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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. 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.





Not such good ice near Tizi Ouagane




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!




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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Winter Climbing Part II – Training

Winter Climbing Part II – Training


Winter Climbing Part II – Training


Before I get into things I want to suggest that anyone embarking on winter specific training has a good level of aerobic fitness and strength already in place. If this isn’t in place, then the following isn’t going to be very helpful.

If you missed part I on getting started with winter climbing, you can find it here >

We are going to focus on two areas that should set you up well for this season. Firstly, getting some good grip strength built up before you find yourself hanging off your tools on some steep ground and, secondly, winter climbing specific strength exercises for the arms, back and calves.


The general rules here are:


  • Overload – your muscles gain strength by overloading them and giving them rest and recovery time and then repeating. Make sure to increase weight or resistance as your muscles adapt to a given load.
  • Rest and recover well and don’t over do it! Listen to your body and if pain/soreness persists for more than a couple of days after any workout, then rest till symptoms subside.
  • Consistency is key, so plan your workouts well.


Workout Vocab:


A ‘rep’ is one movement e.g. one sit up.


A ‘set’ is a chosen number of reps e.g. I did 3 sets of 20 sit ups.



GRIP STRENGTH – Two and/or Single Arm Tool Hangs



















At the beginning, start with two arm hangs and and as you progress move to one arm hangs.


“I have yet to find any exercise that builds the specific strength of hanging off an ice tool other than hanging off an ice tool.”

‘Ice and Mixed Climbing: Modern Technique’ by Will Gadd




Two Arm Hangs – hang for 30 seconds or till grip failure and then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat three to four times to complete a set. Do three to six sets of these.


One Arm Hangs – hang till near grip failure (could be as short as five seconds) and then swap to the other arm and hang till near failure. Two hangs on each arm are to equal a set. Do four to six sets of these and rest three to five minutes between each set.


When you can hang for longer than 30 seconds on two arms you are probably ready for one arm hangs or you can add weight. When you can hang for longer 30 seconds on one arm then add weight using a weight belt, loaded pack or some other way of attaching weight to your body!




Gloves, ice tools and a pull up bar. Be sure to connect your tools in a way that isn’t going to ruin the pull up bar at the gym!



Do this workout twice a week.


SWING ENDURANCE – Over head hammer swings



Get a lightweight dumbbell and do 30 to 40 hammer swings on one arm and then switch to the other. This makes up one set and you want to do three to four sets per session. Your goal is to be able to do 30 plus reps as you are aiming to build up muscle endurance i.e. being able to swing your tools all day.



Lightweight dumbbells



Do this workout twice a week.




















PULLING POWER – The classic pull up but with a twist



Pull ups are the benchmark exercise for the upper body for climbing, but often times it is difficult to get started. I personally find pull ups to be a real challenge and and am currently doing this program. The program comes from ‘Training for the New Alpinism’ and has been tested and used to build pull up power by many who have struggled to either move beyond a certain number of reps or who can hardly do even a few pull ups. It uses the tested method in weight training that by increasing the resistance to near max effort (where you can only complete one to two reps) you increase your strength.


This exercise is for those who can complete five or more full weight pull ups. If you can’t then you will want to start with assisted pull ups first e.g. having one or both of your legs behind you on a raised box or bench and using your legs to aid you in doing the pull ups.


For those who can already do five or more pull ups you will want to find the right amount of weight where you can only just complete the rep(s). I am currently using a 20kg weight to do 1 rep set and 15kg for two rep sets. Adjust according to your current level.



Pull up bar and weight belt or a way to fix weight to yourself. I use a pack and just put in the weight I want.



Do this workout twice a week.




Calf stands are a simple exercise to help you get ready for long routes where you put a good amount of strain your calves. Essentially, you need to find a curb, stair or box and place the ball of your feet on the edge and then stand on one foot till you lose balance or get pumped. Then switch to the other calf. If you want to make it harder, then slowly lower and raise your heel up and down. Do as many as you can stand, but do make sure you are warmed up and also stretch out afterwards!



Edge, box or curb



Do this workout twice a week.


UP & DOWNS – Climbing up and down and up and down!


I don’t really know what else to call these, but here we go: if you have access to a climbing wall where there are auto belays, then you are ready to go. Take your harness and winter climbing boots to the climbing wall and find an auto belay wall that has two to three easy routes with big holds. Then clip in and climb up one route and then down climb using any holds to just above the ground. Then climb up the next easy route and down again. Keep doing this for 15 to 30 minutes straight without any rests on the ground. Start with two sets of 15 to 30 minutes and then just increase the time for the two sets as your endurance improves. You can also add weight by using a pack loaded with kit equaling 10% of your body weight to increase resistance. 


I would take an ipod with some good music or podcasts to listen as it can become a bit boring. This is going to give you the endurance you need for those 300m ice routes you want to climb on Ben Nevis – it’s all about getting in some mileage!



A final word of advice for getting ready for those dream routes:  it is really important to have a good level of general strength and aerobic fitness as I mentioned at the beginning. You need to do your push ups, bar / box dips, core workouts, strength and aerobic training. This cannot be over emphasized as it prevents injury.


Aerobic Training


For aerobic fitness I would highly recommend getting a heart rate monitor. There are some really great ones that track your recovery from your previous workouts – I find this very useful in really knowing when I can keep pushing or when I need to lay off!


A general principle for running is that you want to do one long run a week (20 to 30% of your total aerobic training for the week) where you are running at 50-75% of your max heart rate (HR). This is a slow steady run and you should be able to carry on a conversation if running with someone. You want to build it up slowly over time. A good rule is to increase the time you run for by 10% from the previous week. This builds up your ability to sustain all day mountaineering activity. Then you want to do one to two runs that are 75-80% of your max HR. These runs should make up 10% percent of your total aerobic training for the week. Then the rest of the running should be done at 75% of your max HR.


Example running regime:


Two hour long run at 75% or less of your max HR on Saturday morning

One hour run at 75% to 80% of max HR Tuesday after work

Three shorter runs at 75% of max HR or less on Thursday and Friday after work.


These exercises have been drawn from two main sources, both of which I highly recommend:


  1. ‘Training for the New Alpinism’ (House and Johnston)
  2. ‘Ice & Mixed Climbing: Modern Technique’ (Will Gadd)


Everything worth going for in life takes tenacity, hard work and commitment. So train hard and climb hard!

Categories: Ice Climbing, James, Top Tips, Training, Winter
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Winter Climbing Part I – Getting started

Winter Climbing Part I – Getting started


Winter Climbing Part I – Getting started


Winter climbing has become a great love of mine over the years and my introduction to it was fairly straightforward. I started out with rock climbing over ten years ago and then gained scrambling and winter hill walking skills – all really useful foundational skills for getting ready for the vertical winter world. I haven’t looked back since!


Winter climbing is the logical progression from these essential skills so it is important to get to grips with things like navigation, winter walking and movement skills (e.g. using an ice axe and crampons), and snow/rock anchor building, to name just a few.  


So here are a few tips as you get started on your journey into the wild and wonderful world of winter climbing:


  • Wherever possible climb with more experienced and stronger climbers! This served me very well over my first two winter seasons climbing, and allowed me to move from being a grade III climber to a grade V ice and VI mixed climber fairly quickly. It allows you to get the much needed mileage in on routes, but in a safe way and you can pick up little hard won tricks from those more experienced.


  • Try to get a good block of time to get some momentum. Two to three weeks will allow you to ease into the season as well as build up your confidence before going for that big objective you are aiming for. During my first winter climbing season, my friend Joel and I went from Curved Ridge II/III, to Aonach Eagach II/III to finally tackling Tower Ridge IV,3 as a finish to the season. Try to get in a week to two weeks winter climbing if you can!


  • Make sure you have a very good level of aerobic fitness and general strength. This is key as it will allow you get out for as many days as you can during your block of time with minimum rest and recovery days! And yes, do consider taking a rest day now and then especially when the avalanche risk is high. For more on general fitness see…


Hopefully The Mountain People’s Scottish Winter trip this year will give many of you the opportunity to progress as winter walkers, mountaineers and climbers and gain new skills and experience for the years ahead!


Coming up in Winter Climbing Part II: how to train for winter climbing.

Categories: Blog, Ice Climbing, James, Training, Winter
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