Mount Toubkal, Morocco – Embrace the highest peak in North Africa

Located in the Toubkal National Park, Morocco, at 4167m, Jebel Toubkal is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is also, the highest peak in North Africa and the Arab World.

Located just 75-minutes drive from Marrakech (approximately 40-miles) the National Park and the Toubkal summit has long been an excellent opportunity for those looking for a challenge, either for a specific purpose or as an add-on to an active holiday. As ultra-running, mountain running and the desire to explore new places grows. Morocco and Toubkal is a great place to adventure. Toubkal is considered by many as a great entry level mountain and it’s altitude is a great allure.

Toubkal has two-seasons, Winter and Summer. In winter, summiting the peak brings different challenges as it is completely covered in snow and ice. Winter mountain skills are required and the use of crampons are essential.

So, in this article, we look at Toubkal as a summer adventure and in due course, I will follow up with a Winter article.

PRACTICALITIES

Flights to Marrakech are in abundance and if you plan ahead, you can get very good deals, particularly from some of the budget airlines.

If you have not been to Marrakech before, I would say it is essential to soak up the atmosphere of the place by staying in the Medina (souk) in a typical Riad. Riad’s are standard Moroccan accommodation and like anywhere, you can go cheap or expensive. I have several favourites. My all time favourite, the ‘Dixneuf La Ksour’ (http://www.dixneuf-la-ksour.com ) which has only 6-rooms, excellent staff and they serve wonderful local food in the evenings and they have a licence to serve alcohol, if that is your thing!

My advice would be, arrive Marrakech and then spend two days sightseeing. Visit the Medina, get lost and haggle for a bargain. On the following day you could visit the Yves-Saint-Laurent Museum (https://www.museeyslmarrakech.com/fr/ ) and the Jardin de Marjorelle (https://www.jardinmajorelle.com)  both worth the effort. There are many other things that one can do, but this is a good starting point. You could then go to Imlil/ Toubkal for your adventure and the return back to Marrakech for another day or two before returning home.

TOUBKAL

Depending on your budget, you can either get a taxi or a private car to the village of Imlil. This is the starting place for all summit attempts. A taxi will be 35-40 euro and private car 80 euro.

OPTION ONE:

This is a standard option for Toubkal, and what most people do on a first attempt.

They leave Marrakech after breakfast, looking to arrive Imlil, say for 11am. You then meet your *guide, have tea (nearly always compulsory) and then leave for the refuge.

*A guide is now compulsory in the National Park and you cannot enter without one. There are currently three checkpoints that you go through and on each occasion your guide must provide your passport and the details are logged.

Imlil to the refuge is designed to introduce you to the terrain and slowly adapt you to the altitude. Imlil is at 1800m and the ‘Les Mouflons’ refuge is at 3207m. Depending on experience and adaptation, Imlil to the refuge can take 3-6 hours. 

Leaving Imlil, you have a narrow trail that rises quickly to a road and then the village of Aroumd. Here you will meet the first passport control and then you cross a floodplain before starting the climb to the refuge. The terrain is rocky and rough but not dangerous.

Chamharouch is the next passport control and here you will see a large white rock that is a Muslim Shrine. Here it is possible to get water, food if required and soft-drinks such as Coke.

The path now climbs steeply and gently reaches upwards, once again the terrain is rocky. You will arrive at two disused building that now sell drinks and here is the 3rd and final passport check. Before you know it, you will arrive at the refuge located at 3207m.

Depending on what you have arranged with your guide, you will have a meal at the refuge and then you will stay in a shared dorm with all the other climbers. These dorms are often unisex, so be prepared. You also need to be self-sufficient in terms of sleeping bag, additional clothes and warm layers. Everyone usually sleeps by 8/9pm.

The summit day will typically start at 0400 with breakfast and the intention will be to start the climb asap. Sunrise is approximately 0700, so, depending on your projected speed, the guide will advise on a departure time so you can climb from 3207m to 4167m.

In summer, the trail is very dry and although not a technical climb, Toubkal does have a great deal of loose scree and rocks. With the addition of the demands of altitude, the climb can provide an excellent challenge for someone new to experiences like this. Or, experienced runners and climbers can use it as a form of training. The trail goes straight up often zig-zagging to ease the gradient. Once at the saddle, the trail goes left and right. Here you go left for a final push to the summit. On a clear day, the views are magnificent and if you time it correctly, the sunrise can be truly magical.

Importantly, be prepared for the cold. It may be 30-40 degrees in Marrakech but the summit can be very cold and windy. Make sure you have wind proof jacket/ trousers, warm layer, hat and gloves as a minimum.

Most arrive at the summit between 0700 and 0900, you spend time soaking the views and taking photos and then return via the path you came. (There is another way down, more on that later!)

Descending becomes easier from an altitude perspective, with every meter you go down, the easier it will become to breathe. However, I think many find the descent harder and more challenging than the climb. This is due to the loose scree and rocky terrain. If experienced, one can drop from the summit to the refuge in 60-75 minutes. However, many eek their way down and falling/ slipping is a very real possibility. To clarify, there are no exposed ridges or real danger. It will just be a slip and a slide.

Once back at the refuge, many take a break for lunch and they will look to descend back to Imlil in the afternoon via the exact same route they went up the previous day. The out and back route is approximately 22 miles.

Once back in Imlil, it makes sense to book a local Riad, they are very inexpensive and serve great Tagine. The following morning you can arrange for a taxi/ car to collect you and you will be back in Marrakech for lunch.

OPTION TWO:

If you are experienced or want a challenge. Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil can be done in one day. I have done this twice now, once in Winter and once in Summer.

Most recently (August) I left Marrakech at 0530. I met my guide at 0700. We summited at midday and I was back in Imlil before 4pm in the afternoon. I had a car collect me and I was back in Marrakech before 7pm.

The above is not for everyone, but for me, it was an ideal opportunity to fit an action packed day between holiday days, before and after in Marrakech.

OPTION THREE:

As option two, but from the summit it is possible to take another route down. This is a more challenging descent with some exposure, very loose scree and lots of technical rocks. In terms of distance, it is maybe a little less than the standard up and down route but it does offer more excitement! I took this route down on my first trip to Toubkal. It rejoins the path up to the refuge below Les Mouflons.

EQUIPMENT:

During the day, shorts and t-shirt is ideal for the climb to the refuge. Shoes should be good trail running shoes with toe protection. Hikers will probably use walking shoes, approach shoes or boots. I used VJ Sport MAXx shoes which were perfect on these trails. You will need a pack and in that pack a change of clothes, warm layers, a sleeping bag and the capacity to carry liquid and some snacks. Refuge to the summit and back can be cold and windy. Be prepared with a Primaloft warm layer, gloves, hat and wind proof pants and jacket. It is recommended to have waterproof (just in case!)

I think poles for most people are an essential item. They will considerably help on the climb up and on the descent, they will add a security blanket.

TIME OF YEAR:

August for me is perfect. Marrakech is hot but has less tourists. Expect 30-40 degrees during the day. Imlil to the refuge, temperatures will be somewhere between 15 degs at 0700 and 30 deg in the afternoon. May can still have snow, so, be careful.

BOOKING:

The refuge at Toubkal is a great place to liaise with in regard to booking. 

refugetoubkal@gmail.com  – Liaise with Hamid.

Refuge Tariffs:

34.5 euro per person per night full board ( Dinner, breakfast and lunch )

29.5 euro per person per night half board ( Dinner and breakfast  )

19.5 euros per person per night ( without meals )

The refuge can also arrange the following for you:

Transport from and back to Marrakech

Accommodation in Imlil

Mountain Guide – A guide will be approximately 80 euro per day and is payable in cash only.

IMLIL HOTEL:

The Riad Atlas Prestige is located on the climb out of Imlil. It’s cozy, provides an excellent service and the food is great. It also very inexpensive at typically 30 euros a night for 2-people.

The hotel is on booking.com or you can contact directly +212 666 494954

SAFETY:

Morocco is safe. I have been travelling in different areas for over 7-years and I have always had a great time with wonderful experiences. Of course, there are cultural differences and as a tourist, it is we that must adapt. Women in particular should consider ‘covering up’ a little more, particular if running. But, in Marrakech, there are so many tourists that pretty much anything goes. Taking photographs, one should be careful. The locals really do not like it, and this I know from first hand experience.

Unfortunately, in December 2018 two girls were murdered between Imlil and Toubkal and this created a stir worldwide and locally. Hence the need for a guide and three passport controls now. I cannot emphasise enough that this incident was a one-off and to clarify, I have been back to Morocco and Imlil twice since this incident and at no point was I worried.

CONCLUSION:

An active weekend away or part of a longer trip to Morocco, Imlil and Toubkal is a real adventure and is highly recommended. For example, it would be quite feasible to fly from the UK (for example) on a Friday and return on Monday having visited Imlil and summited Toubkal over the weekend.

For those with more time Imlil is also a great place for a longer stay. There are many trails to explore in the area and the place is a hidden gem.

For those combining holiday and adventure, Imlil and Toubkal is a great active outlet amidst a more relaxed time in Marrakech. If you are planning to be in Morocco for longer than 7-days, also consider heading to the coast to visit Essaouira which is a 4-hour drive. It’s an old place with a very different feel to Marrakech. Of course, the options are only limited by your imagination and budget – it is also possible to go and stay overnight in the desert and have a bivouac experience.

As destinations go, Morocco is a magical place.

Ultra Mirage© El Djerid #UMED 2018 Race Summary and Images

Backed by the space port of Mos Espa (Star Wars Episode 1) the 2nd edition of UMED ( Ultra Mirage© El Djerid) got underway with the morning glow of a strong orange sun after it had tipped over the summits of the surrounding high dunes.  

Over 130 runners from 23 nations stepped forward to undertake a circular 100km route through the Tunisian desert. Heat, sand, mixed terrain, palm groves, oasis all providing a stunning backdrop to an ultimate running challenge. The calm and quiet of the Sahara broken only by the sound of birds. 

Any running journey can be a lonely one, but the desert really does provide isolation, only a snake or a camel providing any company. Of course, the sun only leaves the runner with darkness and as the rest from intense heat may be welcome, the complete darkness of the desert provides its own challenges as the runners navigate via reflective strips all the way back to where they started, the lunar landscape of Mos Espa and the bulbous film set village made famous by Star Wars.

The 2017 champion, Mohamed El Morabity had returned to defend his title, however, the desert king (Mohamed’s elder brother) Rachid El Morabity was also on the start line looking to upset the 2017 champions dreams. In the women’s field, two-time MDS champion, Elisabet Barnes was returning to racing after an almost year-long hiatus – what would the day hold for all of them? 

On the stroke of 0700 the runners were released. They had 20-hours to complete the desert journey via marked route and 5 checkpoints placed at 20km, 35km, 50km, 65km, 80km and the finish providing an end to an epic journey.

With no wind, the 30-degree temperatures seemed intense. From the start, the experienced runners reigned in their pace but at the front, Marwen Kahil from Tunisia dictated the pace followed by fellow Tunisian, Mohamed Mnsari – the duo no doubt wanting to put on a good show on home ground. All the main contenders followed some way back, they were in no rush to push the pace and Rachid, Mohamed and Sondre Amdahl maintained a close eye on each other.

In the women’s race, Elisabet Barnes dictated the pace, shadowed by Tunisian, Shefia Hendaoui. Behind, Orianne Dujardin from France followed looking relaxed and in control.

At 20km, the positions had hardly changed. However, Elisabet had broken away from her shadow and was now dictating the pace at the front. With 80km to go, it was a brave move, but she looked strong and in control. For the men, there was little but the front of the race was starting to fragment with runners either forming small groups or running alone seconds and minutes apart.

By CP2, it was all change. The desert king Rachid had gently pressed on his accelerator pedal and in doing so he had split the men’s race apart. The early protagonists were left to struggle with the only runners able to follow the Moroccan’s pace coming from his brother, Mohamed and Tunisian, Emir Grairi. The duo looked strong and in control and then minutes later it was the arrival of Sondre Amdahl.

For the women, Elisabet was now pulling away from Shefia and Oriane and her pace was starting to impact on the men’s race with the Swedish runner placing well in the top 10.

With 50% of the race covered and the arrival of the first Oasis the race was taking shape. Rachid and Elisabet had opened huge gaps and were looking strong for victory, but behind them both the race was changing.

The 2nd male to arrive was the Tunisian Emir looking strong. Then Sondre arrived. What had happened to the 2017 champion Mohamed? He finally arrived walking, looking broken and explaining that he had hurt his ankle. He looked set to drop out but at the 3rd CP he pushed on.

 For the women, the early pace had impacted on Shefia and now Oriane was running in 2nd. It was all to fight for though, the duo was only separated by minutes!

50-65km were the most challenging of the race with relentless soft sand that slowed the front runners to a walk at times. Behind, this section would eventually take its toll with over 30% of the UMED field not progressing past this section. Rachid and Elisabet took it in their stride but the impact on Emir was noticeable and he relinquished 2nd place to an in-form Sondre. Mohamed was somehow rejuvenated, and he now ran with the Tunisian, the duo looking for the final podium place. 

Rachid arrived at the 80km checkpoint looking tired and exhausted. The day was taking its toll. He searched for food and drink, but the fatigue was obviously confusing him, he was undecided what he needed. Sitting down he consumed two cartons of juice only to vomit them back up. He left for arguably the toughest 20km’s he would ever run. The gap Rachid had accumulated was crumbling and Sondre arrived just 3-minutes later. The fight was on!

 Sondre hunted the Moroccan down slowly pursuing but Rachid despite chronic fatigue never gave in, he arrived at the finish broken. He crossed the line and collapsed into the arms of the RD, Amir Ben Gacem. Moments later he was in the medic’s hands with an IV in his arm. Sondre finished a stunning 2nd just 6-minutes later. It had been an epic battle. The fight for 3rd came to an easy conclusion for the 2017 champion Mohamed when Emir dropped from the race with severe cramps just 5/6km from the line.

 Elisabet was the next to arrive, the new female champion and 4th overall – she was back! This was a stunning world-class performance and her time was just 9-minutes slower than the 2017 champion, Mohamed. 

“UMED was a really great experience. It was good to be back in a desert race after a break this year. I enjoyed the varying terrain, the heat, and the perfect mix of friendly atmosphere and hard racing.” – Elisabet Barnes

Behind, Oriane secured her 2nd place ahead of the local woman, Shefia.

With the arrival of darkness, the race took on a new challenge as the participants battled the terrain, darkness and the 0300 cut-off. As with all races, the dream of medals evaporated like water in a Mirage. Blisters, fatigue, dehydration, missing cut-off times, each runner had a story to tell.

“I did not dream of medal. I wanted to run strong and run well. That was my UMED goal. At half way I felt very unwell and I knew it was the beginning of heatstroke. I also had damaged feet with blisters… We had been advised that gaiters were not necessary, they were! I was mentally and emotionally strong, but I knew it was time to be kind to myself and I allowed myself to call it quits. I had done what I set out to do, I had run well, I had run strong, and that was for 50km. Next year’s goal will be to run well, run strong and get that medal.” – Sue Ding from Malaysia who had completed the 2018 Marathon des Sables.


As Roosevelt rightly said:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 Racing does not give guarantees. It is why we test ourselves. Pain eases, memories fade, skin heals and soon, often the next day, the desire to return and put the demons to rest is what motivates everyone. The desert is magic and leaves only one desire: to come back and tame it! 

Post-race, RD Amir Ben Gacem was proud of the race, “Last year, we had just 60 runners, this year we had over 130 and I am proud to say, over 30 women. That is stunning. The race will evolve, and we learnt some lessons this year that will be applied for 2019 only to make the UMED bigger and better!”

“Wow, I am really happy with that,” Sondre exclaimed. “I am the first ‘human’ – to place 2nd behind the desert king Rachid and to have his brother behind me is a true honour.”

 RESULTS

  1. Elisabet Barnes 10:26:06
  2. Oriane Dujardin 12:58:57
  3. Shefia Hendaoui 13:35:57

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 9:11:47
  2. Sondre Amdahl 9:18:12
  3. Mohamed El Morabity 10:17:33

ALL IMAGES AVAILABLE TO PURCHASE HERE

UMED RACE WEBSITE

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Trofeo Kima 2018 on IRUN4ULTRA

“For over twenty years, ‘Kima’ as it is affectionately known, has blown the minds and the legs of all those lucky enough to toe the line. This is a race that one aspires too; you need to earn a place on the entry line. The challenge comes no greater. The race is like a precious jewel, hidden away for fear of someone stealing it. Kima is not for everyone, but if you have the experience and the courage, the Sentiero Roma rewards each who ventures on to its tough and technical terrain.” – Ian Corless

READ THE STORY HERE

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Golden Ring Ultra Trail 2018 – Running Heroes Russia

The Golden Ring Ultra-Trail® 100 is a trail race for runners of all backgrounds and levels of experience.

It’s no coincidence that the race is held in the town of Suzdal

Founded in the 11th century, Suzdal is one of the oldest towns in Russia and home to more than 300 unique historical sites and monuments from ancient Rus, including several that have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Awarded federally protected status in 1967 and surrounded by expansive forests and fields, Suzdal offers visitors a chance to travel back in time.

Set against this breathtaking landscape across which a millennium’s-worth of history has unfolded, the Golden Ring Ultra-Trail® 100 is designed for those who yearn for new adventures, discovering untapped strength within themselves, and finding total freedom in the outdoors.

A wide variety of distances is offered:

Participants can test themselves with a 5km, the City Run T10 and even kids can race!

Experienced amateurs can push themselves with the T30 and T50.

And finally, extreme ultramarathoners can set new challenges for themselves in the T100*

* All T100 finishers will receive ITRA/UTMB points (4 UTMB points)

A full summary of the 2018 event will follow on this website. For now, enjoy the images of the 2018 Golden Ring Ultra-Trail® 100.

Images available HERE

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