Toubkal Impressions

Sprinkled in autumn snow falls, the blue sky contrasts the reds, browns and greys of rock, sparsely populated by stunted trees. Goats meander casually up the valley, following either side of the gushing river, though among these imposing landforms, it’s appears more like a trickle. The vastness, stretches skyward, into wispy clouds, bitter coldness waiting to pounce in the deathly silence of the timeless mountain range. It’s not death though, nor timelessness, just seems that way in the scale, the crawling sculpting of valleys and streams over tens of thousands of years, human existence so insignificant.


But there’s been people here for thousands of years and the Berbers still ride their mules as they have done for centuries despite ski pole and alpine clothing trekkers dotting the landscape, reminding us how close Europe is.


Sixty kilometres south of Marrakesh lies Imlil, a Berber village that serves tajines if you order early enough. We leave early one morning, buying hot bread in the bakery, walking through walnut trees, past the Kasbah, the setting for Scorcese’s Kundun, to the nearby town of Aroumd, then hobbling across a rock strewn river bed, a wide flood plain, locals greeting us with a “Bonjour, ca va?” and us replying in Arabic “Labas, shukran”, not having yet learnt any Berber words but our Arabic better than our French, which isn’t saying much.

We drink mint tea in the occasional tea house, watching mules stacked high and wide with trekkers’ food, packs and tents trudging by, not yet feeling envious, still content to be going it alone. At least we know there’s a refuge and we’re happy to have left our tent in Imlil.

But Toubkal seems aloof, we can’t see it, or think we can’t. There’s no obvious tallest peak, the valley sides steep and full of rocky crevices, sharp and unforgiving. We wind around the ridges, hugging the slopes, following the river while different mountains come into view, until suddenly we see the refuge, nestled between the river and a sheer and threatening scree slope.

The Berber staff are super friendly, will cook you dinner, give you tea or let you use the kitchen if you prefer to cater for yourself. It’s a hive of activity as more mules and trekkers arrive and the lights come on, the fire is lit, dinner is served.

Early next day we start up the scree over massive boulders littered with thistles and tough grasses, going over a ridge only to find another, then another, then another. The going is tough, the path not obvious and at 4000 metres, every step burns, inching toward the summit, at times on hands and knees, We block out the thought of the descent, it’s moment by moment existence.

On the snowy summit the landscape unfolds as far as the eye can see, the Sahara to the east, the Barbary Coast to the west. We’re on Jebel Toubkal, at 4167 metres, Africa’s 3rd highest mountain after Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya. We soak in it, look down to Aroumd, a speck in the distance, the air thin, silent, breathtaking. There’s something powerful here.


We intend to walk back to Imlil the same day but after sliding back down on treacherous scree, or trying not to, we arrive late and exhausted back at the refuge and in no mood to rush. We stay another night in the gite, sit around the fire, knowing we have an easy walk out to Imlil the following day, a much better option.

And when we look back to see snow covered Toubkal, from down once again at the river in Aroumd, two Berbers singing as they harvest apples, autumn clouds rolling in as the sun gets low, we feel an affinity with Toubkal, as if to climb it is to acknowledge it, respect it, pay homage to it, the walking affecting us in days, like the sun, moon, weather and season alters the impression of the mountain, though its core changes need millennia. We feel impermanent, time-wise insignificant, indelibly linked to nature.



~ by Drifting, Rambling on October 30, 2008.

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