This is a two-part blog series on the top five mountaineering companies in the Moroccan High Atlas. Part 1 takes a look at the outfits themselves; Part 2  investigates what we as The Mountain People have learned and put into practice as a result

 

The Moroccan High Atlas has huge scope and potential for both summer and winter mountaineering, despite the popularity of Toubkal (North Africa’s highest peak). Unsurprisingly, there is fierce competition for the outdoor market, which mainly focusses on Toubkal summer and winter ascents.

 

With the bewildering array of operators at large we wanted to put together this shortlist. Part 1 of this short series aims to make an initial delve into the best mountaineering or outdoor pursuits companies as represented by their website portfolios. Check out Part 2 to see how we measure up against the competition!

 

With so many operators offering Toubkal ascents, we decided to lay down the following criteria for the shortlist: companies should be UK-based or English-speaking; they should offer at least one itinerary other than a Toubkal winter ascent; at least one of the itineraries must be of an adventurous, mountaineering nature.

 

So here they are, in no particular order:

 

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Mountain Expertise | www.mountain-expertise.co.uk


Along with The Mountain Guiding Company below, Mountain Expertise is one of the first outfits we are aware of in recent years to make the extra step in the High Atlas and offer ice climbing. It is run by two UK-based MICs (Mountaineering Instructor Certificate), Paul James and Kathryn Bromfield, which means you get well-qualified instruction from British mountain professionals.

 

Their ‘Winter Climbing in the Atlas’ package sits alongside the standard ‘Winter Mountaineering in the Atlas’ trip, which covers winter skills and a couple of 4,000m ascents. What we like about Mountain Expertise is that they have pitched their ice climbing course to appeal to those who have some experience, but want a taste of the harder, steeper stuff, and, of course, in an amazing location.

 

The course is based out of the Toubkal refuges and utilises the nearby icefalls, which are extremely accessible, in one case perhaps maximum two minutes stroll from the refuge. What is more, the course covers all the relevant skills that you would learn on a traditional Scotland Winter Skills course, so allows you to lay down the essential winter skills as well as take on something a bit more challenging.

 

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The Mountain Guiding Company | http://46.20.119.204/~themount/site1


Although Mike ‘Twid’ Turner does not technically offer any other trips aside from ‘Morocco – ice climbing in Africa’, what caught our eye is the adventurous and technical nature of what he offers. Whilst staying at the Mouflons refuge in 2012, we crossed paths with Twid, together with Mark Charlton, another guide, who spent about a week to ten days ripping up every icefall in eyesight of the Toubkal refuges.

 

Pretty much all of the cascades in the Mizane valley area of Toubkal have certainly been climbed in the past, but a trip with Twid will definitely not see you dangling on the end of a bottom rope in the streambed by the refuges. Instead you may well get the opportunity to climb on beautiful, airy routes, such Chockstone Gully on Afella. Many of these exist as single (ish) pitches, or can be combined into long mountain routes, so you can vary the level of adventure massively, depending on your inclination.

 

If you do hire a British Mountain Guide, such as Twid, you ought to be aware that it is probably the most expensive option: £300.00 per day guiding fee, excluding any other costs. However, you balance the financial cost with the fact that Mountain Guides are some of the most experienced and professionally qualified instructors out there, so you are generally guaranteed someone with a long history and experience in mountains around the globe.

 

ap-screenshotAdventure Peaks | www.adventurepeaks.com


Adventure Peaks is another company which has gone the extra mile in the winter department, offering an ‘Extended Toubkal Winter Mountaineering’ (up to 11 days) trip in addition to a standard Toubkal ascent. As part of this package they split their time between the Toubkal refuges, which lie in the Mizane valley, and the Lépiney hut in the Ouarzane valley, which is generally accessed via Tizi n’Tadat and has an altogether different feel.

 

From the Lépiney hut the sheer volume and potential of Morocco mountaineering becomes obvious with the Tazaghart plateau towering above the hut and the inescapable line of the Couloir de Neige D, a permanent snow gully that can be seen all year round for miles. So in terms of what is on offer, you not only get the chance to take in multiple 4,000m peaks by classics routes, but also instruction on more advanced techniques, such as ropework, which add value for future mountaineering.

 

It is also worth noting that Adventure Peaks provide something a little unusual in the summer months, a ‘Tichka to Toubkal Traverse’. This is a neat variation on the standard summer trails, approaching Toubkal ‘by the back door’. It also takes in Tazaghart, which has been mentioned above, giving more of a sense of wilderness, plus beautiful passages through the lush villages in the Ouirgane and Tassouirgane area, which are superlative in spring.

 

ea-screenshotExped Adventure | www.expedadventure.com


Exped Adventure is a relative newcomer to the outdoor scene in Morocco –  run by two young British International Mountain Leaders, Sam Westcott and Jamie Annetts – but has certainly gone a long way in understanding what it takes to be credible in country.

 

As with many of the operators above, Exped Adventure offers a clutch of Toubkal trips, some summer and some winter. If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous or off the beaten track, the ‘High Atlas Summits’ trip is well worth a look, aiming at the bunch of 4,000m peaks in the area. Interestingly, the trip ventures on to the vast Tazaghart plateau which could perhaps be described as an African equivalent of the Cairngorm plateau in Scotland.

 

However, one of the things we like most about Exped Adventure is their insistence on using International Mountain Leaders as their trip lead guides. Although Morocco might seem accessible, culture shock can easily take you off-guard and the physicality unexpected. In this scenario, having an English-speaking, professional guide on hand cannot be understated.

 

gm-screenshotGorilla Mountaineering | www.gorillamountaineering.co.uk


Not so long ago, expeditions to Mgoun, the only 4,000m peak to the east of Toubkal, were very much in vogue. Recently, their popularity among operators has sadly tailed off, so it is encouraging to see that Gorilla Mountaineering has taken to offering summer and winter trips.

 

An expedition to Mgoun is not to be given short-shrift. Apart from its altitude of over 4,000m – the third highest mountain in Morocco – and true remoteness, it really does have something about it that captures the essence of mountaineering in Morocco: long, high altitude ridgelines; remote, scattered shepherd’s retreats (an ‘azib’ in Tashelhit); and every time a sense of venturing into the unknown.

 

However, Gorilla Mountaineering is not all serious and introspective, and directed by Sam Halligan, a Manchester-based UK instructor, you get a lot of personality on a trip. When you meet Sam Halligan, you’ll understand why the company gained its name, and he brings a lot of his character to undertakings.

 

So what do you think?


Leave a comment below and let us know what’s on your mind, and if you’re eager to find out what we say about ourself as a result of this process, check out Part 2 of the series.

 

Footnote


  • We have done our best to represent companies fairly and honestly in this review based on the information available. If you believe you have been misrepresented or ought to have made it into the top five, we love to hear from you: morocco@the-mountain-people.com

 

  • Some outfits do indeed offer trips or courses that may fall into the selection criteria above. However, we wanted to be able to access them directly through their website in an active way, rather than submit an enquiry for more information

 

  • Equally, there are a number of business that offer private guiding that might include some or all of the features of courses or trips above. However, again we wanted to see trips laid out in an accessible way that show what the individual is doing in an active and ongoing manner

 

  • We have not included The Mountain People in this list nor any other companies with whom we have close links in order to keep a sense of impartiality

 


Categories: Blog, Business, High Atlas, Morocco, Mountaineering
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1 Comment

One Response to Top 5 Mountaineering Companies in the Moroccan High Atlas [Part 1]

  1. 9 July 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Be inspired by the adventure of Morocco Trekking Tours – take a camel trek through the Sahara, hunt out bargains in an exotic souq, soak up the buzz of Marrakesh then catch some waves off a pristine Atlantic beach. Experience the colour, life and lure of the Maghreb with our comprehensive guide

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