Posté par Michael Peyron le 4 avril 2010
MOROCCO : TOUR OPERATOR WATCH 7
Ayyachi to Atlantic in 43 days
Ayyachi from Imtchimen Eastern High Atlas (photo: M. Peyron)
The purpose of these articles is to keep tabs on what’s going on in the Atlas Mountains, as much to analyse the various products submitted to a long-suffering trekking public as to warn prospects of any potential hankypanky. The present trip is a case in point.
Jbal Ayyachi from A’arid plateau, Eastern High Atlas (photo: M. Peyron)
A well-known French TO had, for some time, been toying with the idea of upstaging the competition with a grand High Atlas fling from far westerly Ayyachi to the Atlantic coast. An exercise obviously aimed at the more sporting, cutting edge segment of the trekking market. Through the TO’s website we now learn that the trip indeed came off in 2007 and that repeat performances are scheduled, though subject to some modifications. Closer perusal reveals interesting details that, in the light of our own not inconsiderable on-the-spot experience we feel compelled to impart to the Atlas traveller.
An interrupted journey
Aspiring end-to-enders should not get carried away by that ballyhoo about 43 days! Far from being a continuous GAT follow-through the trip is in reality broken down into three parts. The first half works out at 18 days of actual trail bashing from an Ayyachi foothill camp to the Tassawt village of Megdaz, taking in two major summits (Ayyachi and Mgoun) on the way.
Ighil Mgoun Central High Atlas (photo: M. Peyron)
Otherwise the route followed is a fairly standard GTAM effort via Imilchil, the Kusser plateau, Taghia (involving some nimble footwork on cliff-edges), Ayt Bugemmaz, Tarkeddit plateau and Tassawt valley. Those that feel like it can call it a day and head for Marrakech to recuperate for a brief respite before boarding a homeward bound flight.
Yagour Plateau, Jbal Inghemar in background (photo: M. Peyron)
Those made of sterner stuff, after a rest-day at Megdaz washing their socks, are now free to pursue the second, apparently more impressive leg of the traverse. This includes highlights such as unlikely Lake Tamda and nearby Anghomar’s treadmill scree-slopes, Telouet and the Glaoui’s castle, the Tichka road, the rock-carvings of Yagour plateau and Meldsen traverse, the upper Ourika valley, Iferwan summit, Lake Ifni, the Neltner and Lépiney Huts, finally trampling the tops of Toubkal, Afella n-Ouanoukrim, Biguinnoussen and Tazaghart to keep the peak-baggers happy. 16 days of this roller-coaster from grass-lined irrigation-ditch to slag-heap brings the party to Imlil. From here, technically, would-be drop-outs can escape to Marrakech by bus and/or taxi. The hardier souls, who want to see this thing through to the end, are now conveyed by 4-WD vehicle down to Asni, then up to Tinmal (with its Almohad mosque), eventually following a track that climbs the Ogdemt valley into the usually neglected Western High Atlas to Arg at the foot of Igdet.
Jbal Igdad (Igdet) & Adrar n-Oumzra, Western High Atlas (photo: M. Peyron)
The final, little-frequented, potentially most interesting part is dismissed in three days! Day 1 is devoted to climbing Igdet before descending to a camp at Ansa. Day 2 takes the party up the Aghbar valley to the Tichka plateau and the Imi n-Wanzig huts. Day 3 lamely concludes with a valley-crawl down through the walnut trees to Agersaffen and up the other branch of the valley to Afensou where 4-WD transportation awaits. The (un)happy trekkers are then subjected to several hours’ pounding along dusty pistes before hitting the tarmac en route for a ryad in Essaouira and choice of sundown cocktails.
Afensou village and snow-covered Tizi n-Imedlawn High Seksawa region W. High Atlas (photo: M. Peyron)
How does this TO go about selling his supposed end-to-end traverse? To get clients on board the sales talk harps on well-known themes: the “confidential” aspect of the eastern and western extremities of the Atlas, the fact that they generally don’t get visited by other TOs, that they are virtually virgin, untouched territory, that the whole trip has never been done before – all of which amounts to little more than eyewash! The varied aspect of Atlas landscapes is also put forward, including two lakes, not to mention the sporting aspect. Daily stages of 6-8 hours (though in our day we thought nothing of 8-10 hours per day with full packs), allegedly only one rest-day, eight peaks climbed on the way, represent a physical challenge worthy of the hardened trekker, albeit with full mule back-up. Those who have stuck it out uncomplaining from Ayyachi to Atlantic, notwithstanding the various interruptions, are no doubt understandably proud of having pulled off such a feat – another one they can tick off on their list of coveted epic journeys.
Closer scrutiny of the trip, however, shows only 37 days on trek. To the one Megdaz rest-day can be added 48 hours spent camping outside the Toubkal Huts, in between stints up Toubkal and Ouanoukrim, enjoying the full gamut of creature comforts (hot showers, flushing toilets, etc.)! Not to mention a brief stop at Imlil where trekkers can chill out with the odd coke. All of which may disappoint the purist, especially the ensuing long interruption between Imlil and Arg that takes advantage of recently-opened vehicle tracks, not to mention a sizable chunk of mountain territory beyond Afensou that gets left out of the walk. After traversing the Western High Atlas in this way the observer will realise that justice has not really been done to the area. What with peaks like Adrar n-Oumzra, Ikkis, Ras Moulay Ali and Awlim-Tinergwet literally begging to be climbed, we clearly have a case of quick fix here!
Ras Moulay Ali from summit of Jbal Ikkis, Seksawa region, W. High Atlas (photo: M. Peyron)
This particular product, then, the flagship of any TO’s Morocco brochure (counting a total of 30 Atlas Mountain trips on offer by this operator alone), is indicative of the present saturation of classic Atlas trekking routes. It obviously needs cleaning up, however, before it can be deemed properly marketable. At least it will provide the discerning, go-it-alone backpacker with a road-map for organising his own unsupported stint with a couple of trusted companions.
N.B. Unless otherwise stated illustrations and texts are copyright by Michael Peyron. Material from same may be quoted in compliance with current academic practice.