Tag Archives: The Mountain People

Top 5 Mountaineering Companies in the Moroccan High Atlas [Part 2]

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
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

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

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:



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.



The Mountain Guiding Company |

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.



  • 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
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Is responsible tourism just a big, fat contradiction?


Patagonia’s environmental biography so far

James and Miriam, members of my team, read Patagonia’s story recently, ‘The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned From Patagonia’s First 40 Years‘, and passed it on to me. I was keen to read the book, knowing a little about Patagonia’s environmental ethos already, but mostly interested by the challenging facts and angles that James had begun to recount to me. (They also make some nice kit, but that’s beside the point!)


The back cover immediately summed it up for me:


Yvon and Vincent aren’t here to bum you out about a planet turning to desert, or to shame you into anything. They affirm that the ingenuity and hard work required to clean up our offices and industries will be the most rewarding (and profitable) work we do.


I felt relieved that the scope of the book was real, tangible and affirming and began the story, eager to draw upon and utilise the experience of others.


However, having progressed into the meat of the book, I opened my RSS reader this morning and read with interest a post from Trek the Andes: ‘Responsible Peru treks – fact or fiction?‘. The article challenged me in turn, as Patagonia’s story had been doing so far. I couldn’t help but feel a check in my spirit with regard to our operations in the High Atlas of Morocco. I quote the fourth paragraph:


Responsible tourism is a broad spectrum and often a contradictory one. Flying several thousand miles to trek on the other side of the world that is bad; you damage the ozone. But I provide work for porters and guides is that not good? Buying bottles of water from the ladies along the Inca Trail that is bad, you should be refilling your water bottles and cutting down on plastics. But I am providing these Andean people with income, am I not good?


We as a company expect that our clients will fly into Marrakech, typically from the UK, in order to start the process of traveling to Imlil and then begin the trek to the Toubkal area. Aircraft produce a huge amount of CO2, which contributes to the process of global warming, causing a whole number of problems for the environment. And yet we as The Mountain People care deeply about the environment in which we live and operate. How do we reconcile the two?


Moreover, Trek the Andes rightly points out that responsible tourism claims are made by all and sundry these days, likening them to background noise:


Click on any trek operator’s website or leaf through the pages of any travel company’s brochure and responsible travel will leap out at you. Well they would like it to but it has suffered something of the same fate as car alarms. Once you hear the same noise so many times you no longer hear it. Some companies clearly do practice responsible tourism but for other trekking agencies it appears to be no more than a marketing tool. When everyone proclaims it, who do we choose who we believe?


When I say we care deeply about the environment, do you really believe me? What makes our claim any different from the myriad other ones? I have even pointed out where our claim fails before a potential client even steps foot in Morocco.


The trouble with tourism, let alone anything in the world, is that in order to engage with it, we will inevitably cause waste and damage. And yet there is something profound in the human spirit that seeks adventure, to push physical and mental boundaries, to find wilderness and ultimately attain a deeper sense of being alive, especially coming from an increasingly desk-bound, office-orientated culture with its ensuing checks and barriers.


The challenge then is to be true to ourselves without doing so at the expense of the environment. The natural world has a certain resilience and the capacity to regenerate, but would be much the better for our full cooperation in reducing our footprint.


At this point we don’t have all, let alone many, of the answers. The biggest two issues though seem clear: airplane travel from the UK to Morocco is polluting; getting heavy and bulky climbing and mountaineering equipment to Morocco. So, this then remains essentially a memorandum of understanding amongst The Mountain People. We see the contradictions, we see the damage, but we want to overcome it in a healthy way and with ingenuity. The solution is not to do nothing or go nowhere. To do so would deny something within us all, but to paraphrase Trek the Andes:


To stay at home and not trek the Atlas; that is not the answer. Come and visit this beautiful place, come and trek these magnificent hills and come and meet its people.

Categories: Blog, Personal, Responsibility, Simon
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

To Opposite Extremes

James on La Gravité Abolie 6c

James on La Gravité Abolie 6c

James, Matt and I got out for some sport climbing yesterday. It was the complete opposite of six weeks in the Scottish winter – jeans, t-shirts, sunshine, dry rock!


I think we were all pretty rusty, especially me, but pushed ourselves in the time we had. We warmed up on Perlin Pinpin 5c, then Matt and I took it up a level on La Grande Dalle 6a, and the main event was James finishing a mini-project La Gravité Abolie 6c.


Two routes each, so not bad for half an afternoon and everyone went home happy.


Check out more photos on the Facebook page.

Categories: Blog, James, Matt, Personal, Simon, Sport climbing
Tags: , , , ,

Leave a comment

Highland Hobo Epilogue

Welcome home card

Welcome home card

Mark Chadwick, the Course Director for my Winter Mountain Leader (WML) assessment, passed my logbook across the table. There was a new red sticker in the WML section.


I had passed.


Primarily I was relieved, but then wondered what to do next. Better go and pack up and leave, was my conclusion. Clearly the culmination of six weeks was a huge anticlimax, but I was profoundly glad that the process had come to a happy end.


During the assessment, I was reminded of the Kraken, a mythical sea monster that is said to have ambushed ships and consumed their crews. Another candidate, Lucy Wallace of Wild on Arran, who passed the week before, had also described the process like a sudden, but expected, attack by demons:


There is a demon waiting out there in the storm for every prospective winter ML candidate.  You know it is coming, but you have to wait to learn how and when it will attack.


Although the weather was wild on the first day when it became hard to see fellow candidates in the blizzard carrying out their ice axe arrest skills 10 metres down on a slope, I felt we were given a reprieve on the expedition. Navigation plays a big part in the assessment, and although we had low visibility, walking in cloud predominantly, there were no winds to deal with at the critical points.


Tennyson wrote a sonnet about the Kraken, but interestingly in the poem the beast remains hidden in the depths, silent, still and waiting. Only one day will it awake and roar to the surface. We had escaped the Kraken – the weather beasts had granted us safe passage, but they are still out there waiting for the unwary…


So there ends the mini-chronicle of the highland hobo. Hopefully most of my walking will now be in and out from climbing routes and leading clients and friends in winter conditions!

Categories: Blog, NGBs, Personal, Simon, Winter
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment