I’m stood in the lower Imlil Valley of the Atlas Mountains. All around me peaks reach for the azure sky above. In the distance, Toubkal…

Hiking in the Atlas Mountains

I’m stood in the lower Imlil Valley of the Atlas Mountains. All around me peaks reach for the azure sky above. In the distance, Toubkal, the highest mountain in the region, lacks the usual sprinkling of snow atop of its jutting, rocky peak. The ground is dry and dusty, thirsting for rain. To my right, a trio of donkeys graze on a few dry clumps of vegetation. Our guide, Ali, tells us that the rainy season is late this year – the entire region is desperate for rain. Below our path are a few groves of apple trees. A faint sweet scent hangs in the air, hinting at more plentiful times.

Atlas Mountains - Waiting for Water

A berber village in the Atlas Mountains. The wait for the rainy season continues...

We are heading for a place called the pass, which is a link between two of the mountain peaks known as “Tizi ’n’ Tamert”, some 2,200 meters high. From here we will ascend to one of the peaks, 2,600 meters above sea level.

“Are we there yet?”, I joke. 20 minutes later I was no longer joking. My calves are heavy with lactic acid. The sun, climbing towards the apex of its arc, shines down upon us. Unrelentingly.

After another 30 minutes or so, we reach the pass. Here, an old derelict hut stands alone. Our very own base camp. Greedily, I devour a couple of pieces of fruit from my pack. Our destination is only another 400m above. Blood sugar levels now replenished, we continue on our journey…

Atlas Mountains - Base Camp on the “Tizi ’n’ Tamert” pass

"Base Camp" on the "Tizi 'n' Tamert" Pass

Close to the summit we take it in turns to climb up onto a rocky outcrop for some photographs. The picture, below, does not quite capture how tiny the outcrop is. On the far side is a deadly drop down to the valley floor. I scramble up to the top. Whilst taking in the spectacular view, I inhale the fresh mountain air deep into my lungs. Life is good. The wind begins to pick up and I hightail it back down to safety.

On top of the world

Finally we reach the summit of what has become my personal Everest. The view is striking – a landscape of red and brown stretches to the horizon. Hiking in the Atlas Mountains offers some amazing, panoramic vistas. 

Stunning, panoramic views

It’s November, so its currently low season in Morocco. The Atlas Mountains are quiet. During this particular 4-5 hour hike we encountered 4 people, 3 donkeys and a herd of goats. If you are looking for some winter sun, Morocco is both an accessible and cheap option from the UK.

Enjoying the Atlas Mountains all to ourselves

Half an hour later we reach our lunch stop. Whilst Ali goes to pray, Sam and I sit atop of an outcropping rock, eating our packed lunches and enjoying more serene views of the Imlil Valley. Calls for prayer begin to echo across the valley, commencing at a mosque situated at the highest point on the opposite hillside. The chants flow down through the valley and fill the air as more and more mosques join the call. It is a truly immersive experience – anything could be happening elsewhere in the world right now.

Lunchtime views to die for

In hindsight, we should have retraced our steps: that would have been the sensible option. Instead, we insisted on taking an alternative route back. It wasn’t the cleverest idea. I had only packed a pair of Nike trainers – usually fine for walking – but this terrain was steep, loose and slippery. 

Posing for the perfect shot

If the ascent had been tough (from a physical point of view), the descent was far worse. Ali’s footing was as sure as a mountain goat. Unfortunately mine was not. I lost my footing several times and arrived back at the hotel with my left hand covered in scrapes and splinters. I was fortunate that another traveller at the hotel had a pair of tweezers so I could remove the splinters from my left hand!. My knees felt like they’d aged by 50 years. Still, it was a price worth paying for the peace and quiet and the incredible vistas.

The kind of views that make a hike worthwhile!

By CHRIS BURCHILL

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