This is part two of a short blog on the top five mountaineering companies in the Moroccan High Atlas. In Part 1 we took a look at the outfits themselves; here we investigate what we as The Mountain People have learned and put into practice as a result.


It might seem strange to produce a blog series in which you talk about competitors so openly – even including links to their very websites – but we know how bewildering it can be, choosing a trip or course to Morocco. Ultimately, it is you that has to negotiate a very full and jostling market, and we want to help in that process. We are not afraid to consider the competition alongside ourselves, as that is exactly what you are trying to do in making a choice.


With so many outfits out there clamouring at you – ‘pick me!’, they shout – it has been very helpful for us actually to look at what people say and do, and then compare how we measure up. We have discovered a lot about ourselves in this process, and want to share it with you. Our intention is that you not only find out more about The Mountain People, but also gain more of an insight into the reality of adventure tourism in Morocco.


Here are five things in our journey that we feel are important and would like to share with you:


toubkal-21. There is no ‘optimal’ Toubkal trek

Allow us to share some honest information with you: there is no such thing as the ‘optimal’ Toubkal trek. The number of variations on a theme of treks and itineraries in Morocco will make your head spin. Durations (3, 5 or 8 days), starting points (Imlil, Aremd, Ourigane), acclimatisation periods (1, 2, 3 days), going ’round the back’ of Toubkal (via the Lac d’Ifni), best route up Toubkal (South Cwm vs. North Cwm) and many more.


Essentially, it all depends on you, and that’s where we like to start. It depends on how much time you have for your trip, what experience you want to have, what your prior experience is, who you want to share your trip with. These are just a few variables that we take into account when we work with you to design your trip. We do offer standard itineraries, but in a way these are to give you an idea of the kind of things you can do in the time available.


There’s a saying in Africa. TIA: This is Africa. Morocco may not be sub-Saharan Africa where the saying is perhaps more closely associated, but it shares the same blood. Things don’t run to clockwork, plans change, freak events happen (mudslides, floods), which all mean that flexibility is the name of the game. Our guides have significant experience in country, and our core Morocco team are setting up an office in Imlil. As such, we apply the flexible approach with our clients: you have your own needs and we work with them to bring them to reality on the ground.


cow2. Committed to being local

Everyone talks about sustainable tourism these days and you are pretty much guaranteed to see a sustainable commitment on operator’s websites. However, sustainable tourism is a bit of a contradiction if you think about it, which we investigated in a recent blog about Patagonia’s book. We admit that we exaggerate for affect, but the point is that sustainability requires a genuine approach rather than lip service. This is why we took the decision to establish a Morocco office in Imlil.


Our core Morocco staff live in the High Atlas so immediately this cuts out a lot of travelling to and from the UK or elsewhere. As such, they are able to dedicate a lot more time to connecting with the actual support staff with whom we work (cooks, muleteers, fixers). Seeing as we want to invest in our local staff in a meaningful way, we believe that this is a good start – to be among them and speaking their language.


Talking of languages, since our core Morocco staff are able to communicate with the locals (although there is always more to be done when learning languages), we are better able to understand their needs (as opposed to what we want). We feel this is important, as we share the ground with them, so ought to respect the fact that they have been there a lot longer than us. It is also interesting to compare with recent events on Everest between western climbers and the Sherpa community. Problems occur when we don’t listen or take the time to understand the other party, so when we say we are local and speak the language, it’s a big deal.



flash-stare3. Are you being empowered to do what you love?

There is a lot of talk about whether you do or don’t need a guide in the High Atlas, and if so, what qualification is the optimal requirement. Really, this is a bit of a side issue, as you could quite easily follow the crowds and the very obvious trails up and down your objective (although we wouldn’t necessarily recommend this!). For us at The Mountain People we take a different perspective: are you being empowered to do the thing that you love?


When it comes down to it, guiding is not an end in itself to us; yes, we do want to make a living, feed our families and support the local economy, but one of the core reasons is to pass on mountain skills and train others. In our careers, we have been blessed by the sacrifice of other guides or experienced mountaineers who have given up their time and personal ambitions to teach us what it means and takes to be good mountaineers.


We work best when we are able to work with you to develop you into the best outdoor activist you can be. Our passion is using natural moments that occur within the context of a mountain journey to teach and educate you, as well as showing you tips and tricks to boost your proficiency. Moreover, we provide you with the peace of mind, safety margin and local knowledge as part of our commitment so that you come away from Morocco changed for the better!


DSC042964. Get a bit of imagination!

One of the things we consistently come back to is how the overwhelming majority of companies focus all their on attention on Toubkal in the High Atlas. This, to us, shows a lack of imagination and appreciation of the scope and wealth of mountaineering in the region. Of course, we offer Toubkal trips ourselves and understand the draw of the highest peak in North Africa, but we have deliberately balanced Toubkal trips with a selection of other trips and courses that initiate you into the unsung world of mountaineering in the High Atlas.


Among our favourite is the High Atlas Alpine Ridges, during which we tackle the best of the long mountaineering and scrambling routes that the area has to offer. This includes the South West ridge of Toubkal (technically on the Tête d’Ouanoums 3,970m, which eventually leads to Toubkal West 4,030m). We like to refer to this as ‘Toubkal: The Hard Way’, but in reality it is an easy rock climb with a short crux wall of Very Severe standard or so. It’s a great insight into an area of Morocco mountaineering, which is traditionally dominated by trekking and will open your eyes to all that you have been missing out on so far!


If winter is more your thing, then we can help again. We openly advertise High Atlas 4,000m Peaks and Mgoun Winter Ascent, but one of the advantages of having Des Clark on our staff is that the whole of the High Atlas is up for grabs. If you read through Des’ Cicerone guidebook to the area, he has pretty much run trips to every peak contained in the book, so let your imagination run riot! As mentioned, our advertised trips are merely a guide and not meant to constrain our creativity, so we do a lot of behind the scene liaising with clients to put together packages that are creative and imaginative.


Ice climbing is the way forward

If we were to predict the next trend in the High Atlas it would probably be technical ice climbing on the many cascades that form during the cold, settled winters. If you look at Part 1 of this series, you will notice that ice climbing trips are beginning to creep into the itineraries of UK companies operating in Morocco.


The High Atlas is a great venue for ice climbing, if you want to get away from the tried and tested destinations, or perhaps don’t want to endure the rigours or irregularities of Scotland! There is just the right amount of infrastructure to support you, very reliable and accessible icefalls that appear annually and all in a bit of a surreal setting (Berber culture, and surely Africa is associated with sand and sun!).


Although we don’t currently offer guided ice climbing trips, we are certainly well placed to give you all the  logistical support you might need for your adventure: current weather updates and conditions report (watch out for #toubkalwinter on Twitter this season); full organisation of food, porterage, accommodation; and local knowledge. In fact, if you’re coming to Morocco for ice climbing, you’re probably already self-sufficient as a climber, so we can work with you to fill in the gaps on the ground, leaving you without the stress of all the admin.



Categories: Blog, High Atlas, Morocco, Mountaineering, Simon
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