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Discover the Moroccan High Atlas with a Cicerone guidebook - Introduction

Cover of Mountaineering in the Moroccan High Atlas
15 Feb 2011
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.6cm
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Mountaineering in the Moroccan High Atlas

Walks, climbs & scrambles over 3000M

by Des Clark
Book published by Cicerone Press

This guidebook describes 50 walks, climbs and scrambles in the Moroccan High Atlas. The routes were written with winter conditions in mind and are suitable for experienced winter mountaineers and walkers. The routes cover 30 peaks and are all above 3000m with the highest being Jbel Toubkal at 4167m.

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The High Atlas mountains of Morocco have mountaineering potential galore. With 7 major summits over 4000m, and myriad other remote and little-climbed summits, the region offers countless challenges for experienced winter climbers and scramblers looking for adventure.

This guidebook contains full route descriptions for 50 walks, climbs and scrambles on 30 peaks right across the range from Taroudant in the south-west to Midelt in the north-east, all easily accessible from Marrakech airport. Each route is graded by remoteness, navigational difficulty and commitment.

The mountains of the High Atlas seldom drop below 3000m so naturally all the summits and routes are over 3000m, so some mild affects of altitude, such as shortness of breath, may initially be felt, particularly on the 4000m summits. This may affect initial performance, but most people should get used to the altitude in a few days. There are at least seven mountains that reach over 4000m; the highest of these is Jbel Toubkal at 4167m.

While the vast majority of routes in the guidebook can be undertaken in the late spring and autumn, the emphasis is on winter ascents (from early November to mid-April). All the routes in this guidebook assume a certain amount of winter mountain experience on your part, the majority of the routes were written with winter conditions in mind.

This guidebook divides the range into three regions, using two road passes as boundaries, and the routes are described under the following regional sections.

•    west of Tizi n-Test (routes from Taroudant)
•    between Tizi n-Test and Tizi n-Tichka (routes from Imlil and Oukaimeden)
•    east of Tizi n-Tichka (routes from Ait Bougammez, Zawat Ahansal and Midelt)

  • Activities
    scrambling, climbing, walking
  • Seasons
    All routes described can be undertaken in the spring and autumn, but most have been described with a winter ascent in mind.
  • Centres
    Taroudant, Marrakech, Imlil, Oukaimeden, Ait Bougammez, Zawat Ahansal, Midelt
  • Difficulty
    Most of the technical climbing grades fall within the Alpine F- to AD range; also included are the author's own grades for remoteness, navigation and commitment.
  • Must See
    all the 4000m peaks in the High Atlas, including Jbel Toubkal in the central region and Ighil Mgoun in the east, and Jbel Tinergwet, Jbel Awlim and the Tichka plateau in the south-west
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European exploration
The Berbers
Local customs and etiquette
Building styles
Plants and flowers
When to go
Visas and permits
Planning and maps
Tourist information
Getting to Morocco
Getting around Morocco
Mules and porters
Local guides
What to take
Health and safety
Communication and navigation aids
Respecting the environment
Using this guide

West of Tizi n-Test


Jbel Tinergwet

1  Jbel Tingerwet south-west ridge
2  Jbel Tingerwet west-north-west ridge

Jbel Awlim

3  Jbel Awlim south-west ridge
4  Jbel Awlim south ridge


5  Imaradene from the east
6  Imaradene from the south and west


7  Awlim north-east ridge

Awrir n-Said

8  Awrir n-Said west ridge

Additional routes

Between Tizi n-Test and Tizi n-Tichka


Getting to the refuges from Imlil

Traverses between Lepiney and Toubkal refuges

 9  Toubkal refuges via Tizi Aguelzim
10  Toubkal refuges via Tizi n-Tadat
11  Toubkal refuges via Clochetons breche
12  Toubkal refuges via Tizi Melloul and Tizi Afella


13  Tazaghart via Tizi Melloul
14  Tazaghart Diagonal Couloir
15  Tazaghart Descent Couloir


16  Biguinoussene from Tizi n-Tadat
17  Biguinoussene south ridge


18  Afella via Tizi Melloul
19  Afella via Aougdal Bou Tiouna


20  Akioud north-north-west ridge

Ras and Timesguida n-Ouanoukrim

21  Ras and Timesguida n-Ouanoukrim east ridge from Tizi n-Ouagane
22  Ras and Timesguida n-Ouanoukrim north-east couloir
23  Ras and Timesguida n-Ouanoukrim north-west ridge

Jbel Toubkal

24  Jbel Toubkal south cwm south col
25  Jbel Toubkal north cwm north col
26  Jbel Toubkal north-east ridge
27  Jbel Toubkal south-west (Ouanoums) ridge
28  Jbel Toubkal south-east ridge

Toubkal West

29  Toubkal West north-east ridge


30  Imouzzer north cwm north col south-west ridge


31  Angour north side ledge
32  Angour west ridge


33  Anrhemer west ridge

Bou Iguenouane

34  Bou Iguenouane via Amazzer Meqqoren
35  Bou Iguenouane ridge traverse (north to west-south-west)

Aksoual and Azrou n-Tamadot

36  Tizi Likemt to Tizi n-Tagharat traverse

Additional routes

East of Tizi n-Tichka       

Ait Bougammez

Getting to Tarkeddit refuge

37  Tarkeddit refuge from Agouti           
38  Tarkeddit refuge from Sebt Ayt Bou Wlli
39  Tarkeddit refuge from Tondout

Ighil Mgoun and Mgoun West

40  Ighil Mgoun and Mgoun West from Tarkeddit refuge
41  Ighil Mgoun and Mgoun West north-east ridge (traverse)

Oumassin and Aslad

42  Oumassin and Aslad from Tarkeddit refuge


43  Aklim from Tarkeddit refuge or Tatrarat


44  Tarkeddit ridge – east to west traverse

Zawat Ahansal


45  Ouaougoulzat west summit
46  Tagafayt


47  Azurki north-east to south-west ridge traverse
48  Azurki north face couloirs


Jbel Maasker

49  Jbel Maasker via Inifif

Jbel Ayyachi, Sayd ou Addi and Ichichi n-Boukhlib

50  Jbel Ayyachi, Sayd ou Addi and Ichichi n-Boukhlib via the Cirque de Jaffar

Additional routes

APPENDIX A  Further reading
APPENDIX B  Useful words and phrases
APPENDIX C  Route summary table
APPENDIX D  Refuge summary table



The term ‘mountaineering’ can conjure up many things to different people – roped climbing; exploration; technically easy but remote peaks; lack of reliable mapping; different cultures; mixed snow and rock routes; 4000m summits; and pack-animal support, as might be used on an expedition in the Greater Ranges. The Moroccan High Atlas has all of these.

In spite of increasingly easy access from Europe, this is a mountain range with rarely traversed ridges which can take days to complete, countless winter gullies with never a footprint recorded, and valleys where you may be the only visitor. Whatever your concept of mountaineering, and whatever massif you visit, you can be sure that the High Atlas will offer you a variety of scenery, culture and terrain that is unmatched anywhere – and all within a few hours’ flight time from Europe.

Many commercial trekking parties visit the two popular massifs (Jbel Toubkal and Ighil Mgoun) in the spring and autumn. However, in winter the peaks in these regions are transformed into worthy mountaineering objectives. In addition, many of the intervening ridges between the high summits are rarely traversed – in any season. This is not so much because of their technical difficulty, but because of lack of information about access, the unavailability of adequate maps, the remoteness of the areas and the lack of (English-language) guidebooks covering the entire range.

The 50 routes in this guidebook cover all the 4000m peaks in the range, as well as a number of prominent peaks (30 summits). While some readers may wish there were more difficult routes in the book, the selection reflects my abilities, an interest in exploration and a belief that, once in a particular area, readers will themselves pick out routes that will entice them to return. Although all the routes described in the guide can be undertaken in spring and autumn, the majority have been described specifically with a winter ascent in mind, as in my view this is the most rewarding season for mountaineering in the High Atlas.

Mountain guidebooks of any description risk opening up hitherto lonely areas to mass usage and over-development. However, the fact that the routes in this book may entail winter camping, remote access, self-sufficiency and the like are just as likely to turn many away. Those who find themselves, particularly in winter, on ridges and summits described in this guide will deserve to be there.

The guide is aimed at – and will be most useful to – those who have a background of winter walking, climbing and scrambling, and who are looking to expand their horizons in a mountain range brimming with adventure possibilities.


The Atlas mountains were described by Pliny, the Roman geographer, as the ‘greatest mountains in all of Africa’. While there may be other contenders for that title, the range certainly offers a huge variety of scenery, culture and terrain to the mountain traveller. There are similarities in some areas to the high Tibetan plains, the South American Andes and even the Scottish glens, but this is a unique range of mountains and a unique mountain people lives within them.

Stretching across Morocco, the Atlas mountains run in an east-north-easterly line into neighbouring Algeria before fading away in Tunisia, and reach their highest altitudes in Morocco. Rising just east of Agadir on the Atlantic coast, they seldom drop below 3000m for most of their time in Morocco and are justifiably called the High Atlas.

Depending on what is judged to be a separate mountain rather than a subsidiary top, there are at least seven mountains that reach over 4000m. The highest of these is Jbel Toubkal at 4167m (jbel = mountain). All of the 4000m peaks are in the Toubkal region apart from one – Ighil Mgoun (4068m), which is situated in a vast tract of upland east of the Tizi n-Tichka (tizi = pass).

Looking at a map of Morocco, you will notice a few other subsidiary ranges. The Anti-Atlas run parallel to the south of the High Atlas, as do the Jbel Sahro further east. The Middle Atlas run in a more north-north-easterly line, and although they sometimes reach over 3000m and are snow covered in winter, they never attain the grandeur of the High Atlas.

Although the High Atlas is predominantly Jurassic limestone, there are significant interruptions at the western end of the range, with volcanic andesites and rhyolites, particularly in the Toubkal region. These weathered volcanic rocks are very fractured and bedded together as loose masses. The visual result in the Toubkal massif is of jagged peaks and steep-sided valleys, with mostly grey masses of scree evident in the summer and early autumn when free of snow cover.

Small ancient glaciers may have existed in the higher cwms, but on the whole this is an unglaciated region. In fact, there are no glaciers in all of North Africa.

Moving east of the Tizi n-Tichka, rivers have cut down through the soft Permian-Triassic rock to produce deep gorges. Together with huge escarpments, terraced cliffs and flat-topped summits, they are typical of the region, particularly in the Ighil Mgoun and Jbel Maasker areas. Close observations on the summit ridge of Ighil Mgoun reveal many small sea-shell fossils.

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