Walk with me, Mt. Toubkal (High Atlas, Morocco)

Andreas Vilic
8 min readDec 1, 2022

I sometimes wonder why 99% of time spent in a good mood, with good company, cannot overcome less than 1% of the time or that little moment that can ruin the positive experience. Why does the negative have so much power to shade the positive in life?

However, I will not start this story with a negative part of the story but will get to that.

With the whole year being tremendously busy, I had to cancel my trip to Tofana di Rozes, the 3.244 meters high peak in the Italian Dolomiti region, planned for September. This cancellation left me a bit disappointed, and I was looking for where and when I could squeeze in some mountaineering.

Again, being busy with studies and exam deadlines, I decided to press hard with my Computer Science studies and earned a week of extra time. Then the question of where to go came on. Grossglockner in Austria, Mangart in Slovenia, or some peaks around Chamonix in France. However, I could not find anyone to go with me, and all these peaks are considered complex and not advised to do alone. At one point, it just popped… Atlas, and I was already surfing and discovering my relatively cheap travel options.

Mount Toubkal is the highest peak in North Africa, reaching an altitude of 4165 meters, and it is a height that I had never tried before.

Being very excited to return to Africa after more than fifteen years, I called my brother to inform him of my intention. After a couple of days, my brother told me he was not letting me go alone to Africa. I think he was still worried about all the bad things that happened a while ago. I will mention it a bit later on.

My brother and I were traveling from different places. His starting point was Zagreb(Croatia). At the same time, mine was Luxembourg(Luxembourg). We arrived in Marrakech at approximately the same time, with return airline costs not exceeding 350 euros for both return tickets. I was thinking in advance and already reserved all our accommodation via booking platforms. As my first intention was to climb alone, I considered joining a guided group. Still, there was no availability, so I contacted the refuge Toubkal directly when they told me that because of the accident several years ago, all people crossing Atlas must hire a guide.

At first, I thought that it was some driving accident, to find out it wasn’t an accident at all, it was a brutal, cold-blooded murder of two young Scandinavian girls, and the details I won’t reveal here, as it is a gruesome act of savagery. Apparently, these individuals are a part of an Islamic group that holds the ideal that only Muslims may walk paths over Moroccan land. The only thing they proved, and confirmed over centuries, is that misguided religion and the lack of education could be perilous. Unfortunately, the innocent are always hurt or killed, and every right to experience life and grow is taken from them by premature and unnecessary death. And what for? The politics!

There is only one God, and wherever and however they will name him, it is the same God. The worst thing that happened to God is to name him, brand him and subject him to trademark religious institutions. And along the way, God became a false ideal, nothing even close to what God really is, just an interpretation of corrupted people lurking for power. And that is the ultimate reason people get hurt; power, money, and politics. Everything that was found to help people unite was quickly used to disunite them. There is no good or evil in nature, like a spider that melts the flesh of a grasshopper and sucks it or an orca tossing a penguin around. It is only a weak and subjective interpretation convenient for human nature.

And when walking the paths of High Atlas, you are constantly reminded of that. What I meant by that, and what I found uninviting in Morocco, is that if you are not in an arrangement with an individual who benefits from you in any way, you won’t get a welcoming reaction. While climbing from Imlil (1400m) to the refuge Toubkal (3200m), we encountered many individuals. I took my time before arrival to learn their ways of greeting people, the same ways as we welcome anyone in our home mountains. When I would pass by an individual of local origin, I would say Salam Alaykum (Peace be upon you). It was sporadic that they would reply while greeting our local guide. Therefore, the welcoming is entirely dependent on the monetary exchange. And if there is a benefit, the kindness is impeccable. There is a word for that, even the whole profession, which I won’t be naming here. Yet again, our guide Hasan was a very considerate, reserved just to the right amount kind of person that took great care of us.

So, that was a human factor.

Nature and the landscape of Atlas are fabulous. Constantly showered by the sun, it reveals beautiful palettes of color on its sedimentary rocks. The ascent is not technically challenging, but it requires good physical condition and some altitude acclimatization. Nevertheless, it should not be underestimated.

Our ascent started in Imlil around 1 pm, and it took us about 5 hours to walk to reach the refuge, where we had dinner and slept early. The final part of the ascent (1000m vertical altitude) was due at 4:30 am, and we almost reached the summit in night conditions. The use of crampons was necessary at some parts of the ascent. Therefore November cannot be really considered a month with winter conditions. Still, the range of daily temperatures within a sixty-kilometer distance from Marrakech to Mount Toubkal is impressive, with Marrakech being at 37 degrees Celsius, Imlil at thirteen, and Mt. Toubkal at minus nine. We did not stay long at the summit, just enough to smoke a cigarette and take some photos, and already we were ascending back to Imlil. Effectively, it took us less than 13 hours to make this 45-kilometer-long journey.

Before we knew it, we were back in Marrakech, where we were welcomed by a host, Mohamed, the kindest and most helpful person we interacted with while in Morocco. The Riad Des Sables, where we stayed, is the cutest little place to gather your energy. While following the World Cup that was just playing in Qatar, Mohamed got us all we wanted, and the lady Fatiha made us superb Moroccon specialties upon our request. First, we just said that we wished for some beef, then lamb, and the miracle of her cuisine gave us the greatest pleasure of tasting such excellent mixes of tastes.

At the beginning of this writing, I mentioned the power of unpleasant and harmful, so I kept it for the end. In Marocco, mostly everything you can barter for, something that I am not used to and even find embarrassing. When we first came to Imlil to meet with our guide at cafe Soleil, there was another individual named Mohamed. This person will offer his services, talk about how expensive Marrakech is, and upon your return, for a very short and lousy service, will charge you double the amount of your guide that will work hard for two days. A little petty crook wearing traditional Berber clothing and specs. I have informed the refuge about this man because he disgraces Imlil and Toubkal. So, what I wrote before is that intercourse was most likely less than 1% of the whole experience, but it ruined my day completely. It took a bottle of whiskey I carried from Luxembourg and a box of cigars to recover from my naivety and stupidity. Therefore, I have realised that I am too stiff to myself, and finally, the only thing I have lost is money. However, I would willingly give that money to our guide rather than this kind of individual.

So take care and prearrange everything before going to Morocco. With careful planning, such experiences can be avoided.

Finally, today is the day that both Croatia and Morocco have a chance of beating Belgium and Canada and continuing our glorious journey at the World Cup 2022. Go Morocco, Go Croatia!!!

YouTube video: https://youtu.be/5V2nJoOEmXw

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Andreas Vilic

Human, father, brother, husband, son, friend, skipper, entrepreneur, life long learner. That's me!