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Toubkal Winter Conditions #3 – Nov 2014

Latest Toubkal Winter Conditions Report

 

I headed up yesterday to the refuge after waiting for the turbulent weather of the weekend to subside – high winds and snow higher up and rain/flooding in Imlil. About three quarters of the way to the refuge around the 2,800m I ran across small sections of loose snow avalanche debris. And on my return journey from the refuge at the end of the day I saw further avalanche evidence – wet snow this time due to the warmer temperatures around the 2,500m mark.

 

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Loose snow avalanches 24-11-14

 

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Wet snow avalanche 24-11-14

 

Winter Conditions Summary

There is good snow cover on Toubkal and in the High Atlas after the big deposits of snow over the weekend especially on NW slope aspects. There are small graupel layers in the snowpack overlaid with decamping or rounded layers which has led to weaknesses in the snowpack and fairly easy shearing after doing multiple hand shear tests. With the warming today the freezing level is predicted to rise to around 3,700m. The graupel layer could become lubricated and producing a even weaker bond between layers.

 

As the week progresses with the arrival of colder temperatures, the snowpack should become better bonded, but with the heavy fall of snow predicted with NW winds for Thursday through to till Friday morning there will be a higher level of avalanche risk especially on slopes on of SE aspect.

 

Please note that avalanche risk rises with bigger deposits of snow especially in the first 24 to 48 hours of the snowfall.

 

Weather Forecast Nov 25th

More snow on its way! Forecast taken from: http://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Toubkal/forecasts/4167

 

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Start of the North Col route up Toubkal 24-11-14

 

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The traverse into south cwm on the South Col route up Toubkal 24-11-14

 

I will post another Toubkal Winter Condition Report next week.

 

Refuge Access

Access to the refuge is fine but mules will only get you to about 150m above Sidi Chamharouch and from there you will need porters to pack in equipment and supplies.

 

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Peaks: Ras, Akioud, and Afella covered in snow from the weekend:-) 24-11-14

 

If you are looking for a guiding/instruction or logistics for Toubkal and the High Atlas the see our website for our trips and packages or contact us directly at morocco@the-mountain-people.com.

 

For more in depth on the recent weather, snowpack, and climbing conditions see below:

 

Recent Weather

There were some SE strong winds reaching gale force on Friday and Saturday with things calming down by Sunday. Huge amounts of rain (lower levels) and snow also fell (down to 2,350m mark). Yesterday there was patchy rain and snow.

 

Snow Cover & Snowpack

The snow cover is great in the High Atlas with the big deposits over the weekend. You can see from the photos below how much snow is about with many of the buttress plastered with rime and snow. You can also see this mini cornice that formed near the refuge with the strong the SE winds were over the weekend (see photo).

 

 

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Mini cornice near Toubkal refuges 24-11-14

 

I dug a number of snow pits around the refuge (approx. 3,300m on a NE aspect slope, 30 degree slope) and consistently found weak graupel layers buried in the snowpack with either decomposing or rounded grains overlaying the graupel layers. The snowpack is starting to bond (via sintering) but I found that on doing multiple hand shear test that layers resting on top of graupel sheared pretty easy. Please note that there are considerable weaknesses in the current snowpack and upon warming (happening today, Tuesday, and early tomorrow) the graupel layers could become ball bearings for the above layers to run on, which can lead to avalanche. Please be on the lookout over the next couple of days as it is warmer for sunwheels and the snow pack becoming heavier.

 

Other findings from snowpack test for the pit at 3,300m NE aspect, 30 degree slope:

  • Wetness test: Very dry snow either unable to make a snow ball or just made one (1 and 2 on the scale out of 5).
  • Hardness test: bigger deposits of one finger penetration (3 on scale) and smaller layers of pencil (4 on scale).

 

For further explanation on these tests check out: http://culter.colorado.edu/~kittel/WEcol_Handouts/SnowPit_Protocol.pdf

 

 

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Snowpit – top 50cm sheared pretty easy because of the small graupel layer 24-11-14

 

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Some of the graupel layer where the shear occured 24-11-14

 

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Hasty pit (on the same slope) where the top 30cm sheared easily due to again graupel layer 24-11-14

 

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Graupel from shear at the hasty pit 24-11-14

 

With the freezing level dropping on Wednesday onwards the snowpack should firm up and become moderately to well-bonded, but with more significant snow predicted later in the week there is bound to be a higher avalanche risk with the bigger deposits.

 

Climbing Conditions

The upcoming freeze/thaw conditions today should help to bring more of the ice into condition. The Curtain Call and Chokestone Gully above the refuge have grown a bit more and there is now a good amount of snow to feed the routes. With the lower cascades there is a good freeze/thaw predicted over Thursday and Friday at around their height, which should help it come into condition in the next week. Here is a photo of them being plastered from the weekend.

 

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South West Ridge of Toubkal West looking very wintery! 24-11-14

 

So to summarise the climbing conditions: With the warmer freeze/thaw conditions around the 3,700m mark ice routes should start to fatten. The lower cascades should come into good condition with the freeze/thaw at their level over Thursday and Friday.

 

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Curtain Call (left) Chokestone Gully (right) coming into condition! 24-11-14

 

For a Logistics Only Package please get in touch with us! Let us sort all the non-climbing and mountaineering aspects to your trip, so that you can focus on enjoying the culture and peaks and routes of the High Atlas.

 

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Afekhoi (NW Cwm) icefalls en route to the Toubkal refuge 24-11-14

 

Categories: Blog, Climbing Information, Conditions, High Atlas, Ice Climbing, James, Mountain Information, Mountaineering, Winter
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Toubkal Winter Conditions #2 – Nov 2014

Latest Toubkal Winter Conditions Report

Yesterday I headed up to the to the refuge and then carried on for 300m on the South Col route of Toubkal. I found generally speaking very good snow cover and conditions underfoot good with the route itself having compacted snow which requires an ice axe and crampons especially on the steeper sections of the route.

 

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At the far back the final ridge from South Col on Toubkal – South Col route (3,500m) 13-11-14

 

Recent Weather

Since the last report snow has fallen down to 2,000m metres and still remains around the 2,500m mark on north facing aspects. After this drop of snow the conditions have been stable with colder weather earlier in the week and over the last few days freeze/thaw conditions prevailing between 3,500m to 3,200m.

 

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Refuge and start of the South Col Route up Toubkal 13-11-14

 

Snowpack and Snow Cover

I found very stable snowpack at the 4 or 5 snow pits I dug between the refuge and 3,500m mark. And I also found good bonding between layers when doing a hand sheer test (having to pull pretty hard to get a sheer). I did find at one of the snow pits a small layer of graupel, which produced an easier sheer but overall as mentioned I found good bonding between layers.

 

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Graupel up close from the hasty pit 13-11-14

 

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Hasty pit with graupel on the South Col route up Toubkal 13-11-14

 

Please note that ice axe and crampons are needed with the current snow conditions on Toubkal and the other peaks in the Toubkal Massif. If you are looking for instruction and coaching in the use of these essential tools for winter please see our Morocco Winter Skills course and contact us for available dates!

 

Climbing Conditions

The classic mountaineering routes are still in great conditions due to the snowpack being firm overall. On north facing aspects you will find bigger accumulations of softer snow but sun exposed snow slopes are generally firm and therefore underfoot conditions are good.

 

I saw the start of some of the ice forming on some routes around the refuge but we still need more snow for these to come into good condition. The Chalk Stone route above the refuge might have enough ice, but it would be worth waiting for more snow and a bit more time for things to properly form. Keep your eye on this blog for updates on winter route conditions!

 

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Chock Stone route Afella – might just go! 13-11-14

 

 

So to summarise the climbing conditions: the classic gullies and rock ridge lines are in condition and the ice routes are starting to form but still need more snow and time.

 

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Afekhoi (NW Cwm) icefalls en route to the Toubkal refuge – need more snow and colder conditions for these to get into good condition. 13-11-14

 

For a Logistics Only Package please get in touch with us! Let us sort all the non-climbing and mountaineering aspects to your trip, so that you can focus on enjoying the culture, food, and peaks and routes of the High Atlas.

 

Refuge Access

There is still good access to the Toubkal refuges with the path being clear of snow. Mules are able to pack in equipment and supplies just about all the way to the refuges, so no porters are currently needed.

 

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Mules taking a break at the refuge (3,200m) 13-11-14

 

Winter Conditions Summary

Toubkal and the Central High Atlas mountains are currently in great winter condition for general winter trekking and mountaineering with a good cover of firm snow. Mixed and ice routes are starting to come into condition but more time and snow are needed for good climbing conditions. With the freeze/thaw around the 3,500m mark and then colder conditions the snowpack should continue to stay stable. A bit more snow (a couple of cm) is forecast for the weekend, which will help to top things up and not change the overall snowpack stability and cover.

 

For trekking, guiding, instruction and/or logistics for Toubkal and the High Atlas don’t hesitate to contact us!

 

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Afella 4,040m, Clochetons 3,940m, Biguinoussene 4,007m 13-11-14

Categories: Blog, Climbing Information, Conditions, High Atlas, Ice Climbing, James, Morocco, Mountain Information, Mountaineering, Winter
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Toubkal Winter Conditions #1 – Nov 2014

Latest Toubkal Winter Conditions Report

Winter has arrived in the High Atlas! The past couple of years winter has taken its time to come but this year after a few good dumps of snow and freeze/thaw conditions things are looking really good! I headed up to the refuge early this morning to check things out.

 

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Toubkal – early this morning leaving Imlil 6-11-14

Recent Weather

Over the weekend we saw a good amount of snow fall and a bit more on Tuesday. There is more snow predicted this coming weekend and colder conditions 🙂

 

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Snowpack and Snow Cover

The snow pack is very stable which is due to the freeze/thaw conditions. You can see in the picture below the snowpack history to date with the two major dumps of snow showing up clearly by the top crust (recent dump) and older crust in the middle of the snowpack.

 

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Snowpit 200m up from refuge – two crust layers visible 6-11-14

The snow has come as far down as 2450m but has retreated quickly and proper cover starts around the height of the refuge (3,150m).

 

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South Col route up Toubkal 6-11-14

 

Climbing Conditions

The classic mountaineering routes are in great conditions due to the snowpack being firm. As for ice and mixed lines we need more snow, so at the moment only bigger gully lines such as the one on Ras (4,083m) are in condition and of course the rock ridges which are easily accessible with the good firm snow under foot.

 

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Ras, Akioud and other 4,000m peaks! 6-11-14

Please note that ice axe and crampons are needed with the current snow conditions. If you are looking for instruction and coaching in the use of these essential tools for winter please see our Morocco Winter Skills course and contact us for available dates!

 

Refuge Access

There is good access to the Toubkal refuges with the path being clear of snow (apart from the last 100m). Mules are able to pack in equipment and supplies just about all the way to the refuges, so no porters are currently needed.

 

Winter Conditions Summary

Toubkal and the High Atlas mountains are in great winter condition for general winter trekking and mountaineering with a good cover of neve snow. Mixed and ice routes are not yet in condition. There is more snow and colder conditions predicted for the weekend, which will add more to the great snow base!

 

For trekking, guiding, instruction and/or logistics for Toubkal and the High Atlas don’t hesitate to contact us!

 

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Afekhoi cwm cascades still not in condition 🙁 6-11-14

 

 

Categories: Blog, Conditions, High Atlas, Ice Climbing, James, Morocco, Mountain Information, Mountaineering, Winter
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Toubkal Trek for Nordic Walkers

The High Atlas are teetering on the edge of winter! I got back from guiding a six-day trek in the Toubkal Massif for Gemini Outdoor, a Nordic Walking company based in the UK. It was a pleasure to run the trip with Gemini’s founder Steve Ellis and the group that he brought together for the trip were great fun.

 

Well done again everyone for tackling North Africa’s biggest peak!

 

Conditions: please make sure you either have the relevant winter experience or you hire a guide, as there is snow on a few of the more exposed sections of the Toubkal south col route!

 

 

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Summit day – getting ready to take on Toubkal 18/10/14

 

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Exiting the south cwm and heading to the south col of Toubkal 18/10/14

 

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Exiting the cwm near the south col of Toubkal 18/10/14

 

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On the traverse leading to the summit 18/10/14

 

 

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Guides posing at the summit 18/10/14

 

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Trek back to Imlil from the Toubkal refuge 19/10/14

 

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Last day walk up to Tizi M’zzik (2,480m) 20/10/14

Categories: Blog, Conditions, High Atlas, James, Morocco, Mountain Information, Trekking
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Alpine Ridges Adventure

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Felix on the crux pitch of the SW ridge of Toubkal West 21-6-14

 

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of guiding Felix on some of the classic alpine ridges in the High Atlas. Felix is a seasoned climber with both summer and winter and single and multi-pitch experience climbing experience, so he was well up for a Moroccan climbing adventure.

 

 

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View from the NE ridge of Afella 22-6-14

 

After walking up to the refuge on day one we spent some of the evening going over short-rope techniques that would be useful for the following couple of days. After that, we made our plan for the following day, which would mean a pretty early start (5:00am) to give us plenty of time to enjoy the SW ridge of Toubkal West, AD+.

 

Alpine climbing is all about efficiency which means quick route finding, dialed rope systems and moving quickly and, with Felix being a strong, experienced climber, we managed to stick to the rules of alpine climbing. After finishing the ridge in good time we managed to summit Toubkal as well. For those of you who want the “hard way” up Toubkal then the SW ridge of Toubkal West is the route for you!

 

 

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Me and Felix on the summit of Toubkal 21-6-14

 

On day three we climbed the NE Ridge of the north shoulder of Afella, gaining a height of 3,980m. This ridge is 600m long and an alpine grade of D+. It is a route of commitment and stamina. After a bit of slower start, we gained the ridge and made good time to the summit. The descent is down the main route of the peak of Afella 4,040m. We found the north-facing gully in not the best of conditions with big, weak snow bridges, which meant lowering Felix down 50m rope lengths and me down climbing after him. All was fine, but it did slow down our descent. This gulley line in winter and even into early spring is generally pretty easy going for a descent, but if you are climbing in the area in summer make sure to have the equipment and experience to deal with it in lean condition. This is all part of alpine climbing; you have your toolbox of skills, experience and equipment and you choose the appropriate tools for the situation the mountain throws at you!

 

 

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Gully descent off Afella 22-6-14

 

Well done again to you Felix on taking on some of the biggest and best ridges in the Toubkal Massif and good luck to you on your future climbing adventures!

 

For those with a good amount of rock climbing experience looking to take on some of the great challenges of the High Atlas in Morocco please have a look at our High Atlas Alpine Ridges trips here!

 

Here is some feedback from Felix from the trip:

 

“I had a fantastic time climbing alpine ridges in the Toubkal massif. From the amazing logistics help to the delicious prepared food at the hut, everything was in place to make the most of my short time in the area and get as much climbing in as possible. Climbing with James was a treat, and was a perfect mix of professionalism and friendliness. I was able to use and expand my skill set under a watchful friendly eye, and overall had a tremendous experience with some fantastic people.

 

 

Categories: Alpine Climbing, Blog, High Atlas, instructional, James, Morocco, Mountaineering, Summer
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