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Outside magazine, March 2001 Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

The Toubkal Circuit

Joel Bennett/ Stone
Local flavor: charming the wildlife in the High Atlas, Morocco
AT A GLANCE Trek Length: 10 days, 75 miles
Maximum Altitude: 13,665 feet
Physical Challenge: 1 2 3 4 5
Price (Self-organized Trek): $350­$600
Price (Group Trek):$600­$3,000
Prime Time: May­September
Staging Cities: Marrakech, Morocco

The Rhapsody: Pliny the Elder, the great Roman scholar, once described the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco as "the most fabulous mountains in all of Africa." This was nearly 2,000 years before modern-day explorers would stumble upon Kilimanjaro and the Ruwenzori, but no matter: The Atlas were—and still are—the most fabulous mountains in northern Africa, a swath of rocky peaks arcing 1,200 miles from the Mediterranean southwest to the Atlantic that offer trekkers a beguiling combination of craggy alpine terrain and 3,000-year-old Berber culture. In addition to summiting 13,665-foot Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in northern Africa, you'll pass through walnut groves and terraced barley fields and scramble across exposed scree fields—overnighting in flat-roofed Berber homes, well-maintained mountain huts, and tent sites.

The Route: You'll drive 25 miles from Marrakech to Ansi and then catch a ride with a taxi or truck down the rough dirt road to Imlil, a farm town along the Mizane River that has become the staging ground for most High Atlas treks. This spectacular ten-day loop yo-yos between 6,000-foot valleys and 10,000-foot passes, starting with a climb east out of the Mizane Valley and down to the Imanane River, and then up again to Oukaïmeden, a winter ski resort that is virtually abandoned in the summertime. You'll climb to Ifni Lake, one of only a few lakes in the High Atlas, and then prepare for your final challenge: an ascent of Jebel Toubkal; though snow-covered for much of the year, the peak is merely a long, grueling scree slog in summer.

Guides and Outfitters: In well-trodden areas like Jebel Toubkal, there's a good trekking infrastructure, and independent travelers shouldn't have too much difficulty finding transport from Marrakech or hiring guides and/or mules in Imlil. The town's Bureau des Guides et Accompagnateurs (011-212-44-48-5626) lists accredited guides; budget about $25 per guide per day, plus a tip of at least $5 per person per day at the end of the trek. A mule to haul your gear (along with its muleteer) can be had for $10 to $15 per day. A number of villages along the trail have basic trekker lodgings or mountain huts ($4 to $6 per night, no reservations), or you can sleep under the stars: Rain is rare during the summer trekking season.

Several U.S.-based outfitters—among them, KE Adventure Travel, Camp 5 Expeditions, and Wilderness Travel—operate full-service Atlas treks that include side trips to Marrakech and Fez.

Read Up: Lords of the Atlas, by Gavin Maxwell (Dutton, out of print) is a classic account of the rise and fall of a Berber clan in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Karl Smith's The Atlas Mountains: A Walker's Guide ($15, Cicerone Press) is an updated British guidebook that's long on detailed trail information but short on good maps. —D.N.


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