Morocco’s Toubkal Circuit – day 5

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

Most guided hikers departed in the dark as — normally — the peak is clearest in the morning. I decided to wait until first light, instead.

In fact, before dawn there were lightning flashes in the direction of Toubkal. I rolled over thinking I’d not be doing the peak at all.

On waking I enjoyed 2 pots of coffee … and waited about an hour before packing up.

… but weather seemed to be clearing.

It was worth giving it a try. I could always turn back if lightning resumed.

The start of the Toubkal climb is the most challenging part. It’s a scramble.

While I was beginning dozens were descending, many wearing headlamps. That was a bit disconcerting. #late #late #late

Vertical gain is about 960m, but it seemed to go quickly and easily for me. I was well acclimatized for altitude.

There are several false summits. Here was my first glimpse of the top.

Myself and a couple from eastern Europe were the highest humans for at least 2000km. And the views were great. 🙂

I could look back to where I’d come from a couple of days ago.

If anything, weather was still improving.

We were the last people on the mountain … except for one Canadian coming up even later. And a Moroccan couple. They were very late because they’d walked up from Imlil. That’s over 2400m of gain in one day!

The couple had found my PHONE! I’d left it on a boulder on the way up. Whew!

I enthusiastically thanked them and urged them to continue as they’d be getting much better weather than the early morning mob.

… I was way wrong. ☹️

Thunder and lightning returned about an hour later. The Canadian turned back. Last he saw the Moroccan couple were still ascending into the lighting storm. Very dangerous.

Me? I hid in a cramped cave.

Once it finally quit I trudged tiredly down to Imlil.

It’s a pretty town, actually.

I was totally psyched to make it back to Marrakesh same day. I pushed.

But the road near the taxi stand was impassable due to flash flood.

I turned back and had dinner in a crossroads restaurant. A huge, steaming omelette.

A Brit I’d spoken with earlier on the street had recommended their hotel — Les Etoiles de Toubkal.

It was excellent. The best room I’d had in nearly 2 months. It cost me $30 including breakfast.

I took several hot, hot showers and went to sleep early.


Next morning I was up before daylight as almost every other guest was packing up and getting ready to hike up to the Refuge. It was fun having breakfast with an enthusiastic group from the U.K.

They left at 8am just as their mules were arriving. YES they did have mules, not horses.

Their U.K. guide confided to me that getting a large group like this started was like herding cats. But once on the trail, it was easy.

My hotel told me the road might open about noon. That prices for transportation would be higher than normal because of the backlog.

I walked down to check. Road still closed. Big machines still arriving.

But the Atlas Extreme shop was finally open. It is well stocked. Copies of all the english language trekking guidebooks including the one I had wanted – Moroccan Atlas by Alan Palmer. Every kind of camping fuel. Top line gear.

Eventually I noticed that the shop was not actually open. The workers there were doing some renovations.

I met the Canadian who got caught in the storm again.  He had an afternoon bus reservation. We decided to try to walk out past all the road blockages to get the first possible transport.

It was less than a km to reach waiting taxis. He and I outbid others wanting to climb into the first waiting vehicle. I paid 6 times what I’d paid on the way up.

It was worth it.

AND he made it to the bus station in Marrakesh on time. With 10 minutes to spare.

My adventure was a surprising success considering how little information I had on arrival in Imlil five days earlier.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

Morocco’s Toubkal Circuit – day 3

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

I had camped at a site called Azib Likemt with a guided German group.

They were up and gone long before I finished my coffee.

I followed the last of their horsemen up and over a low pass.

From the col you descend to the impressive Berber village of Amsouzert (1797m).

When water is available this mountain range is incredibly lush.

It’s a very interesting place. I could see staying overnight here.

Many homes had satellite dishes.

In fact, I later decided to recommend future hikers start at Amsouzert. It’s on the N10 highway connecting Marrakesh and Ouarzazate. A private taxi is the easiest way to get here.

Not stopping at the many shops and restaurants, I continued up up up to famous Lac d’Ifni back in the National Park.

It’s incredibly rugged with the trail forced high above.

Here I debated whether to stop at the lake. Or continue up towards the gorge climb for the next day.

Pushy shopkeepers decided it for me. I don’t like being harassed while hiking.

So it was out onto the massive spring flooding wash of stones.

Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any water until I reached camp.

Once again I camped near a guided group, this one from Iceland.

I chose my tent site as safest from rockfall.

It was still fairly early in the evening so I did some wandering, mostly laughing at the goats and sheep coming down from the gorge for nightfall.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

Morocco’s Toubkal Circuit – day 2

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

I woke at dawn. Shared a couple of cups of coffee with Aziz.

Then told him I might return if I couldn’t find the route.

I climbed back up to the paved road surprised to find this hotel.

If I was to do the circuit again I’d hire a cab in Imlil to deliver me here on the paved road. Begin the hike next morning.

I still had no idea where to start the climb up to Tizi Likemt (3550m), the first high pass.

Happily I saw a brightly coloured people walking down the highway in my direction. It was an Israeli couple who had just finished the circuit the opposite direction.

Waiting on them was the smartest thing I did all week. They told me the entire circuit is available on Maps.me. I had downloaded it in advance. My navigation problems were solved.

Maps.me saves the day again.

I’m sure they thought I looked too energetic. Over-confident.

I was raring to go.

On the other hand, this poor carnivore might have been a bad omen.

The climb was very long. And not all that thrilling.

Looking backward …

There’s a Japanese donated weather station at the pass, but you can’t see it from the side I climbed.

It was hot and sunny. No water.

My Darn Toughs did all 5 days of the hiking. I switched to camp socks / shoes each evening.

It was a long, hot descent as well.

In fact, a pass this high first day is stupid. That’s not smart acclimatization. On the way down I resolve to NOT recommend these first 2 days to future hikers.

Here’s the first water I’d seen in hours. All water sources should be treated in these mountains unless you see it coming out of the mountain with your own eyes.

I was happy to reach the river. A German group had already claimed the best spot.

Further along I enjoyed a couple of pots of coffee.

This is a summer grazing settlement. Animals and their keepers will head down soon when snow threatens.

The next section climbing through a gorge was very entertaining. One of my favourite bits.

I finally camped at an open area on another creek near yet another guided hiking group.

Dinner in the dark was coucous, soup, raisins and peanuts. For Morocco I switched from my usual instant mashed potatoes base to couscous.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video 

Morocco’s Toubkal Circuit – day 1

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

Toubkal is by far the most popular and important trekking destination in Morocco for serious hikers.

It’s easily accessible from Marrakesh.

Lonely Planet

Unhappily I couldn’t find either camping fuel nor english language hiking guidebook for Toubkal in Marrakesh.

Lonely Planet said there were good gear shops in the trailhead town of Imlil (1740m).

My hostel in Marrakesh told me where to find the shared cabs to Imlil. But that turned out to be my greatest navigational challenge. Shared taxis sprawl across several streets. A tout finally took me to the right one.

In 2018 locals paid 35 Dirham to get the 64km to Imlil. Foreigners 50 Dirham. ($5.40) Cost seemed to be non-negotiable.

Vans don’t leave until full … plus 3-5 more people.

It’s less than 2 hours from the hot city to the much cooler High Atlas mountains.

Imlil is an impressive and popular tourist town.

Unfortunately the best gear shop in town — Atlas Extreme — was closed when I arrive. For an hour? A day? A Week? None of the neighbours seemed to know.

I’d wanted this guidebook for the trip. But Trailblazer doesn’t sell a digital version. I needed a paper copy.

IMG_1063

I managed to get some used stove fuel and the map of the region instead at a tiny stall. The map ($10 plus) was fairly useless. It doesn’t show the circuit route. I did have the 5 page Lonely Planet description on my phone. And I did have little maps like this.

Toubkal circuit

Not wanting to wait around, I got off on to the “trail” as quickly as possible.

departing Imlil

It was a hot, sunny day. I saw very few water sources.

Why was I walking on a paved road?

Only one stretch took me off-road and up through a village.

These mountains are massive.

I looked forwards to getting away from the heat.

On this excellent road I saw very few vehicles. A lot of sheep.

I walked up this valley past Berber villages Talate n’Chaoute, Tamguist and Ouaneskra.

Many locals ran out to greet me urging I stay in their homes or camp in their yards. I was unimpressed by most explaining that I planned to hike until 7pm.

Finally I passed a young man with a Canada cap. Stopping to chat with that group I met a guesthouse manager named Aziz. I liked him instantly. Everyone who passed by had a friendly word with him. Popular and charismatic.

I decided to “comp” at Gite Entre Les Vallees. Aziz was surprised I didn’t want instead to sleep in any of the 13 empty beds he had inside.

His location is ideal. A new bridge is being built across the river right next door. Soon he’ll have all the traffic.

Before dinner I went for a walk on the other side of the valley to try to see my route for the next day. It looked intimidating.

I still had no idea which of those passes was the one I’d need to cross.

I did meet some French hikers who’d come up with a rent-a-car to climb a peak on this side of the valley. Acclimatization. It was over 3000m.

The first time I went to take a photo of a Berber woman in the fields she called up to me NO PHOTOS. I respected that injunction for the rest of the trip.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

Laugevagur hike Iceland – day 3

Day 0 | Landmannalaugar | 1 | 2 | 3 | video | info

day 3 – Þórsmörk (Básar) to Skógar

25km, 10-12hrs

When I think back on Laugevagur, my first thoughts are of the amazing waterfalls on the last day. Is there a more spectacular chain of falls anywhere else on Earth?

Happily, the weather was quite good when I woke early. Then a thunder storm rolled in and disappeared before I’d finished coffee.

Later I learned that Mark was already up high. Very nervous. There’s no place to hide from lightning in Iceland.

Here I was psyching up for the 900m climb to Fimmvörðuháls pass.

I knew it could be a long, tough day climbing to the icefields up on a high plateau. It’s the most glaciated section. But at least there are NO RIVER CROSSINGS!

The ascent was quite easy, as it turned out.

What’s this?

These were the first hikers I saw coming the other direction. Doing this with a day pack is quite popular.

Stunning views.

Recall the 2010 volcano that disrupted air traffic all over Europe?

This is it. You walk that massive lava flow.

Moodi and Magni (Thor’s sons) are two summit cones pushed up in 2010.

Magni

Everyone climbs Magni to enjoy the 360 degree view.

One worry late in the season is the snowfields turning to slush. Or water.

Happily, it was still good walking for me on July 29th.

Baldvinsskali is a small emergency hut en route. Hikers are allowed to escape the wind and elements if needed.

My only complaint about this hiking day is some road walking on the way down. I’d prefer they make a parallel walking trail.

How far to Skógar?

Waterfalls begin.

The trail follows the river down.

Every tourist to Iceland visits the falls at Skógar.

Made it!

About half way through the day I’d decided to bus back to Reykjavík, if I could. Mark was shooting photos at the base of the falls. I bought a ticket on his bus.

You could stay over. Skógar has a hostel and camping. As well as several restaurants.

Day 0 | Landmannalaugar | 1 | 2 | 3 | video | info

Laugevagur hike Iceland – day 2

Day 0 | Landmannalaugar | 1 | 2 | 3 | video | info

Hvannagil to Þórsmörk (Thorsmork)

26km, 10-12hr

Hoping to make a huge day, I was one of the first to leave camp. In the fog.

Bleak and flat to start.

Bridge! Thank God.

What an epic landscape!

Quite quickly you arrive at this pretty tourist area built 1995.

I had some hot brunch in the cook tent. Then moved on quickly. Some stop here to climb one or two summits as day hikes.

More bridges!

Interesting geology at every turn.

I was missing that brief bit of blue sky from yesterday. Everyone wore their rain gear today.

This is volcanic ash. Worse than sand, it gets into everything.

Oh my. This is amazing.

My first … tree !?

Trees are rare in Iceland. But there are plenty in Þórsmörk (Thorsmork)… Thor’s forrest.

(Iceland was actually 25% forested at one time. Timber cutting resulted in only about 1% remaining.)

When you finally arrive Þórsmörk you need choose between 3 separated campsites: Húsadalur, Langidalur or Básar.

Husadalur is biggest and has a natural hot springs.

But if you plan to continue hiking next day to Skógar, Básar is the best choice. It’s closest to the exit trail for next morning.

That’s where I headed.

Langidalur is pretty, however. The tenting looks superb.

I met again two Canadian women waiting for the bus. They’d had enough of rugged Laugevagur. Here’s the vista that dissuaded them from climbing up to the glaciers next day.

It does look intimidating.

If you do decide to linger at one of the 3 campsites, there’s even more day hiking here than at Landmannalaugar

Básar is sprawling. Busy with campers and day hikers.

I asked for advice on a quiet tent spot.

While I was eating dinner Mark from Boston arrived.

He and I were the only two from the start who had made it this far, this fast. We both planned to get an early start next day and finish to Skógar. It would be the toughest and best day of all.

Day 0 | Landmannalaugar | 1 | 2 | 3 | video | info

Laugevagur hike Iceland – day 1

Day 0 | Landmannalaugar | 1 | 2 | 3 | video | info

Landmannalaugar to Alftavatn (Hvannagil)

24km + 4km to Hvannagil, 8-10hrs

Sharing a room in a hut with dozens of strangers, I snuck out early for coffee. And to kind of organize my pack out of the rain.

Somehow I left behind my river shoes. And a jar of peanut butter. ☹️

The weather was no better but I certainly wasn’t going to wait another day at Landmannalaugar. It was go … or catch the bus out.

UP past the fumaroles and quite quickly on to snowfields.

The trail is well marked … IF you have visibility.

In 2004 Ido Keinan, a 25-year-old hiker from Israel, got caught in a late June storm and died of exposure only 1km away from the hut in Hrafntinnusker. Wardens at Landmannalaugar warned him it was too dangerous.

He needed a GPS.

Glaciers cover 11% of Iceland. Lava fields and deserts about 60%. It’s easy to get lost.

Here’s that hut. The Alaskan cyclists were just leaving as I arrived.

It only sleeps 36 so best bring a tent if you want to stop here. If the weather is cooperating, push on and over to Álftavatn as I did.

Happily and surprisingly the sky cleared. It was windy. But gorgeous.

Iceland is a dream destination for photographers. There are so many weird things to see. And the light is unusual.

Of many bizarre and wonderful volcanic features, I liked the glassy black obsidian best. Many hikers add pieces to their backpack as souvenirs.

Of the plants, I liked tundra cotton best.

You cross the Torfajokull caldera, about 15km in diameter. It last erupted 1480. There’s a wide distribution of hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles.

In good weather you can see Álftavatn (“Swan Lake”) from quite a distance

Here’s the hut.

New in 2017 was the addition of this restaurant. Lamb dinner costs about $30.

And the Álftavatn camping area.

Word on the trail was that tenting here can be very wet if it rains. Advice I got was to push on to Hvannagil if you have the energy. I did.

As I’d somehow left my river shoes behind, I had to do the river crossings barefoot. That was not fun.

I was first to arrive Hvannagil. The hut offers sleeping bag accommodations for 70 people in 4 rooms.

Without question mine was the best tent site. Totally out of the wind. A picnic table. And some sort of cairn of protection overhead.

Two Irish brothers joined me for dinner. Everyone else envious of the only picnic table.

I went walkabout after dinner. It never gets dark in July. You could hike all night if you wanted.

Day 0 | Landmannalaugar | 1 | 2 | 3 | video | info