Trek to Toubkal region from the Tizi n Test 1
A description of a 10 day trip/trek into Toubkal area coming in from the West, Tizi-n-Test Road. Target was to trek in some less touristed areas and take in a 3500m + top or two.
Note: please don't rely on minor place names here, neither i , nor the maps are accurate with these.
30 April 2011 - 10 May 2011
Day 1 - Edinburgh to Marrakech
Good cheap (£90) Ryanair flight from Edinburgh, get into Marrakech centre late (9pm) because bomb at Argana on Jamaa el Fna means tight and slow security at airport. Enough time for some top nosh on the square and buy some dope. Marrakech is cool...
Day 2 - Marrakech to Ijoukak
Heavy rain in Marrakech, (much) later it dawns on me that this is snow in the mountains. Get trek supplies - dried fruit and nuts from the square, cheap cigs, lighters, unleaded petrol for MSR Stove. Everyone very friendly and i'm enjoying compliments and special treatment for my 'bravery' considering the bomb (this doesn't seem to extend to prices which still start off at tourist rates). Shared taxi from Marrakech to Ijoukak (60dhm) on the Tizi-n-Test road to stay at Chez Said. Said's as welcoming and helpful as ever and tagine is magnificent. Still raining on and off and the top quality rak afyum kicks in so I'm lazy... Quick walk in the hills, buy couscous, veg, sweeties and set up transport for Agoundis (market day in Tallat-n-Yaquob so a few minibuses going up next day)
Day 3 - Ijoukak to Agoundis
Agree 100 dhm for place in minibus to Ait Moussa three quarters way up the Agoundis Valley. I think 50dhm is the local rate but the drive is entertaining, weather is wet for walking and i get a front seat. Apparently it takes a day to walk up the Agoudis valley to the last village. The Agoundis valley is beautiful and spectacualr. I walk beyond the last village and camp up for night.
Day 4 - Agoundis to Assif n Tafklast
The Agoundis river splits at the last main village and I have wrongly started on the NE Assif-n-Ouanoukrim branch. This isn't helped by my understanding that I want to go to Ouanoukrim. I don't, I need the Assif-n-Tafklast and the Tizi n Ourgane route, which eventually someone gets me to understand.
Visitor at camp 1
Once i'm in the right valley following the stream is straightforward, with a bit of wading to-fro and up the stream. However I'm puggled and don't go far before finding an Azib (shieling) with friendly owner. I persuade myself this is the last Azib before pass and camp up.
Azib and owner camp 2
Day 5 - Assif-n-Tafklast
Carry on up the stream, but I'm super lazy and not fit with a full pack so finding another azib, I stop and take a hike up to the ridge.
Luckily for me I meet a shepherd (or more accurately a shepherd meets me) who points out where the Tizi n Ouargane is (i was going to be heading up the wrong way - again) , makes me realise quite how much snow there is and tells me the pass is impossible because of that. He also gives me some Berber bread which as I'm about 2 days behind schedule already and low on food is very welcome. Again I am deeply heartened and grateful for Berber hospitality.
Day 6 - Tizi N Ouargane
Up to the Tizi n Ouargane, soon I'm into snow, about a foot and half deep and no crust, so wading through it. No track. Exhausting and slow progress. Cold camp before the Tizi which is looking ominous.
Pass is lowest point on horizon
There's a big cornice on the pass, the path up looks very steep and I only have instep crampons! I test the crampons, borrowed from a friend, which go for about 15 mins before I have to straighten them up on my boots. Not ideal. At this height there's some crust so the going isn't so tough but the 'crampons' can't be trusted. I discount going for the pass; there's avalanche conditions, that cornice is big, face glassy and even with ice axe i'm worried about a bad slip or how to break through the cornice.
Tizi Ouargane closer view
Day 7- Tizi N Ouargane - Ras - Toubkal (Mouflon) Refuge
Early morning i head for north west of pass, stopping periodically to straighten crampons, and with considerably less control over iced snow than i'd like get onto the ridge.
Alternative route to the ridge
On the ridge I'm chilled and a bit freaked from getting there. The first tourists I've seen since the tarmac are stomping up from Toubkal refuge. I wait for them, gibbering that I'm heading for warmth and safety now. But they're heading up Ras which gives me steps to follow and after a cup of tea I follow their tracks to the summit. Great mountain. From Ras I head to Mouflon refuge, heat and warmth. More expensive than the older Toubkal apparently but the fire, food (mostly)and company are good.
Day 8- Mouflon Refuge
Rest day at the refuge, craicing on with the other tourists. I buy supplies from the refuge, their generator runs diesel so some of that for the MSR and there's a selection of freeze dried foods left from other tourists and snacks, so i get some tesco pasta from UK (pay more than i would in UK) some special 'backpacking' food (chinese chicken! pay less than i would in UK) and chocolate. I'd wanted just couscous, stock cubes and basics but these weren't available so food more expensive and less local than ideal but more than sufficient. I try to get a guide to take me over (or at least to) the Tzi Afella/Tizi n Amrharas n Iglioua. Fresh snow is covering paths and apart from Toubkal and Ras there's no new tracks to follow. No guide wants to go with me, there's easier money to be made.
Day 9 - Refuge - Tizi Melloul
I want to head west over Tizi n Amrharas n Iglioua and traverse round to Tizi Melloul. I'm assured by refuge manager this is a straightforward route but that's without snow. The 'Mountaineering in the Moroccan high atlas' guide says
"The longest of the traverse routes this calls for some route finding skills in winter on the section between Tizi Melloul and Tizi Afella "
I would have preferred a live guide, my route finding has been pretty dopey so far... Snow is wading at lower altitude and icy at higher , relatively easy to find the pass
Tizi n Amrharas n Iglioua
but hard work. Once I find the start of the traverse there's odd small cairns and pretty much only one way round. The crampons are a big problem but better than nothing, so a lot of cutting steps over hairy steep drop offs. Off the tourist track though and great high mountain scenery all to myself. Camp up below Tizi Melloul.
Day 10 - Tizi Melloul - Tazaghart Plateau - Ait Zitoun
Fantastic day, up snow and scree to pass then wee scramble to top Tazaghart,
Tazaghart plateau top
It's downhill a while, and i make good progress over snow and scree to find the saddle and ridge opposite Ouanoukrim. Fairly flat ground makes a nice change ...
The weather starts to close in, big thunder, lightning and hailstones. It's pretty exposed up here and i throw myself to the deck a couple of times in the bangs. Scary, scary ...
hail on the hill
Last bump before leaving the high ground.
First path and tree for 4 days
After some hours following the ridge with the odd traverse round the tops I can see villages in the valley below and scramble down to meet a path ... oh the luxury... Again with the kindness and help of the local people i camp up for the night
last camp above ait zitoun
I enjoyed reading your account. That is the first account of someone actually walking over the Tazaghart plateau that I have found. I am glad it was straight forward.
I recognize those rocks at the top of the "alternative route to the ridge" The path to the col was very steep even though we had no cornice. You made a good choice.
I suppose you stayed at Chez Said to recuperate on the way out as well? Said couldnt find anyone who had walked the plateau, I hope you told him you had done.
That looks brilliant, and sounds like a real adventure. Thanks for writing it up.
I must get back to Morocco sometime - I've not done any mountains there - but you're right, Marrakesh is cool...
Excellent - that's got me thinking seriously about Morocco as a destination (without the mountain bike) for next year. Great-looking trip.
I suspect the narrative downplays the decision making and toughness of the journey.
Day 11 - Ait Zitoun - Ijoukak -Marrakech
Up early and time to run for a flight. Down to village to find man with a mule. Couple of hours to Tizi n Test tarmac on piste for 70dhm.
Sound. Get a share taxi up to Ijoukak (not far) pick up my spare gear and time for a shower, good eat on the Chez Said omelette, a coffee or 3, a good smoke and share taxi back to Marrakech. Buy some more dried fruit and nuts (i was still munching these in Harris last week, top quality, but always check what you're getting on Jamaa el Fna ) and scrape into the departure lounge (just, glad Arab airports are more relaxed about timing than UK) for the 7.30pm flight to Edinburgh.
THANKS TO --
The Moroccan people in general and especially the Berbers of the high Atlas (long live the rogues of the Bled-es-Siba!) for their hospitality, generosity and help.
Derek Goffin - He and his partners trip Western and High Atlas Traverse (report on this site) took in the Ijoukak - Agoundis - Toubkal Refuge part of the trek, was an inspiration, and his impressions of the ridge west from Tazaghart a great help in deciding a route.
Recommended Guidebooks --
1:160,000 EWP/WCP sheets for Amizmiz and Toubkal
1:100,000 Carte du Maroc , sheets for Toubkal and Tizi n Test
Google Earth, good for sussing springs, some paths and azibs but not good for seeing if a particular ridge will go or finding a campspot in mountainous terrain.
MSR Stove XGK EX - relatively easy to find fuel for (diesel, unleaded) and reliably welds snow into tea double quick. There's petrol stations on the Tizi n Test and Mouflon refuge were happy to sell me spare diesel from generator. It may be possible to get fuel from vehicles on the piste and maybe diesel/paraffin in villages but that's a guess. 2 pot and tinfoil cooking.
Hilleberg Akto - Everyone knows this tent is los heuvos del perro. Light and bombproof. I fell back in love with it after a few years complaining about its small size. Difference between Morocco and Scotland is that more often than not it's ok to sit outside tent in Morocco.
Katmandu down bag (good to about -5) - my brother bought this back from Nepal for me. cheap and sound Brit design Nepali make; with silk liner and Western Mountaineering light down jacket (good to about -12)
Standard foam mat
Survival bag - the Atlas are very stony/thorny so good under tent.Good for quick shelter in a storm too..
Grivel 'munro' ice axe - almost left this at home, couldn't have done trip without it. Good for snow clearing and shifting stones for camp too.
Instep (4 point) crampons - designed to go up the garden path not up the Atlas. better than nothing but i should have taken real crampons that don't slip round the boot halfway over an arete, i could have left them in Ijoukak if there was no snow.
Mountain Equipment Goretex Morpheus Jacket - generally brilliant and more than sufficient for this terrain
Drambuie curling trousers - not waterproof for long anymore, but warm and windproof
'Seven' cotton hiking/climbingtrousers - these are the best designed walking troos i've ever had. been (almost) everywhere, light, simple and good. why did they go out of business? why hasn't anyone else copied them?
The eats don't come better than Marrakech and Moroccan food is generally superb so it's a shame to take too much dried Euro-pap. I took some meusli, army style powder soup and beef jerky which was well needed but it's possible to buy bread and food (cooked or not - at variable rates) from most villages. In Morocco i bought couscous from the kiosk shop and good fresh veg in Ijoukak. I've always liked that 'Vache qui Rit'processed cheese
and dried fruit and nuts are a Moroccan speciality, this region of the Atlas has excellent walnuts (chak-eye-een in Berber). Tinned fish on a mountainside has never appealed to me but it's a kiosk shop staple. Tea is green gunpowder and sugar comes in big cones.
with flights trip cost me about £250 all in. i had to change dirhams back at the airport.
A strong walker could do this whole trek in 4 days. Not my style but it's possible. From Ijoukak to Toubkal refuge there's villages or azibs almost all the way to Tizi n Ouargane (last Azib about 1 hour from pass) . The night below Tizi Melloul was the only one really needing a tent and you could probly bivvy bag this in summer or no snow. Most the azibs are working shielings and generally in use from spring on, though the owners are likely to be welcoming. There's enough scrap brush around for basic cooking too. Don't take the p*ss though, remember this is folk's livelihoods.
Without snow i was only really off path/track for one day over the Tazaghart plateau. Following the ridge was relatively straightforward and easy going so i'm up for more of that next year...
With snow was a different game and next time i take crampons onto the plane.
lots of pics on Flickr
aye, 1:100,000 is ok. accuracy varies. ...ordnance survey it ain't tho and i find them hard to read. EWC can be better for less popular routes, see http://www.stanfords.co.uk for pics.
i found good study of google earth handy for getting an idea of where ridges are, village size and azib, spring (water's an issue if no snow) and path spotting before trip. gets you off the beaten track...
i don't think there is much at larger scale, maybe Toubkal and Mgoun area?
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