Atlas trek, Part 2

Typical Berber village in the Atlas

The M’Goun Massif is part of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, North-West Africa. Its highest peaks are well over 3000m (Mount M’Goun is over 4000m). These days many of the small villages are connected with good quality paved roads but if you want to discover the higher regions, you’ll have to follow old mule tracks.
This is the second part (days 3 and 4) of our Atlas trek, which crosses the range from Agouti to Ait Hamza. (Of course, you can change the start and end points.)

Quick facts:
Total distance: 55 km (if you don’t get lost)
Time needed: 3-4 days
Accommodation: camping by the rivers and near villages, homestays in some villages
Food on the way: There are very basic foodstores in most of the small villages but don’t count on much more than canned fish and biscuits
Water: there are plenty of sources and brooks in the mountains but take water purification tablets
Highlights: the traditional Berber villages, where time seems to have stopped and the breathtaking landscapes
Photos taken during our Atlas trek in late June

 

The way to the Rougoult Pass (3000 m)

From Rougoult, you continue your Atlas trek along the Tifra River (now just a humble mountain brook) that leads you close to 3000 m.  Some descriptions of the route say it should take only 2 hours. Well, it took us much longer than that. Maybe it was because we were hiking with our 8-year-old son, I don’t know. But anyway, don’t be surprised if you’re still struggling uphill after four long hours. Sooner or later you’ll be there 🙂

It's a challenge to walk the path at places. And great fun!
It’s a challenge to walk the path at places. And great fun!

The route is physically demanding but extremely interesting at the same time. First, there are rock formations. You can see how the mighty forces of the Earth shaped the mountains into what we see today. The rocks come in various colours, too, from shades of white to red.

Craggy cliff face high above Rougoult
Craggy cliff face high above Rougoult
A lone tree holds on against all odds.
A lone tree holds on against all odds. Look at the crazy geology of the mountain!
Red rocks not much before reaching the pass
Red rocks not much before reaching the pass. Look at the ancient mule path on the left.

Then there are the people you can meet while on the way. We met elderly men crossing the mountain on muleback, young boys leading horses and an entire family passed us on mules. It was a funny situation as we were just refreshing ourselves, sitting in a pond of cool water in swimming clothes. But they just smiled and carried on. We heard the whistles of shepherds looking after the sheep hundreds of metres higher. Then we saw a woman collecting grass and carrying it back to her house.

Not an easy life
Not an easy life
Some of the people we met on our way
Some of the people we met on our Atlas trek

Amezri

If you are running out of drinking water you can fill up your bottles at the spring just under the pass. And here are many others along this Atlas trek but it’s better to have purification tablets just in case. We reached the top around 6 pm and I think we got a bit lost, too. In fact we walked higher than necessary. Then we caught sight of two young women, collecting dry bushes. They were very helpful and offered to show us the way down to Taisgawalt. But they were so fast that we were almost running for the next hour!

On the Rougoult Pass, the highest point of our Atlas trek
On the Rougoult Pass, the highest point of our Atlas trek
We had to walk really fast after the two young women
We had to walk really fast after the two young women. You can see one of them in front with a bunch of dry branches on her head

We still had a little time to admire the views from the top. It was interesting that the colours and shapes on the two sides of the pass were so distinct. The northern valley was much dryer and less colourful.

Looking back from the pass
Looking back from the pass
This view greeted us at 3000 metres
This view greeted us at 3000 metres

By the time we arrived in the next village (Amezri) it was getting cooler. There is a basic food store in the village. We bought tinned fish again and some biscuits, plus a big bottle of coke for the local kids. They followed us down to the bank of the Tessaout river, where we put up our tent. We found a gîte (simple hostel) but it was so badly maintained that we rather stayed in the open air and enjoyed the now usual bath in the river (when the boys had gone).

Day 4 to Ait Hamza

What’s good for the locals is not always so good for travellers. These days the old paths are mostly replaced by gravel roads high above the river. So the route from Amezri to Ait Hamza won’t be the highlight of your trip, especially after the beauties of the previous day.

Still, we enjoyed the sight of the carefully cultivated terraces of land by the river. For centuries, the Berber population of the mountains have developed sophisticated ways to get the limited water of the river to the mountainside. As a result, the bottom of the valley is lively green despite the dry climate. Hopefully, this doesn’t change in the future. Because if the big cities attract these people with the promises of an easier life, this paradise will be gone for good.

The terraced fields of the Tessault Valley
The terraced fields of the Tessault Valley

Two boys from Amezri followed us on a donkey till we got to the next village. They were trying to convince us that Aron would feel better on the donkey.  We were afraid of the fleas so refused the service. But they deserved something for their perseverance so we bought them a coke and said goodbye.

The houses of Itchebakan
The houses of Itchebakan

The route passes by the village of Itchebakan, another example of traditional Berber architecture. They feature kasbahs (large fortified buildings for one or more families) and agadirs (granaries) made from compacted mud, stones and wood. If you’d like to learn more about them, you can find a great article here.

Back to Azilal

At the end of the 4th day you arrive in Ait Hamza, another typical Berber village of the Atlas Mountains. It is locally known for the traditional rugs woven by the women of the village. We decided to finish our Atlas trek here as we didn’t want to spend another day walking mostly on paved roads. We found an affordable room in a smaller kasbah. The next day the owner took us to Demnat, from where there are buses and/or shared taxis to Azilal.

Rock formations high above the valley
Rock formations high above the valley near Ait Hamza

All in all it was a demanding but highly memorable trip. It’s suitable for anyone of average fitness and some hiking past. We only met one tourist on the 4th day but many locals, without whom the whole experience would have been poorer.

Thank you for your attention! If you liked my post, why not check out this hike in the Bohemian Paradise of Czechia?

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