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Discover the Moroccan Atlas Mountains with a Cicerone guidebook

Cover of Trekking in the Atlas Mountains
8 Jun 2015
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.0cm
No. Maps
No. Photos
1st Published
1 Apr 2004
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Trekking in the Atlas Mountains

Toubkal, Mgoun Massif and Jebel Sahro

by Karl Smith
Book published by Cicerone Press

This guidebook describes 32 day treks around Toubkal and 2 multi-day circuit routes in the Mgoun Massif, the Sahro range and Jebel Sirwa. The Atlas Mountains are wild and rough, ideal for experienced trekkers comfortable with scrambling, and (until June) the use of crampons and ice-axes. Mountaineering skills are necessary in higher regions.

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The Atlas Mountains of Morocco offer an incredible variety of scenery, climate and terrain, for both the walker and mountaineer. The range provides opportunities for walking and scrambling throughout the year, making it a particularly desirable destination for the trekking enthusiast. This guidebook is primarily aimed at the walker and scrambler and whatever your age or level of fitness, the Atlas Mountains are a rewarding and exciting destination.

The Toubkal region, which contains the highest and most spectacular peaks, is covered in this guidebook, along with detailed descriptions for circuits in the less well known but equally impressive Mgoun massif area, Jebel Sahro range and Jebel Sirwa. The highest point lies in the Toubkal region at 4167m high.

Each route is categorized as ‘easy’, ‘moderate’ or ‘strenuous’. This refers solely to the amount of effort expended. However, because of the rocky terrain of the Atlas Mountains, some indication of the degree of seriousness is also given, where appropriate. All route descriptions, and corresponding timings, relate to summer conditions. In winter and spring, snow cover will make any of the scree routes much quicker and easier, but may block passes and prevent access by mule.

  • Seasons
    Best time is probably late Spring, although for the very tough (who don't mind it hot) other times of the year are possible. Ramadan will affect surplies and support.
  • Centres
    Marrakech is the main acess to the high mountains to Toubkal, Mgoun and Jebel Sahro regions.
  • Difficulty
    Tough and wild trekking, scrambling. Also high (Toubkal is 4167m). Plenty of support in the main areas but the skills of independent travel in high mountains are essential in quieter regions.
  • Must See
    Big mountains, deep gorges, Berber peoples and culture.

Thank you to Kath McNulty for providing the following information to us.

Wandras gorge, Tessaout, 13 September 2014


We trekked the Wandras gorge on 13 September 2014 and the Arous the following day and thoroughly enjoyed them, however we did feel that Karl Smith's descriptions underplayed the technical difficulties. We are traveling by boat around the world and have a full climbing rack (and more) on board, also being of a cautious nature we took far more equipment than would be strictly required to climb a 'v.diff.' and undertake one abseil, and were pleased that we did. 

We joined the author's route at the small bridge, a rickety bridge made out of branches laid across stepping stones. We did not find the 'crag 15m above the river' however we did appreciate the advice 'taking the easiest line on either bank' which was very useful. In lieu of little bridges, there were plenty of stepping stones strategically placed by shepherds who use the gorge regularly with their flocks. The small bridge and stepping stones must get washed away in the winter rains. A few awkward sections did have stairs or ramps, built using drift wood and stones. Good advice again about goats knocking stones down.

After 2.5 hours we arrived at a bad step near a waterfall which we climbed on the right about 20m before the waterfall. We felt comfortable climbing this without ropes and would grade it "moderate".

Thirty minutes later (3 hours from the bridge) we arrived at a second more impressive waterfall (the author's first 'bad step') which is no longer climbable on the left of the waterfall, there was however a possible route a little further back on the right which started up a ledge. A bolt has been placed upside down higher up to protect the difficult move. We used this to 'aid' the move. At the top is another bolt which can be used to belay, it is also possible to place a nut for extra protection. Pitch length: 10m. Difficulty: V.S. with one point of aid?

50 minutes later (3 hours 50 minutes from the bridge) we arrived at the impassable waterfall. The obvious crack on the right is still there and you climb this until it gets difficult and then climb a groove in the arête to the right of the crack (a line of obvious good holes). There were no pegs (pitons), instead there were 3 bolts on the V.diff section and a large boulder on the terrace which we used to belay. Pitch length: 30-35m, but best to allow 50m rope to belay from the boulder. This is from the ledges the author describes 10m above the valley bottom. Difficulty: V.diff.


Although this pitch is very exposed, it is no longer the most technical.

After the waterfall, there was a further hour of difficult scrambling including a short climb (Diff.) up the right side of the gorge (bolt belay).

Many of the scree scrambles were very exposed and loose.

Arous gorge, 14 September 2014

The Arous gorge was great fun and far more adventurous than we were led to believe from the author's description in the guide. It involved no less than three abseils and some serious down-climbing and scrambling. Each abseil requires the sacrifice of equipment, the risk if trekkers think there is only one abseil is that they do not bring enough sacrificial slings and other gear. We used and left behind 2 long slings, 1 short sling and a karabiner.

Other than the short storm the day before, we were there at the end of the summer (dry season) and it hadn't rained for the previous five days, possibly longer. Water levels were low, despite this, we were constantly wading through the river as there were no banks, the water was never higher than mid-thigh. We wore trainers rather than sandals as the route involved jumping into pools of which we could not see the bottom.


The first abseil

Just over the lip of a very large slab are bolt holes but the bolt plates have been removed. We abseiled further right and threaded a sling round a boulder to lower off two of us and the third abseiled on a sling passed through a small thread belay in an awkward spot. We discounted an abseil at the far right because of the bushes across the route. Height: 15m

The second abseil (this is the abseil mentioned by the author)

Immediately above the main waterfall, on a very large boulder on the right hand side of the waterfall are two bolts. The abseil route is straight down the face of the waterfall! Aquaphobes beware! but there is a nice twist to it. The abseil puts you into the pool at the base of the waterfall. Height: 18m

The third abseil

There is a third long drop, this could at a push be down-climbed but at a height of 6m on wet slippery rock it is sensible to abseil. The line we chose is approx. mid stream, we used a sling threaded through a boulder thread. Height: 6m

Regarding the author's notes for those not wishing to abseil, it is not possible to walk up to the waterfall since the third drop is in the way. The slender cascade is indeed very beautiful and there are several other delightful waterfalls dropping into the Arous before the third abseil is reached.


Preface to the third edition  

The Appeal of the Atlas    
Geography and Geology    
Climate – When to Go    
Vegetation and Wildlife    
History and Culture – the Berbers    
Environmental Issues    
Using this Book    
Getting There    
Travel within the Country    
Visa Requirements    
Travel Advice    30
Sleeping and Eating    
What to Take    
Health Matters    
Emergency Services    
Maps and Where to Obtain Them    
Interacting with Local People    
Mule Hire and Local Guides    

The Toubkal Region
The Mizane Valley: Imlil and Around   
Peripheral Bases   
Mountain Refuges   
Excursions from the Toubkal Refuge   
Excursions from the Lepiney Refuge   
Excursions from Tacheddirt   
Excursions from Oukaimeden   
A Circuit of the Toubkal Region   
Outlying Summits  

The Mgoun Massif   
Valley Bases (Mule Hire and Local Guides)   
Tabant to Iskattafene   
A Circuit of the Region   
Other Excursions in the Mgoun Area   

Jebel Sahro   
Town Supplies  
Supplies en Route   
A Circuit of the Region    
Escape Routes    

Other Areas   
Jebel Sirwa   
The Western High Atlas   
The Eastern High Atlas   
The Middle Atlas   
The Todra and Dades Gorges

Appendix 1: Other Possibilities    
Appendix 2: Bibliography
Appendix 3: Glossary    
Appendix 4: Arabic Numbers    

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