The concept of the Refuge du Toubkal dates back to an ill-fated expedition to the summit, illness affected the party during its descent, and it was decided that a return to Aroumd that day was not possible. Instead, a bivouac was left with a long and cold evening during which to reflect upon the lack of adequate provision for mountaineers in this area, was one Louis Neltner, French geologist and Atlas specialist. The product of his reflection was the Neltner Refuge, with still stands today.
With him, that night was certain Omar Ait Elkadi, since 1925, the first and only guide in the valley. It was appropriate, therefore, that when the Neltner Refuge opened in 1938, he was appointed its first guard. This was a position he would hold until he was succeeded in 1968 by none other than his son, Lahcen Ait Elkadi, who himself would hold the position until his retirement in 1985.
Even now, the responsibility of Guerdien remains within his family. Reflecting the constantly increasing pressure on the refuge from growing numbers of trekkers, the burden of guardian has been shared equally between Lahcen’s three sons for the last two decades and more. There are plans that one day, their position should be passed on to a fourth generation of the family. In many ways, the family history of the Ait Elkadis is the history of the Neltner Refuge. Quite fittingly, a photograph of the Ait Elkadis is still proudly displayed in one of its dining rooms.