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.

The North Face Ultra Guide Review

The North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

Let’s face it, as a runner we all love a new pair of run shoes. However, a new pair of TNF (The North Face) shoes has not always been greeted with joy. To be honest, as a brand, TNF have struggled to get a foothold (excuse the pun) in the running shoe market. The dominance of Salomon, inov-8 and other similar brands have always meant that TNF would need to come up with a product so darn good that runners would move away from a well known and established brand to speculate on a ‘newbie’ to the market place. In addition to being a newbie, unfortunately, TNF shoes have always lacked that little extra to tempt many to spend hard earned money on one of the options available particularly when they already have a favourite shoe. Previous shoe incarnations have showed moments have greatness but have been let down with one or two aspects.

The original ‘Single Track‘ shoe, remember, the red/white/black one was a stunning shoe to look at and it was also a shoe with many merits but it ultimately was a little heavy and didn’t quite have enough grip. The ‘Hayasa‘ addressed the weight issue but not the grip.

Roll on 2012/2013 and TNF launch two new shoes; Hyper Track Guide (reviewed HERE) and then most recently, the Ultra Guide.

The Hyper Track Guide moved the TNF shoe brand on a level but for me it still lacked that extra ooompf. The sure fitted well, was extremely breathable BUT and this was the big but, it had no real grip to handle muddy/technical trail and it lacked ‘life’. The shoe felt a little flat unless one run fast and on the toes!

I am pleased to say that with the Ultra Guide, TNF have come up with a winner! The shoe is a revelation.

I have worn, tested and reviewed many shoes by many brands in the last few years and rarely do I put a shoe on and go wow! I did this with the Scott T2 Kinabalu, I also did it with the Salomon Sense Ultra… I can now add The North Face Ultra Guide to that list.

The shoe

I have a UK9.5 which fits true to size (US10.5 and EU44) and it weighs 10.5 oz/ 304g that is approximately 30g heavier than the T2 Kinabalu by Scott and approximately 60g heavier than the Salomon Sense Ultra. However, don’t despair, weight is not everything.

What you have with the Ultra Guide is a cushioned shoe that not only provides superior comfort but also great grip. The sole is made from Tenacious™ Grip sticky rubber outsole with spaced out nodules that not only shed mud but provide great grip on all surfaces, be that muddy trail or wet rock. Of course, mud grip is limited and certainly if you are planning a run in deep thick mud then another shoe would be preferable, however, the Ultra Guide is the perfect all round trail shoe. It transitions from to road to trail seamlessly and the cushioning actually makes road sections enjoyable instead of ‘bearable’. My local 10-12 mile test loop for shoes includes 2-miles of road; at the start and at the end. The last mile of my run always feels as good as the first mile in these shoes. A real sign, for me anyway, that this shoe performs exceptionally well. My trail loop includes hard (off road) bridleway, rutted farm fields, wet mud, three climbs and descents and then technical, twisty and rocky trail. Along with the T2 Kinabalu, the Ultra Guide are currently my favourite shoes.

The North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

Another key element is the shoe ‘drop’. At 8mm, for me it fulfils the sweet spot in the trail/ultra market. By comparison, the Sense Ultra is 4mm and the T2 Kinabalu is 11mm (with a rocker sole). It’s all very well talking about toe/forefoot running but as the miles accumulate and time extends, run technique becomes tired and lazy. The 8mm drop in the Ultra Guide allows a relaxed foot strike which was sustainable over longer periods. For sure, if you are looking to progress from a 12mm drop shoe then this would be an ideal starting point. Equally, if you are a runner who naturally runs fore to mid foot but would like a shoe with more cushioning/grip for longer runs, this is also for you!

The North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

I have mentioned the cushioning and these boys really do provide a plush, comfortable and relaxed ride. The 8mm drop (8mm cushioning at the front/ 16mm at the rear) keeps you low to the ground, provides no rolling and makes you feel 100% confident with each foot strike. In addition, the Snake Plate™ provides protection but in a way that differs to other shoe brands. Instead of adding a plate that runs the length of the shoe, TNF have added the plate that weaves within the foot plate. The added benefit of this is that it allows the foot to move with a natural range of movement. It works really well and protection to hard, sharp or gnarly terrain is excellent.

The patent-pending Snake Plate™ consists of a forefoot plate that winds back and forth between the medial and lateral sides of the foot. Because it is not one solid element, it is not as uncompromisingly rigid from side to side and front to back. The result is a forefoot plate that allows the foot to do what it is physiologically designed to do: flex, bend, and contort to changing terrain. At the same time, the Snake Plate™ delivers rigidity where and when it is still needed. The thickness, composition and size of the Snake Plate™ vary from style to style as appropriate. For example, a thicker, more rigid Snake Plate™ addresses the technical, ever-changing demands of a mountain run. A thinner, more flexible Snake Plate™ reconciles flexibility with a decreased demand for protection while on smoother dirt paths. Taken from the TNF website ©thenorthface

The North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

Sitting within the shoe ones foot is held tight and secure, in particular the heel box is reassuringly snug but by contrast, the toe box is wide and roomy.

The North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

The Ultra Guide has a Northotic footbed and a matartasal fit system which sounds very high-tec and fancy but in real terms it means comfort and security. Support comes from Cradle Guide™ (hence the shoes name) which is a TNF first. It works by providing a natural movement of the foot, stride-by-stride. This is a difficult one to pin point when offering an analysis. All I can say is that shoe performs exceptionally well. I have a neutral gait and therefore arguably the shoe has less work to do. However, should you need some additional support or guidance then this may be a great shoe to try. TNF describe the Cradle Guide working in the following way:

The North Face Cradle Guide™ technology offers full Phase Impact Control, a system that guides the foot through all 3 stances of the gait cycle, impact, mid foot and Toe-off. This system is engineered to provide the perfect combination of cushioning, stability and protection for any foot on any terrain, letting the hiker or runner move swiftly and lightly over backcountry trails. Taken from TNF website ©the north face

The North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

The lacing system offers excellent adjustment options and it is therefore very easy to tighten or loosen as appropriate. The tongue scree collar also adds a nice touch and adds to the overall snug feel of the shoe. Unlike other shoes on the market, TNF have not provided a ‘storage’ option for loose laces. It’s a minor omission but on tough, technical and gnarly trail it’s nice to get loose laces out of the way of hazards.

The North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

The upper of the shoe is durable and a tight weave mesh which offers excellent breathability and drainage should you run through wet or boggy terrain. After a month of use, the upper has held up exceptionally well and shows no signs of damage. The toe box area has a large black protection area which is extremely welcome on rocky terrain. It really does protect from impact but maybe not to the extent of some of the competition, this however has caused me no problem. Flexibility was excellent.

The North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

The North Face describe the shoe as follows, ‘A neutral design construction that allows a natural stride turnover, Unleashed Performance™ category footwear is geared toward the more mechanically sound runner.’

I wouldn’t disagree with them! For sure, the 8mm drop suits an efficient mid to forefoot runner but as mentioned previously, if you are looking to reduce drop in a gradual way but not loose cushioning, this is without doubt a shoe to consider.

The Ultra Guide has provided me with many a pleasurable run and now, along with the T2 Knabalu is my current shoe of choice when hitting the trails.

Specs from TNF: ©thenorthface

  • Tongue scree collar
  • Abrasion-resistant, tight-weave mesh
  • TPU-welded midfoot support
  • C-Delta metatarsal fit system
  • Perforated EVA Northotic™ footbed BOTTOM
  • Dual-injection, EVA CRADLE GUIDE™ midsole platform
  • 16 mm rear cushion
  • 8 mm front cushion
  • TPU Snake Plate™ forefoot protection
  • Tenacious™ Grip sticky rubber outsole

NorthFit™

The mission of NorthFit™ is to achieve the best, most precise fit between the human foot and footwear or the form on which a shoe is constructed. To achieve this we’ve partnered with English shoemakers with great experience, collaborated with The North Face® athletes and consulted with labs and think tanks to ensure that the most reliable, quantifiable data and recent studies are taken into account. Mountains of data go into each NorthFit™ implementation. For example, based on research, our shoemakers have adjusted for a larger toe box in our endurance running shoes to accommodate swelling. A study of almost 900 men and women revealed significant differences in ball and heel width, instep height, and width. As a result, The North Face® women’s footwear has a proportionately unique build from that for men. In this way, the outdoor athlete can trust that the most up-to-date scientific data and experience have been factored into the comfort and performance they can enjoy with NorthFit™.

Snake Plate™

The patent-pending Snake Plate™ consists of a forefoot plate that winds back and forth between the medial and lateral sides of the foot. Because it is not one solid element, it is not as uncompromisingly rigid from side to side and front to back. The result is a forefoot plate that allows the foot to do what it is physiologically designed to do: flex, bend, and contort to changing terrain. At the same time, the Snake Plate™ delivers rigidity where and when it is still needed. The thickness, composition and size of the Snake Plate™ vary from style to style as appropriate. For example, a thicker, more rigid Snake Plate™ addresses the technical, ever-changing demands of a mountain run. A thinner, more flexible Snake Plate™ reconciles flexibility with a decreased demand for protection while on smoother dirt paths.

UltraTAC™ Rubber Outsole Compound

UltrATAC™ is an all terrain, all condition rubber outsole for excellent wet/dry traction for running on roads, scrambling over scree, or for everyday use.

Unleashed Performance™

A neutral design construction that allows a natural stride turnover, Unleashed Performance™ category footwear is geared toward the more mechanically sound runner.

Cradle™ Guide

The North Face Cradle Guide™ technology offers full Phase Impact Control, a system that guides the foot through all 3 stances of the gait cycle, impact, mid foot and Toe-off. This system is engineered to provide the perfect combination of cushioning, stability and protection for any foot on any terrain, letting the hiker or runner move swiftly and lightly over backcountry trails.

Current colour options are TNF Red/Black and Nautical Blue

Shoes available HERE

Disclosure: I have tested and reviewed multiple product for The North Face. I have also attended certain events such as TNFUTMB at the invite of TNF. However, this pair of Ultra Guide were not provided as test samples. They were purchased by myself to test and compare against the Hyper Track Guide and also to offer an alternative review against a current favourite, the T2 Kinabalu by Scott.