My two weeks in Morocco were drawing to a close and I only had one day until the AUMC (Aston University Mountaineering Club) descended from the Toubkal refuge back to Imlil. The day before we had been up Jbel Toubkal, but now I was looking for more of a challenge- somewhere away from the beaten track.
I dragged out my tattered map and scanned it for the nearest accessible 4000m’er. After a short internal debate I decided upon a 4030m peak further up the valley, which I would later discover on SummitPost, was called Akioud.
I stocked up at the Toubkal refuge on mars bars and more chocolate biscuits stole some of my friend’s water and set off up the valley, climbing the slopes above the refuge. After a good twenty minutes up the torturously steep rise I came to the stream that ran below a cliff face which effectively blocked off the side valley which led to my peak- accessible either by a round about route of traversing a scree field higher up or by climbing up through a narrow gorge. I chose the later approach.
This gorge presented several challenges, including a cliff on the left hand side; steep scree on the right leading to another face on the right and in between grew huge thistles. The gorge was nonetheless very beautiful with small waterfalls cascading over wet rocks and with sun lit rocks quickly warming the air. It was necessary to cross the river at two points to avoid the vertical walls. I was unable to avoid the thistles.
The valley below Akioud- easy to see the sense of peace it gave.
After about half an hour I climbed out of the gorge, which had opened up into a large and once more scree-strewn valley, the river ran between a band of green upwards, hugged in places by the receded snow. The valley in front was surrounded by cliffs forming a wall broken as far as I could see only by two cols, the right hand one of which was my destination.
I climbed upwards, without a path and noted how the scree changed consistency from large loose rocks to a fine texture, which made walking upwards less of challenge as I was able to dig in. I was not looking forward however to coming back down. I had one nerve shattering moment whereby the rock on which I stood moments to take a series of panoramic photographs came loose and hurtled down the slope below me, shattering into many small pieces. The echoes across the valley drowned out the bleating of the goats far below and I wondered about the myths of loud noises causing rock falls.
View back down from the col.
Rather more slowly I reached the col, glad to be standing on firm rock once more. The col split in two, divided by a large buttress of rock. Now for another who would follow my steps I would advise climbing to the left hand side, as for the descent it is far easier as it does not require traversing the scree field- on both sides. I had, rather naively expected to have seen a route upwards leading from the col. A wall of rock greeted me instead. My view was impaired by the rock tower in front of me (another reason to take the left hand side of the col) so I decided, understanding that it might be in vain, to descend down this new scree field and attempt to find a route up round the back of the mountain. The map had shown a scramble route this way however I was in no way inclined to trust a map that had already led me into some places I had rather not gone.
The cliff base rose round the back and receded to the scree and larger rocks below it. Carefully, I traversed across the scree field, which was blessedly stable and I soon began a scramble up the rocks leading back up towards my peak. I was thrilled to be able to make more progress however I feared I would run into a dead end at that despite my efforts the mountain would still deny me its summit.
Luck was with me, the path soon opened onto another scree field, one that led to a ridge above. This scree field was not as easy as the last and once again I found myself gripping to the cliff face to make progress, another scary moment when the rock I was gripping came away from the face almost sending me back down the mountain. The views from the ridge are spectacular; from my elevation and angle I can see the steep cliffs of the east face of Jbel Toubkal.
The ridge top was nice and flat, making me feel secure for the first time since I had been in the valley. The next ascent once more looked challenging; another cliff rose above me with a steep scree field hugging its north-western side. I contemplated my next actions while chomping on half a Mars Bar and was close to turning back when I spied a cairn! I then saw another and another until it became clear there was a path leading up the base of the cliff, the first I had found all day.
The final assault was a slog, far more taxing than the 200m higher Jebel Toubkal. My breath was far more difficult to catch and the initial dull throb of a headache made its presence felt. Leaving my poles behind for the last twenty metres I easily climbed up the sloping rock slabs leading to the summit. The views were worth the effort, from where I stood I could see into the valley below and across into new, far greener valleys to the west. There were very impressive rock formations surrounding me- jagged spears rising high from the valley below. I stayed on the top for a good ten minutes, and finished my Mars Bar.
I reclaimed my poles, only to snap one immediately after. This led to a frustrating descent with only one pole, which wrecked havoc on my balance. Back on the ridge I found a small gully in the east side and I decided to try this as a new route, not fancying the steep scree field that I had climbed. This proved to be a committed but manageable descent; the scree was of the same fine quality as on the way up, yet still but loose. Half jogging, half skiing I quickly lost height, several times losing my balance resulting in several cuts and bruises. Once back onto the more solid ground the descent became easier and at times I was even able to follow a path, although it always managed to escape me.
This had proved to be one of the most rewarding days of the expedition.