from summiting Toubkal. It was an act of terrorism by three men from Marrakech who were planning to join ISIS in Syria afterwards. They were caught and sentenced to death.

I didn’t read the details until after visiting Toubkal National Park but we walked right by where it happened, only half an hour past Aroumd. There is more security in place now, and greater awareness from the locals. Almost the entire economy of the area relies on tourism, which is risky given how quickly things can change, as the recent fortunes of Egypt and Tunisia have shown.

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