We're off on another grand adventure! Trekking in Morocco's High Atlas Mountains had been on my to-do list for many years and now we were on our way to Marrakech, Morocco to make this wish a reality. We left home on June 15 and flew to Marrakesh by way of New York City and Lisbon, Portugal. Upon arrival in Marrakech we were met by Hamid, our guide for the trip. We arrived a day ahead of our group and had a little time to explore this vibrant city. One of the main attractions is the Djemaa el-Fna Square and the towering Koutoubia Mosque. Being Ramadan, the square was quiet during the day but after sunset and the call to prayer it came alive with Moroccans eager for a meal after 17 hours of fasting.
Koutoubia Mosque and Djemaa el-Fna Square
The next day we met our group, a multinational mix of folks from England, Wales, Scotland, U.S., France and Chile. We set off from Marrakesh on June 18 for the starting point of our long trek along the High Atlas. We stopped in the Berber town of Azilal. While Hamid was buying supplies we explored the market where everything from vegetables, fruit, nuts, meat, clothing and housewares were for sale.
|Market Day at Azilal|
We were surprised to see White Storks nesting on the minaret of a local mosque. I thought they bred in Europe and spent the winter in Africa. Morocco must be at the southern end of their breeding range.
For our first night we stayed in a traditional Berber gite or guest house in the tiny village of Iskataffen situated in the Bou Gemmaz Valley. Here people lead a peaceful life growing crops of apples, walnuts, wheat and barley and raising herds of sheep and goats.
|The Village of Iskataffen|
Early the next morning we were eager to set off on our 18-day trek. We met our trek crew composed of Mohamad our cook, his assistant Mohamad 2, five muleteers: Amgon, Abdoul, Yamine, Ali and Salah and 7 mules. We headed down valley and took a short detour to a Kasbah perched strategically on a hill with a commanding view of the entire Bou Gemmaz valley.
|View of the Bou Gemmaz Valley|
Inside the Sidi Mouza Kasbah a Berber man and boy were brewing tea for their foreign guests. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dim light I could see a bag made from goat skin, wool pants made for a very tall man, the wooden butt of a rifle, a grinding stone, lanterns and shoes made from old tires.
|Inside the Sidi Mouza Kasbah|
A Kasbah is a small fortress used to protect food from raiding neighbors. This Kasbah is one of the only round ones in this area and is 300-400 years old.
|Sidi Mouza Kasbah|
We continued down the valley before veering off to the south and up the Arous Valley. We stopped at the last village of Ayt Sayd for lunch. We were entertained by the village kids who were playing in the river, singing songs and blowing whistles. After lunch we followed the Arous canyon stopping briefly at a tea house before making the climb to our first campsite at the seasonal grazing encampment of Azib Ikkis. Our crew had already erected a cook tent, a mess tent and our sleeping tents. We got set up just as a thunderstorm hit the valley.
Our second day of trekking took us over 2 passes: Tizi n-Oumskiyk at about 9600 feet and Tizi n-Tarkeddit at 10,700 feet. Far below we could see the Tarkeddit Plateau, our destination for the night and the starting point for our first climbing objective, Jebel Mgoun.
We headed down onto the plateau where Berber shepherds were grazing large flocks of sheep and goats. Camp had been set up in the center of the plateau near a refuge that provided hot showers and toilets to trekkers and climbers.
|Our Camp on the Tarkeddit Plateau|
When we rose early the following morning for our climb, Venus had risen over a crescent moon creating a surreal scene.
We headed out in darkness using our headlamps to light the way. We contoured up on switchbacks as the sun rose reaching a plateau before the steep climb to the ridge. When we reached the long summit ridge we were hit by a fierce wind. I was concerned about being blown off the narrow ridge but we managed to keep our footing. We could see the summit of Mgoun looming ahead, it was not far to go now.
We arrived at the summit around 9:40 and lingered long enough to enjoy the view and take a group photo. We wanted to be off the ridge long before any anticipated thunderstorms.
We returned to camp 9 hours after we had set off. That night we fell asleep to a cacophony of sounds; barking dogs, tinkling frogs, braying donkeys and bleeting goats and sheep.
We left the plateau the following morning and climbed to a higher plateau called Tizt N'Asdrem where more Berber nomads were living in summer encampments grazing their sheep and goats. We continued to a viewpoint at the edge of the plateau where we could see the village of Tasgarnalte far below surrounded by irrigated fields of wheat, barley and potatoes. The hills were different hues of red, purple and yellow.
|Viewpoint Over the Village of Tasgarnalte|
After our break we continued steeply down through a broad canyon whose slopes were covered in purple and yellow-flowered scrubs. These were among the only plants to survive the ravenous goats and sheep because I thought they were unpalatable. However Hamid told us that the livestock will eat the flowers but have not grazed this area yet.
We switchbacked down slippery scree to an area of massive, ancient juniper trees where we stopped for lunch. After lunch we continued down past village fields of barley that had been planted in March and would soon be ready to harvest. We passed through Tasgarnalte Village and on the other side camp had been set up in the front yard of a local family.
The next morning we continued our trek past Berber villages now connected to the outside world by a new road. The local women were carrying heavy loads of fodder on their backs. After many years of this hard labor many of the older women were permanently bent over.
|Heavy Loads of Fodder|
We left the road and climbed above the river to the village of Azib n'Ikkis where there was a Kasbah made of stone and wooden beams.
|The Kasbah of Azib n'Ikkis|
We continued our climb until we reached the last house where a barking dog was chained. It's owner stood nearby until we safely passed. From the top we contoured back down to the river which we had to cross to reach our lunch spot. After lunch we recrossed the river and followed the streambed passing a few more villages. Finally after 9 long, hot hours we reached the village of Ait Ali Nitto where we spent the night in Gite D'Etape Assounfou.
|The Gite at Ait Ali Nitto|
The next morning we followed the road out of town passing a day market where only men were setting up shop. At the end of the road was the picturesque village of Megdaz. We climbed above to get a view of the village with its five kasbahs and two mosques, one old and one new with their minarets.
|The Village of Megdaz|
We continued climbing to Tizi Awrghiz where we got our first view of our second climbing objective Jebel Anghomar. We contoured around the base of a cell tower before heading down to a dry riverbed and walked along it to the village of Tagoukht where we had lunch serenaded by the village boys.
|View of Jebel Anghomar from Tizi Awrghiz|
After our lunch break we passed back through the village then up once again through a sparse forest of juniper trees. We generally climbed but sometimes had to descend to cross a gully. Finally we could see camp above but had to cross a deep ravine to reach it. This could be the last night of Ramadan, depending on if the new moon would be seen early the next morning.
|View of Lake Tamda|
We descended to a dry riverbed and followed it toward the lake where four Ruddy Shelducks were bobbing on its surface.
After dinner Hamid told us the climb tomorrow of Jebel Anghomar would be difficult. Few trek groups tackle the peak and there's no established trail. The route follows a steep gully with rocks. The descent would be on loose scree. We decided not to go. The rewards didn't outweigh the risks.
|African Green Toad|
|Common Oleander along Tichkiwiyn|
|Barbary Ground Squirrel|
|The Kasbah at Telouat|
|Inside the Kasbah at Telouat|
|Rooftop View of the Kasbah at Telouat|
We left and headed toward irrigated fields above town and arrived at camp about an hour later. After 9 hard days on the trail, we're half way through the trek. We've covered 101 miles, climbed 23,000 vertical feet including Jebel Mgoun, the 3rd highest peak in the range, visited many Berber villages and old kasbahs. Stay tuned to see how we fare during the second half of our trek along the High Atlas!
We hope all is well with everyone.Peggy and Marc
Our route map: