Leaving the noisy city behind us, we head south toward the great heights and plunging valleys of the Toubkal Massif. After crossing the Haouz plain, we pass through the small town of Asni. From here our road starts to climb toward the foothills of the Atlas Range. Stretching out below us is the valley of Oued Rhirhaia, where the tiny villages of the region appear to dangle from the steep hillsides. Our path meanders through the mountains to the village of Imlil.
From here we begin our trek accompanied by our expert local guide, starting out first toward the village of Armed and the shrine of Sidi Chamarouch. The largest village in the valley, Armed rests on a moraine spur overlooking the valley floor. Armed is a classic example of a Berber village, with its mix of busy, colourful streets (often gridlocked by passing goat and cattle herds) traditional terraced farming, and welcoming guesthouses.
The Berber people have worked these lands for generations, transforming a harsh landscape into verdant, productive terrain that provides them with what they need to survive. Fields of wheat, corn and potatoes, as well as walnut, cherry and apple groves dot the landscape, turning the craggy mountainsides into green oases. We continue east, crossing the river and arriving at the shrine of Sidi Charamouch, a favourite destination of tourists and pilgrims alike, though only Muslims may cross the stone bridge to the shrine itself.
Sitting beside a small waterfall, the village is a jumbled grouping of houses that appear to melt into one another. Here the trail climbs steadily, meandering its way up toward the snowline and Toubkal Refuge. After the day's trek of approximately five hours we spend the night here, in anticipation of tomorrow's ascent to the summit.