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Revisiting Morocco’s Great Atlas Traverse, or GTAM (1989-2004)

Posté par Michael Peyron le 24 août 2010

Revisiting Morocco’s Great Atlas Traverse, or

GTAM

(1989-2004) 

By Michael PEYRON 

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Midelt-Tinghir traverse, with guide and Yves on Jbel Harouch, Feb 1992 (photo: Y. Biville)

The GTAM goes international 

A first article on this website outlined the genesis of the Grande Traversée de l’Atlas Marocain through various reconnaissance trips and partial follow-throughs (1972-1988), expressing this writer’s grand design, and given his limited availability in the field, labouring as he did under certain professional and familial constraints. True, he was at a distinct disadvantage vis-à-vis free-wheeling bachelors and other would-be GTAM end-to-ending rivals with more time on their hands. This, more than anything else prevented him from ever end-to-ending at one fell swoop. However, go over the ground in detail, he did! A point that should be borne in mind.

His move from Rabat to Grenoble in the late 1980s coincided with two developments. One the one hand, Robin Collomb at West Col Productions having displayed interest in an English-language version of the GTAM, the present author found himself requested to produce a two-volume edition of his successful guide-book. Most of the work on this project was done in a beach hut at Témara, the finishing touches being applied between sessions on the ski slopes above Grenoble. The resultant volumes emerged respectively in 1989 and 1990. Twenty years down the road they are still variously acknowledged by different sources as “definitive”, “meaningful” or « most useful » with regards to hiking in the Moroccan Atlas.

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In the meantime, travel-wise Moroccans had been putting their house in order: DAI/BDTR, an off-shoot of the Moroccan Tourism Ministry, was thus founded under the aegis of François Chalumeau, a Frenchman well-known in local mountaineering circles, and he set about centralising information on trekking in the Atlas Mountains. This office brought out a yearly booklet, containing practical information on the GTAM, supposedly standing for “Grande Traversée des Atlas Marocains”. Not quite plagiarism, though dangerously close to our 1984 deposited trade mark !

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Palm-tree mountain logo on back cover of the GTAM practical info guide-book that ran under that title till 1998 (Moroccan Ministry of Tourism)

However, as our French version of the GTAM guide-book was quoted in their bibliography, we didn’t feel that the matter justified a costly law-suit. This new GTAM went hand-in-glove with a palm-tree mountain logo that appeared at various points across Morocco’s mountains, chiefly outside government-approved lodges and guest-houses, from Imilchil in the north-east, to Jbel Saghro in the far south, though after Chalumeau withdrew from the project in the late 1990s, the notion of “Traversée” as such (the T in GTAM) appears to have been firmly put on the back-burner! By then the annual booklet lamely referred to mountain and desert tourism, overly denying any connection with the GTAM, past or present. 

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This meant that, with the trekking market in Morocco so far more or less cornered by Terdav, Explorator and Allibert, non-French TOs (Brits for the most part like Sherpa and Exodus, Minitrek having disappeared from the scene) were entering the field. Guess where they fished for info? You got it right! Peyron’s GTAM guide-book is the answer. Amusingly, several agencies marketed a 22-day High Atlas traverse, the spitting image of the one we had suggested in writing a short while earlier. But then this was only the first time that TOs were living up to a new, copycat ethos. 

The 1990s then, were something of a bonanza for Atlas trekking. The GTAM, devised in its raw, no-nonsense form for backpacking, straight and honest, found itself being dubbed into the trekking mode; even for stalwarts on mountain-bikes and ponies! Practically each TO made a point of including it in their brochure. Bit of a come-down, that, though only to be expected. Simply a case of giving customers what they expect in keeping with market trends; that’s what the pundits will tell you. 

Putting the T back into GTAM 

For our part, we felt we had to return to the field whenever possible to keep the GTAM pot boiling. A noteworthy achievement: our uninterrupted 9-day Midelt-Tinghir backpacking traverse in February 1992, undertaken with former Chasseur alpin Yves Biville and his son, Yan. 

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Shaded alley-ways of Tazrouft, Feb 1992 (photo: Y. Biville)

A restful night at the Hôtel Ayachi in Midelt, courtesy of Milouda and Ali, set us fairly on our way. By the end of the day we had scaled the Merziqti pass, strolled down through titanic Tabja canyon to emerge at the qsar of Ennd. On the morrow, a healthy day’s trail-bashing took us past Tazrouft and Tannghrift, not to mention the unlikely village of Idalliwn, peopled by blacks, and onto Ayt Yaqoub, site of a famous battle between Berbers and the Foreign Legion back in 1929. Here we were made truly welcome by a local bard, and our host’s daughter delighted us with a recital of timawayin.

There followed another ambitious day down to Mzizel, a grotty little hole on the Rich-Imilchil track boasting one or two run-down cafés, and then a prolonged road-bash well past Igli, that lasted till sundown, when we put up for the night in some trail-side huts. Luckily, friendly road-workers provided bread and tea that evening. Next morning the road-bash resumed as far as Tabratjout, where, after ritual mint tea, the village headman kindly placed a guide at our disposal for the next leg of our journey.

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Author with Ou-Hediddou guide and Yves, Jbel Harouch, Feb 1992 (photo: Y. Biville)

This entailed another gruelling day trudging wearily up to nearly 3000 metres, over the frosty brow of tree-wasted Jbel Harouch, till we could make out the rolling pre-Saharan hills overlooking Rachidia, and then down unendingly to the large village of Tana, which we reached by moonlight. Tana, with its walnut grove, was the last place with sizeable trees we saw on our walk. 

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Our party leaving Igherm n-Tana, Feb 1992 (photo: Y. Biville)

After that it was alfa steppe and barren hillsides all the way. What the landscape lacked in fertility, however, was more than made up for by the sheer good cheer of the inhabitants. At Ayt Sidi Mha an elderly shaikh regaled us with stories about local resistance fighters Ou-Skounti and Zayd ou-Hmad; at Assoul, Mohamed Sane the school-teacher, an acquaintance from a previous trip to the area, entertained us en famille. At Amdghous, where Lonely Planet tourists had once been beleaguered for days awaiting a problematic truck, the inn-keeper fed us oranges. Our last night in the mountains we spent among the Ayt Merghad at Tametettoucht. Then came a straightforward grind down the Todgha gorge. And it was all over bar the shouting. As we were by that time quite footsore we hitch-hiked the last few miles into Tinghir. Not really cheating, but understandable in the circumstances. At a disreputable little hotel with a decidedly kitsch air about it, we ate a rather second-rate cous-cous. As a result, the next day, most of us had the Khatmandu trots, but we managed to reach Marrakech and a well-deserved rest at the Mamounia Hôtel, via Ouarzazat, by a combination of bus and taxi.

Birth of the Al-Akhawayn connection 

For several years afterwards visits to Morocco were too short to allow much time in the Atlas Mountains. After 1997, however, thanks to a local version of the old-boy network, there developed a lasting connection with Al-Akhawayn University that was to provide plenty of opportunities to reach time and again for the heights.  

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On the Ayt Hadiddou plateau, Alemghou, Oct 1997 (photo: M. Peyron)

In October of that year this writer soloed from Tounfit to Alemghou and back over a week, via Imilchil and Taghighacht. It was a spiritual as much as a physical journey, devoted for the most part to collecting oral literature material for a book, and entering into closer communion with the Ayt Yahya and Ayt Hadiddou people. The weather stayed fine throughout and gave us a close look at the Tahgighacht community on a day marked by a collective circumcision ceremony. Though this kind of ceremony was still observed, traditional native garment tended to be discarded by young people, who preferred to wear jeans and cotton dresses.

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Autumn evening, Alemghou, Oct 1997 (photo: M. Peyron) 

In May 1998, covering much of the same ground,  though without the Asif Melloul dog-leg, we made a 5-day Tounfit-Anargui backpacking traverse with daughter Caroline and her companion Hakim.

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Carline Mackenzie, Sidi Moh Azayyi & H. Daoudi, Asaka, May 1998 (photo: M. Peyron)

An early highlight was an evening spent at Asaka with old friend Sidi Moh Azayyi, while in Imilchil we bumped into another acquaintance, Ahmed Daghoghi, a local tour leader just out of the Tabant Mountain Training facility in Ayt Bougemmaz.

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Loading up mule outside Semlali house, Oul-Ghazi May 1998, (photo: M. Peyron)

Beyond Imilchil we had the good fortune to meet up again with Saïd ou Haddou, but it was another Oul-Ghazi man, a certain Semlali, who accompanied us with his mule (plus sister) on the final day to Anargui. This gave us the opportunity to follow the right bank of Asif Melloul beyond Tousefseddi, climaxing in a memorable, ankle-twisting descent from Tizi n-Cheffart to Anargui. The return via Cathedral Mountain to Wawizaght in an over-crowded Land-Rover the following day provided  an unsavoury, bone-jarring anti-climax.

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Start of descent from Tizi n-Cheffart to Anargui, May 1998 (photo: M. Peyron)

In September 1998, with daughter Caroline we travelled from Midelt to the Imilchil musem in five days, backpacking most of the way. The first day was a somewhat lacklustre experience as we took stock of the recent havoc caused by drought-stricken nomad shepherds on foothill stands of Mediterranean oak near Bou Admam Forstry Hut. That night a hospitable Ayt Merghad family at Tilawin n-Ja’afar raised their tent flaps to take us in.

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Ayt Merghad bivouac, Tilawin n-Ja’afar, Sep. 1998 (photo: C. Mackenzie)

Day 2 took us to Ayt Bou Izgarn (Imtchimen), whence we hitchiked to Tounfit on a van that had been commandeered by a wedding party, complete with musicians! Friend Daghoghi put us up for the night at his place in qsar of Ichemhan. Couldn’t help noticing that Tounfit was developing, for sure, with tarmac and cafés, but getting noticeably grubbier in the process!  The absence of toilets, it seemed, had been instrumental in contributing to epidemics over the past few years. The next day we took things easy, only going as far as Asaka, where friend Azayyi and wife Ftima made us welcome. Day 4 was a classic footslog over Tizi n-Ayt Brahim, past Anefgou and onwards to the house of Aatrou at Tirghist. The 5th and final day brought us to Alemgho, via Tizi n-Inouzan, Taghihgacht and Sountat. At Alemgho we stayed with the hospitable moqqadam who had looked after the author the previous year.

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Author with moqqadam‘s family, Alemgho, Sep 1998 (photo: C. Mackenzie)

We then spent a couple of days at the bridal fair, or musem, getting nearly rained out of our tent on the second night. The quality of the folkdancing hadn’t really improved since our 1987 visit and the phony Touareg phenomenon appeared to be on the up-swing, not to mention the numbers of foreign visitors disguised as Saharans, or hommes bleus. To make things worse, this writer was floored by a vicious attack of the trots, so we hitchiked out of there as fast as we could go.

Zaouit Ahansal – Imilchil section of the GTAM

On May 19, 2000, we headed for Azilal, launch-pad for a 5-day traverse from Zaouit Ahansal to Imilchil via Zaouia Tamga, Anargui and Taghzout n-Ayt Abdi. My friend Ayad Kerouach was there, together with Assou and Khadija, their niece Lamiae and a cousin, Hmad, from Midelt.

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Members of our party doing muleteer’s work for him, Amezray, May 2000 (photo: M. Peyron)

The first three days to Anargui we were slowed down by a disastrously incompetent muleteer, who knew little of his trade, even less of path-finding. On certain occasions, my Berber companions actually had to take care of loading our baggage on the mule. Interestingly, the Tizi n-Hammadin path presented signs of being less used than in the past, pointing to changing patterns of mule traffic in the area, linked to new TO itineraries and the fact that market-going locals tended to employ Land-Rovers more than they did mules in the past.

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Leaving Chrifi’s lodge, Anargui, May 2000 (photo: M. Peyron)

After Anargui we sent our muleteer home and hired two keen young fellows; things then improved marginally. While picnicking on the Tingarft pastures we met a singularly upbeat and congenial Ou-Sokhman shepherd with whom we swapped timawayin. His sheep had possibly the cleanest fleeces we had ever seen on the hoof. At Tingarft we observed yet another fresh phenomenon: locally made hammam-s, accounting for exaggerated wood-cutting in the area.

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Our party in Tizouggwat valley, Ijberten on R, May 2000 (photo: M. Peyron)

Our onward leg over Ijberten to Tastaft and finally Imilchil proved uneventful, apart from a violent cloudburst that lashed us mercilessly as we were coming down off the escarpment into the Asif Melloul valley. Luckily, we received a warm welcome at Moha ou Zayd’s inn, especially from his sister Fadma. The downpour switched to snow overnight and next morning the hills were well plastered above 2500 metres – a common enough occurrence in the High Atlas at the end of May. 

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New bridge over Oued Ziz at Rich afer flooding, May 2000 (photo: M. Peyron)

The uncommon amount of precipitation concentrated on the Saharan slope of the Atlas had led to rising water levels so that when our local bus arrived in view of Rich, early in the afternoon, the swirling current of Oued Ziz left us in no doubt. We were stranded. Fortunately, the bridge actually under construction was only just awash and we finally paddled to safety through 6″ of water. Not before a furious argument, however, between Ayad and the local Public Road Works overseer about whether it would have been judicious or not to attempt the crossing by vehicle!

2001: an Atlas odyssey

The following May we brought together a sample of my French and Moroccan friends (E. Hatt, M. Morgenthaler, Y. Biville, A. and K. Lhatoute + author’s daughter Caroline) for an outing south-west from Tounfit to Imilchil and points beyond, that, echoing a famous block-buster title, was to be known as   »2001: an Atlas odyssey ». As a coincidence, after encountering light snow in the Middle Atlas, it was May 19th and we were foregathering in Tounfit.

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Backpackers versus pro-mule exponents leaving Tounfit, May 19, 2001 (photo: M. Peyron)

The first two stages witnessed an amusing situation in which backpacking stalwarts humped their sacks alongside walkers with their hands in their pockets – the pro-mule brigade (our friend Assou!) who had hired a muleteer and steed.

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To backpack or not to backpack; Asaka, May 20, 2001 (photo: M. Peyron)

At Asaka we slept at the moqqadam‘s house. His wife, Labha, proved a perfect host. The good-natured confrontation between backpackers (see above) and pro-mule supporters continued unabated, Caroline actually humping her pack as far as Amandar. Conditions in Tatrout gorge were iffy but the party safely reached Tirghist that evening notwithstanding. While passing Lake Izly my French friends had a dip in its cool waters. Having caught cold after indulging in just such a prank some years earlier, however, the present writer refrained from joining them. Though staying at Moha ou Zayd’s we visited the Hôtel Izlane, now much used by the Club Méd and other TOs offering hybrid tours with Land-Rovers, combining off-roading with minimal walking. Managed to have a brief but satisfying slanging-match with the female tour leader of one of these TOs.

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Author’s daughter Caroline Mackenzie with friends, Amerdoul Awragh, May 22, 2001(photo: M. Peyron)

Beyond Imilchil we humped our packs as far as Amerdoul Awragh, where the pro-mule brigade insisted on our hiring a pack-animal. Thus encumbered we repaired to Aqqa n-Tissout n-Iysan for a well-earned picnic. After lunch, attracted by the surrounding verticality, we scaled the rock bands of Sidi Amandar to visit the saint’s tomb at the summit.

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Muleteer, C. Mackenzie & Y. Biville approaching Tagatemt (3037m), May 23, 2001 (photo: M. Peyron)

The nearby pasture of Almou n-Oumandar boasted several shepherds’ shelters, one of which provided acceptable accommodation for the night. The next day we pushed on past tabular peak of Tagatemt and its lone snow patch till we reached the remote meadows of Almou n-Wensa around lunch-time.

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Tussock-bearing Oult-Heddidou ladies,  Almou n-Wensa, May 23, 2001 (photo: M. Peyron)

There were a few Ayt Hadiddou tents in the vicinity. In fact we spotted a brace of tussock-bearing Oult-Hediddou ladies who, in terms of load-carrying, really put our backpackers to shame! That evening we doubled back towards Imilchil and eventually found lodgings at some sheep-pens, high up on the edge of a hill, where we had a large herd for company, including some charmingly bleating kids. Eric and Michel chose to sleep on a comfortable mattress of goat-crut! Next morning we followed the ridge to Tissekt Tamda and enjoyed the 360° view from its commanding heights. By early afternoon we were back in Imilchil. Next day came the usual long return via Rich, with kebab lunch at restaurant run by Ouzzarouj (mais il manquait le coup de rouge, according to Eric red wine was lacking!).

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F. Conynghame near Timmicha on Asif Melloul by-pass, Feb 2002 (photo: M. Peyron)

In February 2002 there came a short, 4-day winter traverse from Imilchil to Tillougit with Frazer Conynghame. Most of the ground covered was familiar, Day 2 taking us south of Asif Melloul via Taiddert and the Ayt ‘Abdi. Day 4, after a restful night in Anargui, was not a success, the muleteer we hired proving slow and inefficient, putting us in Tillougit well after dark after foolishly insisting on short cutting past Tizi n-Smetz! Can’t say we managed that stage really expertly, but then you live and learn!

The 2002 Coffret Nathan Maroc guide-book

During the summer of 2002 the author was approached by former TO tour leader Gilles Bordessoule who wanted him to co-author a three-volume package on the Moroccan Atlas Berbers: a guide-book, actually an updated, watered-down version of the GTAM (see cover-pic below); a general info volume, and a coffee-table picture album in which 95% of the illustrations were Bordessoule’s. 

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Peyron’s GTAM-based backpacking guide, part of the 2002 Nathan Coffret Maroc (photo: G. Bordessoule)

Although this writer got paid in full for his contribution to the package, overall the exercise proved something of a washout. Retailing at € 30,- the Nathan Coffret Maroc  2002 was definitely overpriced, most would-be purchasers being interested in the guide de randonnée section; less so in the coffee-table effort. As a result sales were sluggish; by 2005  copies of the Coffret were being given away for  € 8,- in discount shops!

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Backpackers from Dauphiny skirting Lake Izly, May 2002 (photo: J. Bellet)

4-day Imilchil-Midelt traverse

End-May 2002 witnessed a successful 4-day Imilchil-Midelt traverse with  French friends who were visiting from Allevard in the Dauphiny Alps. This again proved a triumph for the backpacking ethos; participants humped their rucksacks all the way with no nonsense about mule support! Approach was direct from Ifrane by taxi with a change of vehicles in Rich and a night at Moha ou Zayd’s inn in Imilchil, after inspecting market-place where preparations were in full swing for morrow’s ssuq ssebt. Day 1 took party over Tizi n-Isswal to Tirghist after companions had shunned a plunge into Lake Izly’s cool waters.

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Backpacking between Tizi n-Isswal and Tirghist, May 2002 (photo: M. Peyron) 

Had several friendly encounters en route with neighbouring Berbers: some Ayt Atta shepherds detouring via the Lakes Plateau; a couple of girls near Tirghist.

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 Our party chatting with a couple of friendly Berber girls, Tirghist, May 2002 (photo: J. Bellet)

Accommodation was obtained at the Forestry Hut annexe, where somewhat basic arrangements amused our Dauphiny companions: smell of goat-crut coming up thru floor-boards; a ram’s carcass hanging from the toilet wall! After watching Barbary Sheep on Fazaz slopes through binoculars, we dined at the Tirghist Forestry Hut, sampling génépi for a night-cap, just as if we were back in the Alps.

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R. Bertin crossing stream in full backpacking mode, Tatrout, May 2002 (photo: M. Peyron) 

Beyond Aqqa n-Ouyad and the Tatrout gorge on Day 2, we found Azayyi at home. Our Allevard friends were delighted with his warm welcome, remarking that conditions were similar to those obtaining in the Dauphiny some hundred years earlier! Arriving in Tounfit around lunch-time on Day 3 we decided to take up one of the local inn-keepers on a long-standing invitation to a kus-kus lunch.

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Backpackers making for Tounfit thru Tiboulkheirin forest, May 2002 (photo: M. Peyron)

As no such dish was forthcoming, Fernand Beranger amused us all by asking whether, failing kus-kus, could we not have a little saucisson-based snack. « Wrong country to be placing that kind of order! » observed Jean Bellet. Commandeering a taxi, and after a change of vehicles outside the Brasserie Excelsior in Midelt, we were at the Auberge Ja’afar by mid-afternoon. On Day 4 we walked up onto the Taarbat ridge (an Ayyachi outlier) with lightened packs; on the way back we enjoyed the privilege of drinking from a leach-infested spring! That night we rendez-voused with the back-up group, got the gut-bash we had been deprived of in Tounfit, preparatory to a return to Ifrane on the following day.

Tour du Bou Iblan, 2003 version

The following year (2003) the author re-enacted the Franco-Moroccan walking experience with Michel Putz and Yves Biville from France, Ayad and Brigitte Kerouach, Khadija and Assou Lhatoute, not to mention Hakim Daoudi and Caroline Peyron from Morocco. The venue this time was Bou Iblan for a second, 5-day circuit. 

Having arrived from Ifrane in the morning, we made a  disastrously late post-lunch start from Beni Aliham, after which we were drastically slowed by Birgitte who practically konked out after a few hundred yards and had to be helped along by her husband. Making our way across thuya and oak-studded hillsides at a snail’s pace we were eventually benighted well short of Tafadjight, our hoped-for destination.

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Backpacking on 2nd Bou Iblan circuit: H. Daoudi, M. Putz, & A. Kerouach, May 2003 (photo: M. Peyron)

After a mirthless, improvised bivvy and no breakfast we pushed on the following morning and were at the moqqadam‘s house within a couple of hours. There, at least, we put matters right with a good tuck-in.

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M. Putz, Y. Biville with C. Mackenzie in  Ich n-Temghilt oak forest, May 2003 (photo: M. Peyron)

By mid-morning we resumed our traverse of the Ich n-Temghilt, a pleasant oak- and cedar-covered ridge with Pied flycatchers and other birds everywhere, and grass growing beneath the trees. By late-afternoon we were abreast of Talzemt and a lengthy descent commenced down steep slopes. Had an introduction to a General, who owned one of the fine, flat-roofed, cedar-planked mansions, but found him away. Nonetheless the care-takers placed a room at our disposal, and which some of us used, others settling for a garden bivvy, with a hedgehog as unlikely bed-companion. Shades of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle

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Arriving at Talzemt, Bou Iblan circuit, May 2003 (photo: M. Peyron)

Next morning a couple of muleteers were hired to convey our baggage part of the way to Tamjilt, our next stop. After crossing the Meskeddal gorge we trudged across the flattish expanses of Laari Jerrah. Southwards we could see giant trucks bringing out trunks of dead cedars from flanks of Chegg el Aard – a sorry sight! Within 50 years the cedar will be probably wiped out from most Atlas locations…

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Southward slope of Bou Iblan, near Tamjilt, May 2003 (photo: M. Peyron)

Arriving at Tamjilt party rather unwisely stopped at house of moqqadam, who, despite our request for a light meal and early to bed, insisted on slaughtering a goat, which meant a meal at midnight and corresponding lack of sleep. Not the ideal recipe for the impending big stage, involving a traverse of Bou Iblan itself and prolonged knee-jarring descent and traverse to reach the Taffert Hut.

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Y. Biville circumventing large névé, Tizi Zirouch, Bou Iblan, May 2003 (photo: M. Peyron)

Luckily, a Land-Rover was available to propel party a couple of miles to the very foot of the main slope, near a road construction site. From there on it was a typical Moroccan south slope grind – ideal for keeping participants focussed – with a large névé blocking the vital pass over the divide. The site of the planned ski resort was barely recognizable, the hotel having been converted into a Maison du Bou Iblane, outside which a score of locals were awaiting the arrival of the qayd from Meghraoua. By five we were at the Taffert Hut and making arrangements for dinner and accommodation. The meal was barely sufficient but the subsequent peaceful night’s sleep more than made up for earlier shortcomings. On the final day we trekked in bright sunshine across Bou Iblan’s NW outliers, down to Karia, rounding off the circuit with an unhealthy road-bash as far as Kerouach’s house near oued Zloul.

Imilchil-Zaouit Ahansal Haute Route 2004

For our end-May jaunt of 2004, old hands Michel Morgenthaler and Eric Hatt flew in from France intent on joining present writer on a follow-through of the Imilchil-Zaouit Ahansal, 4-day Haute Route. After a 7-hour taxi ride had put them in Imilchil, the party settled in for the night at Moha ou Zayd’s inn. Next morning, breakfast over, a muleteer with his steed, ordered the night before, were ready for the load-up.

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M.Mogenthaler and E. Hatt between Tizi n-Oughroum and Taghighacht ridge, May 18, 2004 (photo: M. Peyron)

The first day took them beyond Tizi n-Oughroum along a ridge trail providing challenging views, what with the amount of snow that still lay on the peaks. By end of afternoon they reached the lush upland meadows of Almou n-Wensa. Attempts to obtain hospitality met with refusal from youngish Oult-Hediddou women – not surprising as the three of them looked raffishly disreputable! Still, this attitude was surprisingly at variance with previous visits to these parts, circa 1977. Luckily, their muleteer met with a friend who invited them into his tent, guarded by a particulalrly ferocious-looking dog with whom they became friends after they’d offered him some scraps from the evening meal.

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Muleteer in tent after uncomfortable night, Almou n-Wensa, May 19, 2004 (photo: M. Peyron)

Before turning in several frogs were observed besporting themselves in the shallows. A largish unidentified bird-of-prey – probably a Short-toed eagle – was disturbed in its repast and flapped lazily away to alight on a nearby hillock. There ensued a  pretty uncomfortable night on stony ground. The muleteer, especially, appeared to have hardly slept because of a stone wedged into the small of his back. Breakfast firmly sealed our friendship with the watch-dog who displayed his feelings with much tail-wagging.

21almounouensamorningaftermay20042.jpg 

M. Morgenthaler enjoys morning sunshine, Almou n-Wensa, May 19, 2004 (photo: M. Peyron)

The mule was loaded up and we left Almou n-Wensa, pushing off across barren highlands and sparse grazing, such as at Timit, where the aridity was harrowing. Also Asfalou n-Timit where we found a well almost brimful, with a lone partridge in the vicinity. By lunch-time we were at Allen Ighboula where an Oult-Sokhman woman suggested that this writer settle down in that remote spot and take wife since he spoke Berber.  According to the season, buttermilk, barely bread and the fast of ramdan would be his to enjoy!

The party moved uphill due south along a grassy ravine which eventually brought them out at the Ayt Sokhman huts of Almou n-Selloult, one of the finest complex of pastures of the whole area with a resident amghar n-igudlan (‘shaikh of the pastures’). A pleasant evening followed, not to mention a restful night.

Next morning it was the parting of the ways with the Imilchil muleteer who, so it turned out, had never been this far from home before. We accordingly switched to full backpacking mode and followed the shaikh up Aqqa n-Timeqqit to see us on our way along the ridge trail of abrid n-tajmart.

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M. Morgenthaler tackling névé just short of 3000-metre col on NE side of Izelfen/ Taouya n-Talghemt ridge, May 20, 2004 (photo: M. Peyron)

This took us well past Izelfen and down to a large hill-girt Ayt Hadiddou pasture. After lunch we made a bee-line for Tafraout n-Ayt Abdi. This brought us over the next hill to yet another pasture – a large one as its name implied – Almou Akhattar. Trending west we eventually breasted the main pass over the divide, Tizi Melghas, with the snow-covered peaks of Jbel Tafraout opposite. A lengthy, complicated descent led down to Tafraout. While resting by a waterfall we met two fellow-travellers. One, a dour-looking, turbaned individual riding a mule (probably one of those mountain-roaming neo-Salafi imams) who rode on after pointedly ignored our greeting; the other, a loner on foot who, on hearing my Berber, took me for a Jew formerly resident in that area back from Israel for a short visit! At Tafraout we enjoyed a quiet evening resting our travel-sore feet.

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With E. Hatt at Ifferd tarn between Azella and Jbel Tafraout, May 21, 2004 (photo: M. Mogenthaler)

For the final day of the outing, May 21, 2004, our host introduced us to a cousin who, for a consideration, kindly acceptd to accompany us to Tizi n-Ifferd. This proved a most interesting stage; first up a steep, stony ravine to Tizi n-Oustiff. Down to to the unlikely tarn of Ifferd, across Almou n-Ifferd then, with a lot of Berbers around, up and over a large snow-field to Tizi n-Ifferd (Tizi n-Tefraout, for wayfarers coming  from Zaouit). Down again via a steep, twisting mule-path past gaunt juniper till opposite Toughd; right along a bafflingly complex system of wooded ridges and ravines, so that it was well past tea-time when we finally made it to Zaouit Ahansal.

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Delightful smiling welcome at Zaouit Ahansal guest-house, May 21 2004 (photo: M. Peyron)

Any travel-weariness we might have felt peeled off us as we were confronted with the cheerful countenances of the inn-keeper’s wife, his daughter and daughter-in-law. After a good dinner and welcome night’s sleep we spent a lazy morning waiting for the transportation situation to sort itself out. And sort itself out it did after yet another substantial meal. By 3pm we had clambered into a battered Land-Rover and climbed towards Tizi n-Illisi to do battle with the Ayt Mhammed piste and its myriad bumps, ruts and curves. Shortly before Ayt Mhammed we made a discreet roadside transfer to a 1970s-model Mercedes. That night we slept at the Hôtel de Paris in Beni Mellal, famous for  its beer-bar, wine-serving restaurant and 3-course menu. The next day a local bus took us past Khenifra, up to Azrou, where Josiane was waiting with a car.

It had been a perfect outing, very much in the spirit of the GTAM, considered not so much as an end-to-end bash but as a selected multi-day section to be worked by a small band of backpackers. Preferably individual tourists unshackled by membership of some commercial caravan or another, and therefore free of any mercantile constraint. As such, Imilchil-Zaouit deserves to become a classic. As such, it will conclude this chapter devoted to fifteen years (1989-2004) revisiting portions of the GTAM itinerary by the person who first visualized, then actually implemented the project on the ground.

   Lone Backpacker

michael.peyron@voila.fr

 hautatlasdemidelt2002nathanguide.jpg

 GTAM maps from 2002 Nathan guide-book

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 NB. Unless otherwise specified texts and illustrations are copyright by Michael Peyron. Material from same may be quoted in compliance with current academic practice.  

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