The End of the African Ski Odyssey

February 20, 2017 – 11:00 AM GMT

We’re getting all of our gear packed up at the Refuge du Toubkal and preparing for our ski and hike down to Imlil.  Today is the end of our ski adventure in Morocco, as we are heading out of the mountains and back to Marrakech.  We’ve arranged for a muleteer to meet us at snowline to help carry our gear back down to Imlil.

It’s been a fun few days out of the refuge here, and we’ve been fortunate to ski some really great lines, but the weather has deteriorated in the last couple days, so it’s time to pack it in – we’re cutting out one night earlier than we initially planned.  It’s probably for the best, we’re both pretty exhausted after 8 days in a row of skiing and climbing above 3000 m, sometimes above 4000m.

Three days ago we climbed Ras n’Ouanoukrim, one of the 4000 m peaks near the hut, and skied the northeast couloir.  A 900 m run all the way back down to the hut, which was really cool, and a few of the guides back at the refuge seemed pretty impressed that we skied it.  And then the day before yesterday we were able to climb Jbel Toubkal, the highest mountain in Morocco, and in North Africa, at 4167m.  The weather wasn’t terrific, but we had the summit to ourselves and were able to ski right off the summit, all the way back down to the valley via the northwest face – about 1000 m of fun skiing back to the hut.

Jbel Toubkal is a very popular trekking peak, and there have been many guided groups coming through for a night or two to climb the peak, so the refuge here has been much busier than over at Refuge de Lépiney.  Hardly any others skiing though 🙂

Yesterday was supposed to be our last day of skiing in Morocco.  For the occasion we decided it would be fitting to ski down Brèche des Clochetons, a 700 m couloir just around the corner from the refuge that we had read about, and looked at in previous days.  It looked awesome.

We got a casual start to the morning, about 10:00 or so, and started the bootback up the couloir.  It was as we expected, and looked like a great run.  As we neared the top we started to notice some clouds rolling in, but nothing too concerning. Yet.  We hurried to ski the first 100 m or so of the couloir, but then the clouds completely socked us in.  A total whiteout and we couldn’t tell up from down. After standing on the side of the near 40 degree slope for almost an hour, waiting and hoping for the clouds to clear (they didn’t), we finally resolved to make our way down in the whiteout.  It wasn’t much fun.  Matt pulled out a short piece of rope and tied it to his ski pole to provide minimal depth perception down the slope, and we used some of the rock features to navigate our way down.  After another hour we were at the bottom and basically stumbled upon the hut, which was also socked in at that point.  It was kind of a bittersweet way to end the ski trip, but we could tell that the tank was empty and we were ready to head down.

For the rest of the day yesterday we offered up proposals and deals to each other on what it would take to ski another day in Morroco.  Yesterday was our 9th day of skiing, and I really wanted to get to 10, just to round it off nicely, despite the fact my legs were pretty much shot.  Just before bed Matt offered up the winning deal:  “if it’s bluebird in the morning, we’ll climb back up Brèche des Clochetons just like we did today, and ski it the way it’s supposed to be skied”.  I was sold.

So that’s what we did this morning.  I was wide awake before my alarm went off at 6:00, to see what the skies looked like.  They were clear.  At 8:00 we were out the door with skis on and starting back up the same couloir that gave us a beating yesterday.  The fatigue seemed to disappear as we started climbing with perfect weather and a few cm’s of fresh snow.  By 10:00 we were at the top and the skies were still holding nicely.  We wasted no time and quickly clicked in to the skis for our “very last” run in Morocco.  It was perfect – a little fresh snow to carve, beautiful views, and great turns all the way to the bottom.  Couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the skiing in Africa odyssey.  (Side note: a couple hours later, as we were leaving the refuge to ski down to the valley, the clouds started rolling in again.  When we looked back for our last views up to Toubkal and some of the other high peaks, we couldn’t see the top of the couloir we’d just skied.)

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