Mint Tea and Mint Views
I have been on two excursions to the Atlas Mountains. The first time I visited in 2012 I was crossing over them on the way to the Sahara Desert where I was to stay in a Berber encampment.
It was January and heavy snow made the journey quite dangerous. In fact, shortly after my own nail biting crawl across the paper thin mountain pass, 42 people tragically died when their own bus veered over the edge.
The second time I visited the Atlas Mountains was in 2015 when I climbed its tallest summit - Mount Toubkal. It was during this trip that I took two of my favourite mountain pictures - I call them "Simply Red" (available in canvas and poster)
and "Coolness" (available in canvas and poster).
Although Mount Toubkal is only 4,167 metres above sea level, it is still advisable to factor the acclimatisation process into any attempted summit. Our guide took us up, down and around the picturesque village of Imlil to acclimatise. Imlil is flanked by a gorgeous juniper forest, and is close to the very spooky shrine of Sidi Shamharush (the "King of the Jinn"!).
From Imlil we moved on to the Refuge Toubkal Les Mouflons. The Refuge, which bears more than a passing resemblance to a Shaolin Temple, is staffed by local Berbers and in the winter provides welcome relief from the bitter cold. It was so cold during our visit there that the nearby waterfall had partially frozen, forming a shell of ice encasing flowing liquid water - a real wonder to behold!
Our ascent to the top of Toubkal started at dawn from the Refuge. We were told that we would need to wear crampons, something I had never done before but was keen to try. Despite hiking in the hills around Imlil to acclimatise, I still suffered from minor altitude sickness during the final push to the top. I felt weak and sick, but the sickness passed after a while, just as the sun was rising.
By the time we made it to the top, it had been approaching mid-morning and the weather was clear. There wasn't a lot of snow at the top as the weather had been drier than usual, but the crampons proved essential for the descent as the constant melting and re-freezing of what little snow there was had turned parts of the mountain into an ice rink. The view was incredible. From the top we could see the Atlas Mountains, the Anti Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert and (according to the guide!) a red spot which was Marrakech.
Both of my trips to the Atlas Mountains started in Marrakech, a charming but challenging ancient city not dissimilar to the labyrinth from the David Bowie film of the same name. Although tourism and modernisation have left their mark on the city, the old town is still resplendent with some incredible architecture. The Madrasah Ben Yousef,
Bahia Palace, Dar al-Sa'eed and the famous Jardin Majorelle are just some of the treats for culture vultures to feast on. One of the hotels we stayed in, the not unreasonably priced "name of hotel" was itself an architectural gem. The blue tiles and orange trees of our Riad provided the perfect mise-en-scene for our recuperation process (which essentially involved eating a lot of prune tagine and drinking mint tea), and the warm hospitality of our hostess thawed our hearts!