you have my permission to not climb Toubkal

I visited Imlil because it was in the Atlas Mountains (which I’d heard were beautiful) and because, according to the map, it appeared to be a do-able half-day’s journey from Taroudant (which I hadn’t heard about but enjoyed very much when I somehow ended up there).

But getting the journey to Imlil done required a very full day, with three different grand taxis, a mini bus, and lots of waiting and staring into beautiful space:

Upon arrival, I was underwhelmed by the views:

I’d planned on a cheap bed in the dorm room at the local French Alpine Club refuge, but found the place padlocked and haunted-looking. I stood at the gate for a minute, stunned that my poorly-researched, last-minute plan hadn’t worked out. A man approached and asked if I needed a place to stay. I said I wanted to stay there, nodding towards the shuttered refuge. Ah, oui, but it’s closed. I bit my tongue. He shrugged and smiled. But I know a place you can stay, come! Of course he did. He brushed off my cynicism and assured me that the place was right over there, and was nice, and I was under no pressure to stay there.

So I stopped being a jerk and followed him. And the hotel was indeed just across the parking lot, and nice, and the owner, after hearing about my dorm room disappointment, gave me an embarrassingly low rate for a private room:

The hotel didn’t have heat or hot water. It also felt a touch haunted. And outside, the mist turned to rain.

But there was a heater in the lobby/dining hall/living room where I could thaw one side of my body at a time while working on a bracelet. Plus, the owner provides the convenient service of running to the little snack shack next door to pick up a tagine for you and then letting you pretend that you don’t know that he didn’t make it. I took him up on the offer.

So that night I stuffed myself with an enormous stew of chicken, carrots, potatoes, and olives while enjoying the sound of a large group of trekkers chattering to each other in Czech at the other tables. (I knew they were trekkers because they were more appropriately dressed than I was). A man wearing an orange, puffy, and deliciously warm-looking jacket turned to me and asked: “Did you just come back from Toubkal, or are you planning to go tomorrow?” I slowly chewed a huge piece of carrot as my mind mucked around for an answer. I swallowed. “Um. I was thinking I’d just check out, you know, the town here. And stuff”. He slowly shook his head.

Because this is the town:

And this is Toubkal (from 1:09 – wow!):


I smiled patiently at The Trekker’s disapproval of traveling all the way to Imlil and then not climbing the highest peak in North Africa. He didn’t know that until a few weeks prior I’d never heard of Toubkal and I still didn’t care about its height. I explained to him that feeling cold makes me sad. And Toubkal’s summit looked far away (and very cold). He tried to go into that old bit about how it all comes down to proper clothing blahblahblech. I slowly shook my head.

I went to bed. Shivering. Wearing most of my unproper clothes: two pairs of pants, t-shirt, long-sleeved hoodie, fleece, sweater, two pairs of socks, beach wrap wrapped around my neck. I laid on my back under so many polyester tiger-striped blankets that my hips felt bruised in the morning.

The first thing I saw in the earliest rays of dawn light was my breath floating above my numb face. My room still felt like a potato cellar, but it was lovely outside. I hiked up and around town on the path that leads, eventually, I suppose, to Toubkal.

After spending most of the past year in tropical or desert environments, the unexpected smell of damp fallen leaves, rich soil, and ripe apples made my chest hurt suddenly with thoughts of old friends and the familiar routines that we last shared at the end of the previous autumn in the eastern U.S.

I also felt happy. I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d want to be at that moment. I felt thankful to have such miss-able friends and to have lived a life comfortable enough for me to choose to leave it. To travel slowly, and think about how I’m traveling and how I interact with people, to form my own assumptions and then find out (again) that I got it wrong. And hold close to my heart all these places where I’m not part of the routine, and care about people who already have friends of their own. So I walked along, an ache in my throat and smiling, a jumble of longing and contentedness.

The night before, encased in those cold blankets, I’d decided I would wake up (hopefully), walk around town, and then catch the next minibus/grand taxi/flatbed/firstavailableride out of there. But I walked too far and felt too good to rush away. So when snow-capped mountains came into full view, I turned around, walked slowly back to town, and spent the afternoon trying to absorb the last warmth of the low fall sunlight while working again on that bracelet and listening to an audiobook.

And then I had yogurt and bread for dinner, zipped up my rain jacket over top of all my clothes (I hadn’t changed since the night before lest I lose precious warmth), shivered through the drizzly night, and in the morning headed back down the (smaller than Toubkal but still pretty darn high) mountain.

©, 2013-2016.



  1. Hanneke

    Donna! I am baking a bread and waiting for it to rise, so finally some peace and quiet to check out your blog. I just clicked on something and it can almost not be a coincidence that it is about hiking… Love your blog and love this story. I wonder though whether you are ready for our hike Saturday ;) There is not really another option than reaching that snowy top, or it would be sleeping in some cave somewhere on the way.


  2. Suzy

    Your miss-able friends feel your absence often, but I sure do love reading your posts and seeing the pictures of your adventure. I do this kinda masochistic thing to myself where I only let myself check your blog about once a month, so I have a good half-hour of reading and looking when I visit. It’s a nice Sunday ritual for me. So thanks for that. xoxoxo


    • Oh man, Suzy…so sweet! I think you were just reading and looking while I was writing and uploading (for the rideshare post…I just submitted that map, btw). You know I would get lonely out here if I didn’t get to share it with you. You’re so encouraging, even from thousands of miles away :)

      Liked by 1 person

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