Trekking in the High Atlas in Morocco

Trekking in the High Atlas in Morocco

Photos from a great trek in North West Africa

Text and photos: Erik Pontoppidan

Copyright: Erik Pontoppidan

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From a café in the village Imlil, High Atlas

The photos on this page were taken on an 11-day-trek in the High Atlas mountains in Morocco in North-west Africa in September / October 2003 and in Marrakech, where we stayed at the beginning and the end of the trip. Altogether a VERY exciting experience with plenty of beautiful natural scenery, adventurous experience and physical challenge. The trek was a circular walk, starting and ending in the village Imlil, and the trail crossed several high mountain passes over 3.000 meters, passing through many picturesque villages on the way. Most in our group succeeded to climb Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa (4.167 meters) . Altogether, we were 16 participants + guide, cooks and mules.

As an extra experience, we got the opportunity to see Marrakech - a town, which will inevitably fascinate any globe-trotter no matter how much of the world they have seen. The souk in the central town is incredible, and you will never forget the crowds of people doing everything on the huge central square Dnjemaa el Fna after sunset.

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1-4: The trail took us through several pictoresque villages.

1: "Atlas glow" just after sunrise in the Tizi n Ouanoum Pass (3.660 meters), which we crossed a few hours later.
2: From the steep ascent to the Tizi n Ouanoum Pass.
3-4: You often find the most beautiful mountain views in the late afternoon or just after sunrise.

Trekking in the High Atlas

So what makes people spend a whole holiday crossing high mountain passes with tiring ascents and descents, primitive accommodation in tents and miserable toilet facilities with days between baths and showers?

There are several answers to that question: Great natural scenery, motion, fresh and clean air, simple living, a good social life in the group, etc. Really recommendable if you want to clean your mind by focusing on elementary subjects like breathing, stones, hunger and thirst. And believe it or not, but to many of those who are not used to daily, physical, hard work, it' s great to feel a natural fatigue at night instead of being mentally exhausted after a whole day in front of a computer.

High Atlas is hard to compare with other mountains like The Alps, The Pyrenees, etc. The landscape is much more barren and desert-like because of the very hot and dry climate in the surroundings. Don't forget, that the High Atlas is situated right next to Sahara with all the consequences of that! You will mainly find the green areas close to the villages with their irrigation systems. The summer months are too hot for trekking here, but September and October are good months for walking, and at altitudes over 2.000 meters, the temperature is pleasant at that time of the year. And the dry climate gives you certain climatic advantages. I have made several treks in the Alps with days of rain and mist. On this trip in September / October, the weather was great from sunrise to sunset. Every morning, the first sunlight hit the highest peaks, creating a fantastic light in the dry air, which we immediately named "Atlas glow".

A normal day would start before sunrise with breakfast in the early dusk. Then our tents were packed on the back of the mules before the day's trek of 4 to 8 hours started - a schedule requiring a reasonably good physical ability because there were many ascents and descents at quite high altitudes and along stony trails. After the crossing of a high pass, we made a break on the top, enjoying the incredible views. Then, after a couple of hours' descent, we had lunch in the shade of a big tree at a small watercourse. During the afternoon, our next camp site was reached, and after the tents were put up, tea and supper was served. These camps were very basic, without any facilities, but with fantastic surroundings, changing from green grass at murmuring streams to almost biblical motives with goats and sheep in a stony and barren but very impressive landscape.

Due to the early and fast darkness in these southern regions there was not much to do in the camp at night, and since we were all physically tired after the day's trek, we usually went early to bed. However, the dark night offered an awesome star-gazing in the dry desert air, far from towns and artificial light. To me, few places revealed so many stars in the moonless nights than here. One of the nights, we slept in a small guest house in one of the villages, and my mattress was placed in the open air on the terrace, with a first class view of the universe!

As a whole, the trip was a fantastic experience. It was arranged by the Danish travel agency Topas - a specialist in adventure travels and alternative holidays, and to those who like trekking, physical challenges and great natural sceneries, I can warmly recommend it.

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1: The trail between Likemt and Ait Igrane.
2: Approaching the camp site of the night, after the passing of Lake Ifni. In the background the Tizi n Ouanoum pass (3.660 meters), which we crossed the next morning.
3: From the stony camp site close to Lake Ifni.
4: Supper in the kitchen tent.

1: Our camp site in the middle of the terrace fields above the village Labassene.
2: Unexpected guests at our camp site at Likemt.
3: Broken boots can be a serious problem in these regions.
4: Our cooks in action.

1: Early morning on the trek between the village Amskere and Oukaimeden.
2: The heavy part of our luggage was carried by mules.
3-4: Afternoon on the big square Dnjemaa el Fna in central Marrakech.

1-2: From the souk in Marrakech.
3: After sunset, the central square Dnjemaa el Fna in Marrakech is changed into a huge food market - something, which will inevitably fascinate any globe-trotter no matter how much of the world they have seen.
4: The Koutoubia Mosk after sunset, seen from my room window in Hotel Foucauld, central Marrakech.

From the pass Tizi n Tacheddirt (3.230 meters), High Atlas

The photos on this page are taken with a Canon G2 digital camera. In order to reduce the download time, the size and the data of the the photos are strongly reduced compared to the originals, and this has inevitably reduced the technical quality, too. However, all photos may be delivered in full size and quality for use in books, magazines, papers, etc. The price is 70 Euro per picture.

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