The High Atlas Mountains are located in central Morocco which is part of the North African continent. There are three distinct sections to this mountain range. The western portion of the High Atlas Mountains stretches out from the Atlantic Ocean. This is the oldest section of the entire mountain range with a high point at Jbel Toubkal which stands at 4,167 meters. The summit can sometimes be viewed from the nearby city of Marrakech. The High Atlas Mountains in Morocco provide some of the most picturesque scenery in the world. The canyons, ravines, and gorges created from the mountain formation create an ambiance setting that is unlike any other place in the world.
As the High Atlas Mountains reach the middle of Morocco, they are referred to as the Central High Atlas. This section extends between the cities of Azilal and Ouarzazate and reaches a height of 2,500 meters. This however is not the highest point of the Central High Atlas Mountains. That can be found at Jbel Mgoun which stands at a massive 4068 m high.
The scenic display is similar to that of the mountains in the USA’s Colorado. There exist a variety of gorges, box canyons and plateaus here with peaks showing signs of natural wear and tear through millions of years. The Berbers are the main population group to be found in the Central High Atlas Mountains.
Once through the western and central portions of the mountain range, we reach the eastern portion. This segment is formed largely from the plateaus that create a starting point for the Mouloya River. The eastern portion of the High Atlas Mountain range extends from the town of Khenifra across to the anchor point at Jbel Ayachi. Spots inbetween these two anchor points include Jbel Saghro and Jbel Sirwa. Jbel or Mount Toubkal are farther in the distance.
A section of the Eastern High Atlas Mountains consists of the Tamlelt mountain structure with a high point of 3747m at Jbel Ayachi. From here, the eastern mountain portion falls down into the pre-Saharan mountain zone.
Embarking on a trekking adventure through the High Atlas Mountains gives a trekker the sense of what true Morocco is like. The pictures painted by the views and surrounding nature life often paint a much different picture of Morocco than those in a popular tourist hotspot location. Here is where life is taken down to its most basic form and the essence of Moroccan living shines through. Picturesque spots afforded by the gorges found at Dades and Todra and surrounding villages and Draa Valley are some of the most exuberant reasons to go trekking the High Atlas Mountains.
There is no bad time for hiking the High Atlas. No professional climbing experience is required. The average trekker can make it to the highest summit points in each of the three portions of the mountain range without much difficulty, though time to the top varies by fitness levels. There are trails and paths, but most are no larger than donkey or caravan routes. A Morocco tour operator can set you up with mules, guides and pre-reserved spots at Neltner Hut (shelter) at basecamp.
Along the way, expect to find valleys, gorges and quaint little villages that lend charm and flair to the Morocco trekking adventure. One of the first such encounters with charm and beauty is the village of Imlil. This is often the starting point for many hikes, treks and guided tours through the High Atlas Mountains. Even winter ascents of Mt. Toubkal depart from here. Imlil shines in beauty regardless of what day, time or season it may happen to be.
The trek continues on from Imlil on a pathway lined with a variety of trees: Apple, cherry, peach and walnut trees are the many highlighted on this portion of the trek toward Armed. These tree orchards have been around for as long as any native Moroccan can remember. No one knows exactly how or why the orchard remains; it is simply an exquisite site to behold for Moroccan residents and tourists alike.
Once past Armed, there are to be no more villages along the trek up the High Atlas Mountains; a scenery very much like the Ait Bouguemez Valley near MGoun. This scenery is soon replaced with valleys, lakes and mountain peaks. Each one a spectacular diamond in the rough.
One such diamond in the rough is the Ourika Valley. Named after the Ourika River, this valley runs the course of the High Atlas Mountains. In the summer, a trekker would be hard pressed to come across an area any greener or full in bloom of summer life than the Ourika Valley. It is a welcomed surprise for first time Moroccan visitors who expect the region to be nothing more than a big Sahara Desert.
With such a vast array of mountain range available in the beautiful region of Morocco, it is only natural to embark on a adventure through trekking in the High Atlas Mountains. Doing so will provide trekkers with unforgettable memories and place them in special group of fellow trekkers who tell the tale of trekking the majestic High Atlas, often reaching the top of North Africa, Mount Toubkal.
by Sam Mitchell