Cardiff based International Mountain Leader Alan Ward regularly travels to long haul destinations for trekking and expeditions. However, Alan has a Corporate Social Responsibility policy with his company – Bigfoot Services Limited. Through this policy, Alan gives his time freely to working with and training local mountain guides in far off destinations as they don’t have access to the training and certification we have here in the UK. Today we look at two recent adventure and training achievements in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco based at the fabulous Kasbah du Toubkal (1800m) which lies between Imlil and Around, gateway to Mt Toubkal (4167m).
I’ve led several groups to Mt Toubkal (4167m) the third highest mountain in Africa and the highest mountain in North Africa and sometimes taken the opportunity to travel to other areas in Morocco. The Atlantic coastal fortified city of Essaouira is a favourite place of mine and ideal for a couple of nights in a traditional Moroccan riad after climbing Mt Toubkal.
Climbing Mt Toubkal should be achievable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and who is a keen hill and mountain walker in the UK. It’s always best to go with an experienced local leader and support crew and having a nice place to stay before and after the climb is essential. For my last climb I was accompanied by 7 friends. This was an ideal size group for such an adventure. We used the Kasbah du Toubkal to look after all our arrangements including providing our excellent guide Mohammed, mule support and accommodation at the high lodge located at 3200m from where the summit climb begins. There are two high lodges, I chose the newer Mouflons Lodge in preference to the Club Alpine Francais Lodge where I’d stayed previously. Typically, Mt Toubkal can be achieved on a 5-night itinerary:
Day 1: I flew out with British Airways but there is a choice of airlines for the 4 hour flight and on arrival in Marrakech we were met on arrival for the two hour drive up into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains to Imlil. Mules were waiting for us and our luggage was soon loaded onto these as we walked up to the Kasbah du Toubkal where a warm welcome waited for us. I’ve used the Kasbah du Toubkal for several of my Mt Toubkal trips and wouldn’t use anywhere else.
Day 2: After a leisurely roof top breakfast overlooking the surrounding area we set off on our acclimatisation trek to the Tizi-n-Mezzik (2489m). It’s an easy trail to follow but slow and steady is the way to gain altitude successfully. On this acclimatisation day, a mule and cook usually pass the group so a fabulous lunch awaits us when we reach the top of the pass. After descending to the Kasbah du Toubkal, the rooftop terraces are usually the best place to relax for the rest of the day and prepare our clothing and equipment for our departure the next morning for the high lodges.
Day 3: After breakfast we met Mohammed our mountain guide who briefed us for the day. Our mules were then loaded with our kit-bags. We then left the Kasbah du Toubkal and set off on the trail towards higher ground. Initially the trail zig zags up to the highest village in the area which is around (1920m). Continuing onwards we crossed the wide Mizane Valley to reach the shrine at Sidi Chamharouch (2320m) where there were shops and a picnic lunch waiting for us. After lunch we climbed the zig zags before the trail became less steep and a couple of hours later we arrived at our high lodge (3207m). High lodges in mountainous areas can be cold so we were appropriately clothed. We were well looked after and given a private dining area with our own log stove which made us very comfortable. I’ve always found that the food on trekking trips in Morocco is always excellent and have never had cause to doubt the catering arrangements.
Day 4: An early start is always required for the steep climb up to some large boulders which are reached after about an hour and a half, although this can take longer during the winter months when snow covered ground might be crossed all the way to the summit. From the large boulders we trekked up the main valley to reach the Tizi-n-Toubkal (3940m) pass where we rested. At these altitudes, frequent rest stops are required and it’s very important to stay hydrated as well. The summit is generally reached in 5 to 6hrs from the lodges. 360° all round views can be expected in fine weather. The Saharan plateau with the extinct volcano of Siroua can usually be seen to the south.
After descending to the lodge for a well earned breakfast and rest, my groups normally continue the descent back to Imlil and the Kasbab du Toubkal for a well earned time in the private hamman, and a farewell dinner to celebrate our summit success.
Day 5: The day to travel home with evening flights booked so we could enjoy a half day sightseeing tour of Marrakech.
I’ve always enjoyed working with the staff at the Kasbah du Toubkal and Mohammed our mountain guide asked me if I could return to provide some training for the mountain guides working at the Kasbah du Toubkal. This seemed a worthy cause and after discussion with the owner of the Kasbah du Toubkal, I returned to deliver a three day Mountain First Aid course and a one day British Heart Foundation Heartstart ELS course for the staff at the Kasbah du Toubkal. The Kasbah du Toubkal covered my expenses but I gave my time freely for the group of hard working mountain guides who really have no access to training in that area.
I’ve agreed to return to the Kasbah du Toubkal in February 2021 to deliver mountain training – UIAA Mountain Skills: Good Practice and Safety. This is a three day practical course with an overnight stay in a remote mountain lodge in the Azzaden Valley. Two refresher one-day First Aid courses will also be delivered. The partnership I have with the Kasbah du Toubkal ensures the local mountain guides receive free training which they might not otherwise receive.
The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) was founded in 1932 and has a global presence on six continents representing 89 member associations and federations in 66 countries. The UIAA has been recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 1995.
Further details of the Kasbah du Toubkal can be viewed on their website https://www.kasbahdutoubkal.com or contact Alan (email@example.com) for further details of trekking adventures in this area. Opportunities exist for a wide range of treks from easy graded day treks to multi-day summit treks.
February 2021 sees the introduction of a trekking programme for women at the Kasbah du Toubkal with Helen Menhinick (www.brynwalking.co.uk) and Latifa, one of the few female mountain guides in the area. “Trekking in Style” is an introductory itinerary for women keen to experience the Atlas Mountains of Morocco without exceeding 2500m.
Visit the Bigfoot Services Limited website (www.bigfootservices.co.uk) to view the range of Alan’s activities, future events, galleries, testimonials and how his Corporate Social Responsibility Policy helps to train mountain guides in the developing world where he donates his time free of charge to provide mountain training to those who have no access to this.
Following on from retirement, more time will be available for hill and mountain walking on a personal basis with friends.