Practical guidebooks for the more adventurous traveller.
— The Herald
by: Alan Palmer
Thank you to those who wrote in with the following updates including: Maurizio Ceraldi
The information has not yet been checked by Trailblazer but it will be for the next edition.
The updates relate to the 2nd edition
page 244 Aït /Ayt Imi. There is a gîte d'étape called "Chez Moha" run by a friendly perfect french speaking guide de montagne, Mohamed Khout. He is very helpful, spent some time in the french alps and organises tours. The setting there is wonderful, surrounded by old agadirs and big walnut trees. Souk el Had is just 20 minutes away and reader Maurizio above recommended stopping there, especially if starting for the Tizi n Ait Imi. Contact details: Mohamed Khout, email@example.com, téléphone 00 212 676 875 208
The updates relate to the 1st edition
Update to the Mgoun Traverse:
Due to the construction of a tarmac road along the valley floor that now affects the early stages of the Mgoun Traverse all the way from Tabant (Souk el Had) to Abachkou and even further west, I would suggest an amendment to the first part of the trek as follows:
Head south from Agouti through Azib n'Ikkis and over Aghouri Est pass to Tarkeddid Plateau (as for the beginning of the Mgoun Circular Trek) before turning west and following the trail from the very source of Tassawt/Tassaout River along the north side of Wandrass Gorge and descending to the Tassawt Valley itself. (The more direct route through Wandrass Gorge is not possible without ropes).
If, on the other hand, you are set on reaching Tassawt/Tassaout Valley by crossing the spectacular Tizi n'Roughelt/Roughoult, I would suggest that you arrange private transport as far as Sebt Ait Bou Wlli (just before Abachkou) and head south up to Tizi n'Roughelt from there.
Once in Tassawt Valley, you might want to consider heading south from Ait 'Ali n'Itto to Megdaz, reputedly the most beautiful village in the entire High Atlas Mountains and birthplace of the celebrated Berber poetess Mririda n'Ait Attik. This is suggested as a side trip in Moroccan Atlas. From Megdaz, however, you could then continue onwards (south-west) to the spectacular lake of Tamda n'Ounghmar/Anghomar and then descend to the fabulous kasbah at Telouet. Even if you do not have time for this, do consider at least taking the side trip as far as Megdaz, now reached in only an hour or so from Ait 'Ali n'Itto.
Thanks to Ben Moon for the following updates, May 2011. The information has not yet been checked by Trailblazer but it will be for the next edition.
Having just returned from Morocco, I felt obliged to send my thanks for and compliments on your fantastic guide. It was a last minute buy (having been looking for some half-decent maps of the Atlas without success) and proved a very worthy and useful companion, as well as ultimately paying for itself (see below).
Its a great concise guide, the maps are fantastic, and the descriptions and occasional wry asides are perfectly composed. The tips to use grand taxis rather than buses saved me a lot of time and even money compared to most other travellers I met. And I have to agree - the 3-course meals cooked on a single gas burner by our muleteer on the dusty mountain side somehow surpassed the best I could find anywhere else in my 3 weeks in Morocco (and food was great everywhere) .
A few points for your book, in case useful:
Maps: I checked out the 1:100k and 1:50k Moroccan Division de la Carte maps you mention (also recommended by lonely planet, with slightly blurry photocopies being available from Hotel Ali in Marrakech, or from several shops in Imlil at around 140dh) - but can't say I found them particularly useful for any decent navigation, so decided to save my dirhams! I did come across two decent, recently published Spanish alternatives however:
Toubkal Alto Atlas Marruecos, 1:40,000. Editorial piolet, c/ Nicaragua, 45 entl. 2°, 08029 Barcelona; www.editorialpiolet.com (there are other Atlas maps available here too)
Toubkal & Marrakech, Orientazion - Carte de rendonnees, 1:50,000 (waterproof map). www.mapiberia.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Both are very clear (Harveys map style symbology) with contours. Both available from the respective publishers for under 12€. One local shopholder promised me everyday he'd have them 'tomorrow' - but alas to no avail!
In addition to these, I was told by one German traveller that the school of geography at the University of Belgrade has carried out some detailed mapping of other regions of the Atlas - though I have no idea whether these are also commercially available.
Roads: The hard-surfaced roads seem to be growing as fast as the new gite and auberges. The metalling of the road to Imlil has now extended to Setti Fatma, with the intention to complete the loop to Oukaimeden shortly.
Gite de Tametert: I would thoroughly endorse your recommendation! A lovely place with a great view. It was cheaper than described in your book for me however - 50dh/night + 20dh breakfast and 50dh evening meal (cf. "half board 160dh/320dh" in your text) and for this I got a room to myself for 4 nights - including a free upgrade to the upstairs en-suite rooms on the last night when another group arrived - bonus!
Running: As you mention the Marathon de Sables in the book, you might also note the Marathon Toubkal (www.toubkaltrail.com) which takes place in October. Its in its 3rd year this year, with the 42km / 3313m ascent race, which starts and ends in Imlil and includes the summit of Toubkal, scheduled for 1st Oct 2011. Looking at previous years results the first year looks like it was dominated by Spanish and Italians, although the sole Moroccan entrant took 1st prize. A lot more locals ran in 2010, although a Catalan ultimately stole the show. Funds and free time allowing, I might give it a go this year. I'm sure you'll be disappointed to learn, however, the Imlil trail race, a 125km / 9000m ultramarathon (basically your 6-7 day Toubkal circular trek) run on the same day is unfortunately not being repeated this year as they couldn't get enough interest.
As a runner myself any asides on running in guidebooks is always very welcome - especially to know whether its worth packing the kit (it nearly always is). Worth mentioning that the tracks and pistes in the area make great training grounds. I got many warm responses from the locals and had some great chats with local runners i met on my early morning jaunts. Rachid tells me all mountain guides have to run a marathon (albeit not the Toubkal marathon) with kit as part of their official training. As for the two Dark Peak (British fell-running club) runners I met coming the other way on my way up Toubkal who made the return trip from Imlil to snow covered Toubkal in one morning in shorts and orienteering studs (and reportedly throwing up at the top due to altitude, before getting straight back into there stride on the descent) - well, enough said.
Shorts and short shorts: No shortage of these on other tourists in the mountains unfortunately, especially in English and French groups (with large groups of students in hotpants a common site) it has to be said. Seems your and other guidebooks' advice falling on deaf ears, sadly.
Altitude sickness: Also no shortage of people coming straight up from Marrakech for a swift 2-day peak bagging of Toubkal with no acclimatisation. Although this will obviously and understandably remain popular, with roughtly 90% of folks getting by with no problem - it might be worth recommending that people who do take the risk are also prepared to tip heavily should they become one of the unlucky 10% who do get sick due to the extra risk and burden they place on the guides! Of the three australian doctors coming straight from Marrakech who I joined up with for the trek, one succumbed to alt sickness before Neltner, and the other two struggled very slowly and breathlessy up the final ascent - with our guide sending me on ahead alone rather than risking getting caught in the mid-day melting ice with them. About half of the 20 or so people ascending Toubkal that day were doing so direcly from Marrakech.
Taxis from Marrakech Don't rely on locals to know any better than you! Having initially deferred grand taxi negotiations to the two other Marrakechian 30-something couples (making their first ever trips to the mountains) waiting at Bab Er Robb, it took me a while with my broken French to realise I actually had a far better idea of where we were going and how much it should cost thanks to your book. Meaning we did eventually get down from 400dh to the expected price of 200dh for the whole cab, plus a very fast ride!
Buses from Marrakech: go very regularly towards Ouarzarzate and Zagora, much more frequently than listed in your or any other guidebook I saw. Although a lot of these are supposed to be 'slow' buses, in my experience they were faster than the CTM buses, which (in the cases of the several other travellers i met) were regularly several hours late. I think the timings and durations are probably pretty random in reality, but would suggest travellers check at the bus station rather than relying on printed info.
Ait Benhaddou: Didn't have time to visit myself, but since appears highly recommended from others, might be worth including in your Ouarzarzate sections (from where it can be easily visited by taxi, or by a 2-3 hour bike ride)?
May 2011 Thanks to Svein H. Nielsen
p18 You say Norwegians needs visa for going into Morocco. No, in 17 years now, I've gone into Morocco at least once in a year, without. And I'm a Norwegian citizen going there with passport only.