Arriving in Marrakech is a huge shock to the system and the mild, damp conditions at home did nothing to prepare us for the 28c heat we experienced arriving at on a warm Moroccan evening. A short drive from the airport and we arrived at our Riad in Marrakech. We ate a fine meal of soup, tagine and breads before heading to bed for an early night.
After a hearty breakfast of fruit, bread and pancakes our guide arrived to take us on the long five hour journey to Tabant. Abdellah is an experienced Moroccan mountain guide and being originally from the Aït Bougmez valley he was my first choice to work with on this expedition.
An hour from Tabant the tarmac roads gave way to dirt tracks where the roads surface had been washed away in the recent storms. Our driver Hussain was a local and negotiated the rockfall and potholes with ease. We arrived at our Gîte with plenty of time to spare and had chance to explore the village before evening meals at sundown. The following day would be the official start to our expedition and the end of normal civilised life until we return in five days’ time!
Today was officially the start of our trek and with a full belly of eggs, bread and pancakes we began the slow plod to Tizi n’Aït Imi (2800m) the high pass out of the valley. Reaching the top of the pass we were treated to some stunning panoramic views of Jbel Mgoun and its long east/west ridge.
After a short descent down from the pass we camped up in the creek bed near some caves to have some lunch and rest. The sun was at its highest now and walking in the midday sun would only cost us in more energy and water so after our lunch we snoozed until 3pm to allow the air to cool a little. Around 4:30pm we reached our camp which was a fantastic oasis of green grass, fresh spring water and a grazing mules which was a welcome sight from the arid dry creek bed we had spent most of the afternoon walking up. As its currently Ramadan, Abdullah and his team would eat at sundown so we decided to be respectful and asked to join them in the evening for meals instead of eating earlier. We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling and reading before sundown!
As the sun disappeared behind the mountains the call to prayer on Abdullahs phone app signalled the start of our meal. Gathering in the large cook tent Omar had cooked up a fantastic selection of food with lamb tagine, fried vegetables, cous cous, Harira soup and loads of bread and sauces with fresh fruit to finish. Cooking all of our food for 7 people is hard enough but the fact he did it all on two small stoves was a very impressive task. We broke fast with our team starting with dates and eating the tagine and cous cous together. It was a great way to end the day!
An easier day for us today with about 5 hours of trekking to our Mgoun base camp. As normal Omar did a sterling job of making a varied breakfast and today we were treated to porridge, super strength coffee and bread with lots of extras like jam, cheese and even some cake!
The walk from camp was quite gentle and after around 2 hours of walking we reached our high point of around 2900m. Even though we had rested and slept well at 2700m we could still feel the thinner air and everybody was breathing heavier than the days before. To reach Mgoun basecamp we had to drop down into the valley then rise to about 3100m which was hard going in the midday heat. Arriving at Mgoun base camp around 5 hours from when we started we were surprised to find it a huge plateau of lush green grass and huge number of grazing mules and donkeys. Omar again put on a fantastic spread with pasta, vegetables and fresh fruit and a good helping of strong coffee to wash it all down with. The rest of the day was ours so we used it to eat snacks and sleep as sundown would bring another meal and plummeting temperatures.
Day 5 Summit day
My alarm burst into life at 3:45am and it didn't take long for us all to wake up and head to the cook tent to grab some breakfast. By 4:30am we were all set ready to go and we began the long walk across the plateau towards the trail leading up to the Mgoun ridgeline. Everybody was making good time up the steep scree but it was evident the air was getting thinner by the heavy breathing and the occasional huff as things got steeper.
After little under two hours the steep section was complete and we could see the long 2km of ridgeline heading towards Mgoun summit. As excitement built we all picked up the pace stopping on occasion to take in the incredible views of the neighbouring peaks and deep gorges in the valleys. After about 40 minutes of walking the ridgeline we were all standing on the summit of Mgoun (4077m). The feeling of reaching the summit is hard to describe and a personal one, for me it was pure joy that everybody had made the summit without problem and under clear blue skies. It was certainly a day that we would all remember for a lifetime. On our return journey and with plenty of gas in the tank we all decided to summit Omsud South (4012m) a subsidiary peak of Mgoun before heading back down.
Descending into camp took a few hours and within minutes Omar had sorted some coffee and biscuits for us to celebrate our summit success. We relaxed and talked about the day sharing our pictures and enjoying each other’s company while topping up our tans.
The evening was spent eating lots of food and resting. The expedition was only half done and we still had two days of trekking before we reached Tabant but the hardest part of the expedition was now behind us!
We woke at 5:30am to find the temperatures in camp had plummeted to -2c and a heavy frost covered the ground and top of the tents. After a few minutes of packing things away we headed outside where Omar as always had breakfast and coffee ready. We left camp around 7am with a steep 3600m pass to bring us into the next valley but with us being so well acclimated the ascent felt easy. We descended into the valley meeting groups heading on the tourist track to Mgoun and had chance to share a quick "Bonjour, Cava?" with the first westerners we had spoken with for three days.
After a day’s trekking we finally reached the village of Arous where the local Berbers greeted us warmly. We camped up in the village and helped Omar, Mr Hussain and Ibrahim pitch the tents and prepare the very important coffee. Omar was so used to our habits that the coffee stove had priority over the food and he always ensured it was strong and plentiful which kept us happy for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow is our last day of trekking but we still had some way to go before the finish.
At 07:00am the call to prayer burst into life and the Omar began cooking some porridge and making coffee for our breakfast. We packed away the tents and cleared up the camp before making the short journey back to Tabant. Our return journey would normally take around 2 hours but Abdellah was keen to show us the dinosaur footprints in the rocks so we agreed and headed for a village just a short detour from Tabant. On our approach to the village we spotted a dried yellow scorpion which are deadly if they sting you. Abdellah decided we should go scorpion hunting to find a live one but insisted we only use our boots to flip the rocks over. A single sting to the hand could be incredibly painful and would probably kill us. A little while later we were still yet to find the deadly yellow scorpion but in hindsight it was probably for the best as we hadn’t a clue how they would react or what to do if we found one!
After finally reaching the dinosaur footprints we took some photos and headed for Imilgas where our trek ended. Omar our cusinier invited us into his families home for a nice meal and some coffee before heading off to our Gite and the end of the trek.
Details for our next Jbel Mgoun expedition can be found below. Dates for 2020 will be added in the coming weeks!
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