Lahcen Idmansour and I had been watching the weather in the Atlas Mountains like hawks . For a week we had hummed and haaed about setting off for a pass about 10km away from Imlil called Tizi Liqmt. It had been raining on and off for a week. The danger for us was that the rain makes the snow on the peaks unstable and no-one wants to face an avalanche. Finally, we decided on Sunday morning, meeting in the car park down the mule track from my mountain home at 8am. We had no idea when we set off that we were in for a wild walk in the Atlas.
A wild walk in the Atlas
I hadn’t seen Lahcen since I had gone off to walk the Jordan Trail and it was a happy reunion. He was the first guide I walked with after I got back from an elongated stay in Scotland due to covid border closures. I still think back to that broiling day in June when my face achieved tomato status as I hauled my unaccustomed body up 1200m of straight ascent.
Today, that wasn’t going to be a problem. We were starting at 2300m and aiming for the pass at 3550m but the day was overcast.
We set off in fine fettle. I was well kitted up and feeling rather swish in my new gear for testing by Rohan (see below) and we had plenty of water and food. Leaving the browns and reds of the Amazigh (Berber) villages behind us, we started to climb. The path was steep but zig zagged so we could keep up a good pace, in between catching up on the news.
Lahcen wanted to know all about Jordan and I wanted to hear how deep the snow was up at Toubkal. Very deep apparently which surprised me as from my terrace, the mountains look covered only on the peaks. I heard the sad news that a local guide, Brahim, had lost his life in the mountains near Tashdirt whilst I’d been away. He was with two clients in a snow-filled couloir, slipped and plunged to his death. It was a sober reminder of the dangers of the mountains in winter.
Let it snow
There had been spits of snow but at this point, about two hours in, it began in earnest. We stopped and put our crampons on. It is always a fine point about when to put on your crampons – too early and you are just going to trip over the submerged rocks, too late and you could have a nasty slip. I could feel ice under the new dusting of snow so was happy to do it early and keep an eye out for rocks.
We kept zig zagging up, the peak of Tizi Liqmt still just about visible. Within ten minutes it wasn’t. The snow was hammering down and the brown earth of the Atlas Mountains was now white. More than that, it was a total white out. Lahcen’s red jacket and my maroon one were still clearly visible but it was time for goggles and balaclavas.
The good thing was that the ground was now fully covered so cramponing was easier. The bad thing was that my views had dwindled to Lahcen’s back, or his tracks in the snow.
There is a joy to walking in the snow in the mountains, though. It’s a pure wilderness: empty and limitless. Lahcen and I kept going upwards, as the snow swirled. Finally, Lahcen turned to me.
‘Alice, we have a small problem. I think it is time for us to go back now. I am worried.’
I agreed immediately as the weather was really coming in.
Don’t panic Mr Mannering
‘Are you worried because of the snow and we are high?’
‘No, Alice, it’s the car. If we leave it too long, the car will be trapped and we won’t be able to get back to Imlil!’
We circled round and descended straight down, our crampons keeping us firmly on track. Lahcen pointed out the slide off from a recent avalanche. The snow kept falling.
When we got to the car, which we had left on a dirt track, it was cloaked in white. We shook down all our kit and cleaned off the windscreen, then edged around and started up the road. The mountain roads are extremely treacherous.
‘I’ve got new tyres on, it is just my brakes I worry about, they are not great on descents,’ Lahcen said comfortingly.
About half way down, we saw steam rising by the side of the road. Mohammed’s tagine stall was in full swing and after calling some greetings from the car, we were told to come out and have a glass of tea. We couldn’t stay for too long as we wanted to get down before the snow blocked the road. As we crested Tizi n Tamatert, we could see Imlil below us, also covered in snow, even though it is only 1750m high.
Warm and relaxed back in my house, my promise to myself is to get back up there soon – I want to get to the very top of the pass, but even more importantly, I want one of Mohammed’s tagines.
Lahcen can be contacted here.
For the hike I was testing out 4 pieces of Rohan kit.
The Merino Cool T is a long-sleeved, very soft and unscratchy base layer. It deals well with sweat but keeps you warm. I had put the Merino Fusion jumper on top of this as the day promised to be cold. It is a really stylish item so I must admit I had a bit of a pang using it for hiking but the high neck and the good length made it ideal for snowy conditions. I do think that Merino works well with changing body temperatures too. The Fjell Jacket I have worn several times before and it is a great mid/light outer layer. It’s very stretchy and has excellent pockets. It moves well with your body, noticeably so as I was using my poles a lot on this hike. The Fjell trousers were brilliant. They kept me warm and repelled the lighter snow. They are super mobile so there is no restriction at all even on big step ups and they have zips at the ankles for boot access and deep pockets at the knees.
As the snow increased to blizzard, I needed a waterproof top and trousers and also a down or puffer jacket.