Category Archives: High Atlas

Toubkal Winter Conditions #5 March 2017

Latest Toubkal Winter Conditions Report

I was back out to Morocco and up in the High Atlas this week! The conditions were fantastic with hard neve everywhere:-)

 

Looking across from the South Col route up Toubkal at: Afella, Biguinoussene and the Tadat Col

 

Me not far from Tizi Ouagane 3,730m

 

Snow Cover & Snowpack

Snow cover is generally very good once you get to around the 3,000m mark and even lower on North facing aspects! And as mentioned the snowpack was good neve. There is a big dump of snow in the forecast for this weekend which will raise the avalanche risk if it materializes! It would be wise to let the snowpack settle a bit also watch out for big drifts and windslab deposits. The winds are set to change quite a bit over the following days which will mean really watching where it deposits the new snow and avoiding it. Also, with the hard neve and suncrust layers will potentially provide a sliding surface for the fresh snow, so be diligent in watching the wind and assessing the snowpack.

 

 

www.mountain-forecast.com from 16-3-17

 

 

Approach slope that leads to the South Col

 

Climbing Conditions  

The ice and mixed lines looked to be in good conditions on Toubkal West, Ras, and Afella.  A lot of the single pitch ice around the refuge and heading toward Tizi Ouagane looked to be pretty rotten. Chockstone route is in good condition and the Afekhoi cascades look good and should stay in.

 

 

Afella

 

Not such good ice near Tizi Ouagane

 

Ras

 

The mountaineering conditions are brilliant at the moment, but this will change with the new snow. Time will be needed for the new snow to consolidate and bond with the old snowpack.

 

Refuge Access

The snow line on the path to the refuge was well above Sidi Chamharouch (2,350m), but will come down close to Sidi Cham over the weekend. These means mules will only get a bit above the Sidi Cham and porters will be needed to carry kit and supplies the rest of the way.  

 

 

Winter Conditions Summary

Stable weather over the last three weeks has firm up the snowpack providing brilliant neve, but a lot of fresh snow is coming in over the weekend which will raise the avalanche risk.

 

The fresh snow will overlay a hard suncrust and neve snowpack which will mean an easy sliding surface for fresh snow. Watch the winds next over the weekend and week and avoid windslab & big drift deposits. The mountaineering will continue to stay very good, but caution and good route finding is necessary over the next week or so while the new snowpack consolidates and bonds to the old snowpack. The bigger mixed lines on Toubkal West, Ras, and Afella are in condition!

 

James, Full-time guide/instructor for TMP

For a personalised trekking, guiding or instruction service and/or logistics for Toubkal and the High Atlas, get in touch with us here at The Mountain People!

 

Disclaimer: as a mountaineering instructor I have had avalanche risk assessment training and have a good level of experience but am by no means a professional avalanche forecaster. These reports aim to give you a general idea of the winter conditions for a few days ahead and the risks involved but please be diligent in checking weather forecasts yourself and monitoring the conditions when you are out in the High Atlas.

 

 

 

South Col of Toubkal

 

 

Categories: Blog, Climbing Information, Conditions, High Atlas, Ice Climbing, James, Morocco, Mountain Information, Winter
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Toubkal Winter Conditions – Quick Update!

Toubkal Winter Conditions – Quick Update

Weather has been pretty consistent over the previous weeks with snowpack consolidating well, but a big dump of snow in the forecast! Take care of heightened avalanche risk if this snow materializes!

 

 

Categories: Conditions, High Atlas, Ice Climbing, James, Morocco, Mountain Information, Winter
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Toubkal Winter Conditions #4 Jan 2017

23-01-17 Afella and other 4,000m peaks!

 

Latest Toubkal Winter Conditions Report – January 30, 2016

I got back from a fantastic six-day trip with Alexander from Sweden. We had some fresh snow right before our trip and were greeted with frozen water pipes at the gite in Imlil that we stayed in the night before starting our trip… which made for an adventure from the get go! Our local staff told us that the recent snow had reached all the way down to Tahannaout (small town en route to Imlil) which is around the 1,000m mark. We had a very cold trip but were grateful for the warmth of the wood burning stoves in the common rooms of the Mouflons refuge.

 

The conditions were pretty challenging over the week with very cold temperatures and big drifts of wind slab. We had to turn back on one occasion due to upside down snow (hard slab overlaying soft snow).

 

23-01-17 South Col of Toubkal

 

24-01-17 Alexander working hard at our snowpit heading toward Akioud

 

 

Snowpack and Snow Cover

The cover remains fantastic but there continues to be serious avalanche risk especially on leeward and cross loaded slopes.  As mentioned, we found a number of more northerly slopes with upside down snow and also came across big drifts of wind slab. For the most part during our trip we couldn’t go anywhere near north to north-easterly aspects.

 

There was a serious warming over this last weekend with the freezing level going up to 3,600m. With the drop in temperature over the next couple of days, we should see the snowpack consolidated and become more stable…  there is more snow coming though. Watch the wind and how it deposits the new snow. Be diligent with checking the snowpack and its stability and where the wind is transporting it and also watch for heavy saturated snow later in the week as it is set to warm up again next weekend. Be on the look out for upside down snow as well as slab sitting on top of suncrust or another hard layer. Check to see how these are interacting and watch out for clean easy shears of slab on a weak layer or weak interface. We found in places a collapsing weak layer. Really watch for hollow sounding snowpack!

 

30-01-17 http://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Toubkal/forecasts/4167

 

Climbing Conditions  

The ice around the refuge was good, but the approach slope to Chockstone Gully as well as Curtain Call (the ice smear on the left) were loaded towards the top.  The Afekhoi cascades are fat and ready for climbing as well as the ice heading south towards Tizi Ouagane. The big lines on Afella looked in good condition but the approach slopes were very dodgy last week, so take care when trying to climb bigger lines on Afella, Ras etc! All the major gully lines were very laden with drifts so avoid those for the time being.

 

27-01-17 Afekhoi cascades

 

26-01-17 Toubkal West

 

26-01-17 Afella

 

26-01-17 Alexander going for it on the ice heading toward Tizi Ouagane

 

Refuge Access

Porters are essential for getting supplies and extra gear up to the refuge as the track has snow on it. Mules can get as far as Sidi Cham (2,350m), but not all the way to the refuge. Do make sure to pay your porters and muleteers properly and keep to 80kg for a mule load and 20 to 25kg for a porter!

 

24-01-17 Akioud

 

Winter Conditions Summary

There is fantastic snow cover in the High Atlas and with the warming over the weekend and now a cold couple of days the snowpack should really start to stabilize. There is more snow predicted mid week as well as a warming over the weekend so do stay diligent assessing the snowpack, watching how the winds deposit the fresh snow. Be on the look out for weak layers and easy sliding on snowpack stability tests that look at shear quality. Also watch for hollow and collapsing under foot snowpack!  The ice climbing is very good, but really watch the approach slopes to get on to the climbs.

 

23-01-17 Me and Alexander on the cold summit of Toubkal -25 with the wind chill at least!

 

For a personalised trekking, guiding or instruction service and/or logistics for Toubkal and the High Atlas, get in touch with us here at The Mountain People!

 

Disclaimer: as a mountaineering instructor I have had avalanche risk assessment training and have a good level of experience but am by no means a professional avalanche forecaster. These reports aim to give you a general idea of the winter conditions for a few days ahead and the risks involved but please be diligent in checking weather forecasts yourself and monitoring the conditions when you are out in the High Atlas.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Blog, Climbing Information, Conditions, High Atlas, Ice Climbing, James, Mountain Information, Mountaineering, Winter
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How Many Deaths on Toubkal…

Nearing Tizi Toubkal in the South Cwm

Nearing Tizi Toubkal in the South Cwm

One of the search terms on Google that leads people to The Mountain People website is, ‘how many deaths on Toubkal due to avalanches’.

 

This might seem like an odd search initially, but it actually reflects the lack of information that we take for granted in the UK, such as the superlative Scottish Avalanche Information Service and Mountain Weather Information Service.

 

We are all used to the daily routine of consulting and poring over the current meteorological, avalanche conditions or the whereabouts of particular blackspots. However, focusing on a bodycount does seems a little odd: all mountains are dangerous, whatever the season. Whether a bodycount is high or zero, the risks remain.

 

This confirmed some reflections that been prompted after reading the trip report of an independent traveller, Holiday Nomad (link below), who climbed Toubkal at the end of March 2013.

 

There is nothing untoward or unusually risky about climbing Toubkal. It is widely recognised as a straight-forward trekking peak with no major technical difficulties on the voies normales. However, in winter conditions it necessitates a serious approach, with the right equipment (i.e., ice axe and crampons), and perhaps more importantly, the right mindset. The trouble seems to be that individuals make the wrong call in these areas, whether through innocent ignorance or downright folly.

 

Preparing for the traverse from Tizi Toubkal onto the summit plateau

Preparing for the traverse from Tizi Toubkal onto the summit plateau

If you forget your ice axe or crampons, you can normally get by, whether kicking steps with your crampons or cutting them with your ice axe, depending on which you have left. You may even be able to get yourself out of trouble by cutting steps with the edge of your boots. However, there are a number of areas on Toubkal where you would simply not want to be in such a predicament, especially on bullet hard névé. One of the most exposed areas is just above Tizi Toubkal on the South Cwm route, where an exposed traverse across to the summit plateau is required. To the west are precipitous cliffs and to the east is a moderate slope which ends abruptly with a 500m high rock face.

 

In fact, this particular spot is reminiscent of the area on Snowdon in Wales where the mountain railway crosses above the crags of Clogwyn Coch. The railway is dug into the mountain on its traverse, making for a tempting platform on which to walk. However, when banked out with snow and ice, a slip here would result in an increasingly rapid slide and eventual fall over the cliff tops (link beow). In recently harsh winters, there has been a handful of fatalities where the scenario above unfolded (link below).

 

The other thing to bear in mind is that the summit plateau of Toubkal can be very windy. This can come as a shock, as prevailing winter conditions are cold and dry. However, the combination of cold and wind translates into extreme windchill, so it is advisable to have a flexible clothing system that can deal with the wind. Moreover, wind can have further implications for safety, if one is without ice axe or crampons – a sudden gust of wind could quite easily cause one to lose balance and precipitate into an uncontrollable slide. If you want an idea of what it is like to slide down a mountainside out of control, watch the video below, which is again from Snowdon earlier this winter (link at bottom of page).

 

Summit cliffs of Toubkal

Summit cliffs of Toubkal

To come back briefly to the theme of avalanches, they do occur in the High Atlas, in the same way as in all mountain areas where humans or human property come into contact with the mountain. Fortunately, the level of incidence seems low, which could be explained by lack of media coverage, relatively low levels of people in the mountains or otherwise. However, the point is to remain aware and informed, and I recommend a great book on avalanche awareness that gave me a lot of confidence in assessing conditions recently in Scotland: Snow Sense by Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler (link below).

 

Lastly, in an age where the apprenticeship process of ‘learning the ropes’ seems to be waning, either get out with an experienced, knowledgeable friend or get yourself an instructor. You may get lucky and be able to rely on good-hearted members of the public to help you in a tight spot. However, there is no shame in going back to basics in the old school and learning the ‘noble art’ of step cutting from someone, whether you have bought their services with money or beer! Alan Halewood, a local Fort William guide had to employ these techniques, drawing on the assistance of his two clients at the end of this season on Ben Nevis (link below).

 

Ice axe, crampon, avalanche awareness skills are life long skills once acquired, and may well just save your life and the lives of others right when you need them.

 


 

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Toubkal Winter Conditions #3 Dec 2016

Chilling out in the sun after a few pitch up some rock near the refuge! 22-12-16

Latest Toubkal Winter Conditions Report

Right before the Christmas break I was out with Patrick for five days of winter mountaineering and climbing. The conditions looked set to be pretty good since there had been some stable weather for a few weeks and the snowpack looked consolidated – but the weekend before the trip started some serious snow came in… 30cm plus! We managed to get some winter climbing in around the hut, but as the week progressed we found more and more weaknesses in the snowpack along with a couple of days of warm weather.  Patrick, on his last day, made quick work of Toubkal up the South Col route… well done!

 

 

Snowpack and Snow Cover

There is great snow cover in the High Atlas Mountains. There were lots of signs of slab avalanches on N to NE slopes. We saw crowns around the Akioud and Afella area. On more northerly slopes in shallow pack we found cup and faceted crystals around 30cm deep due to the cold conditions.

 

Akioud and a crown on the right where a slab released sometime over the weekend (20-12-16)

 

Another crown on a more easterly slope on Afella (20-12-16)

 

There were a few days of warming on Wednesday and Thursday, but the colder conditions seem to be persisting, so the snowpack will take longer to consolidate. Do take care on more northerly (NE, N and NW) aspect slopes as they will have remained cold and therefore dry snow metamorphism will need plenty of time to firm up and recreate a stable snowpack. The big gully lines up to the Tadat and Clocheton cols looked pretty loaded. There are serious weak layers in the snowpack, so make sure to be diligent by checking the snowpack, following the weather and avoiding loaded slopes!

 

Clocheton gully loaded (23-12-16)

Tizi Ouagane looking heavy laden! (22-12-16)

 

Start of the South Col route up Toubkal (22-12-16)

Climbing Conditions  

We couldn’t get to Chockstone Gully as we found the top section of the approach slope too dodgy to climb, but when conditions get better the lower section of the route is in condition. Routes on Afella, Ras and Toubkal West all need more time as they are heavy laden after the recent snow and need time to firm up on the snow sections. The ice all looked to be in condition… just needs more time and for the rest of the routes to firm up. The Afekhoi cascades look good, but do take care on the approach slopes!

 

Toubkal West / Tete Ouanoums (22-12-16)

 

Afella with ice looking good but more time needed for the gully snow to firm up (20-12-16)

 

Refuge Access

Porters are essential for getting supplies and extra gear up to the refuge as the track has snow on it. Mules can get as far as Sidi Cham (2,350m), but not all the way to the refuge. Do make sure to pay your porters and muleteers properly and keep to 80kg for a mule load and 20 to 25kgs for a porter!

 

Winter Conditions Summary

The snowpack has some serious weak layers within the first 30cm and even down to a metre in deeper sections. Do take care and avoid more northerly aspect slopes (E, NE, N, NW) and continue to monitor the weather. It looks like colder conditions are set for this week which will mean snowpack instabilities will remain. The winter climbing is looking like it will become very good when more favorable weather conditions help firm up snow slopes and gully lines, and the ice sections on Toubkal West, Afella and Ras all are coming into condition, but more time is needed for the whole routes to come into condition.

 

For a personalised trekking, guiding or instruction service and/or logistics for Toubkal and the High Atlas, get in touch with us here at The Mountain People!

 

James, Full-time guide/instructor for TMP

Disclaimer: as a mountaineering instructor I have had avalanche risk assessment training and have a good level of experience but am by no means a professional avalanche forecaster. These reports aim to give you a general idea of the winter conditions for a few days ahead and the risks involved but please be diligent in checking weather forecasts yourself and monitoring the conditions when you are out in the High Atlas.

 

Patrick getting his swing dialled 🙂

 

Categories: Blog, Climbing Information, Conditions, High Atlas, Ice Climbing, James, Morocco, Mountain Information, Mountaineering, Winter
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