Prep and repairs in Imlil
Having just completed Toubkal it was now to plan our next circuit from Imlil. With the slight disappointment of the achievement we had just made, we needed something to keep us going. I am not saying I regret doing Toubkal, as it is always nice to know your limits and your abilities, I just thought they were lower than that. So in some respects it was a boost of confidence. We sat at Gite Atlas Mazik once again pondering the map for inspiration with our trusty guidebook. We wanted a couple more peaks where possible, preferably over 4,000m. So with little time taken, it was easy enough to hop in to the next valley and head towards the Tazarhart Plateau. We planned our circuit, sort of, and headed off to buy food for 5 days, replace a duff inflatable sleeping mat and buy a big bottle of water, so that I could then use this as my water bottle as well.
Walking through Imlil, it was hard to walk past the food, and it was very enticing. However to date all the food had been lacking in meat, and was all bone. But we got some anyway. We were once again presented with a boney tagine and a pot of tea with a brick of sugar. Never seen a lumps of sugar like it, but of course we didn’t want to waste it. Pretty sure I knocked 10 years off of the life of my teeth due to that, and contributed heavily to diabetes.
We scoured the town, it wasn’t easy finding variety, but we got what we needed bar bread. We decided to ask our host, Ali, for a number of his delicious breads. Of which we rationed a number per day. I think the bowel is only capable of dealing with so much of this bread at any one time. With that we decided to get some sleep ready for the next day.
During the night Chris woke me heading for the toilet, and apologised the next morning. I said it wasn’t a problem at all, I just turned over and went back to sleep. He then mentioned that he had in fact been up three times during the night due to a slightly off belly. I queried his health, and he seemed to be confident that he was ok. We had both eaten the same, so I wasn’t entirely sure what it would be. So we agreed to take it easy if he was ok to go ahead. I was surprised that it had taken over a week for one of us to get any symptoms of ill health.
Fresh orange and new scenery
Thankfully Ali was happy for us to dump a load of kit that we didn’t require in safe storage. This was brilliant as we probably lost the best part of 5kg off our packs in unnecessary kit. But I can’t say we skipped up the hill the next morning. Ali was adamant that his son show us the way out of the back of the village, towards the col we were heading for. This was a lovely and peaceful walk, only meeting a handful of tourists and villagers along the way. Compared with the motorway up Toubkal, this was a country road in comparison. As we wandered up the hillside, it was definitely showing signs of a different landscape, trees, rock types and plant life. Reaching the col, Tizi h’Mzik, we were pleased to have the opportunity to grab a fresh orange from a random vendor who had set up a stall. How much business can this guy get? I was baffled.
It was starting to get hot now, but there was a nice gentle descent in to the valley contouring around the hillside towards Tamsoult. This was extremely pleasant, and I only could imagine how cool and fast this would be to do on a mountain bike. We wandered our way through a open woodland, which had been scorched and battered by the sun, but was still lush and green. I didn’t check, but I assume these were a hardy Juniper species. At last we could see the village ahead of us, Azib Tamsoult. By now the sun had becoming punishing, and we were feeling………..punished. So we took shelter for a short while at the refuge. Obviously it was only polite to purchase, as we were seeking shelter, a bottle of Coca Cola. Ahh! refreshing.
We were heading for the waterfall today that we had heard so much about, but in this barren landscape how big could it be. We followed the stream up the valley with scepticism of, how beautiful could this waterfall be?
Winding our way up the valley the sun did not show mercy, and we were longing for the shade of the steep sides of the valley. We knew there was going to be a waterfall, but how big? How high?
Cascades d’Irhoulidene est belle
I am not always a man that considers such things beautiful, and may be it was because I was slightly dehydrated, roasting and in a need of a rest. But this waterfall provided a much-needed alternative to beige countryside. It was immense compared to the puny image I had conjured in my mind. In this moment, we decided we were going to camp nearby and enjoy the beauty and cooling effect for a short while. And to finish it off we had a bivi with a view.
Not long after falling asleep, I woke from my sleeping bag to see a silhouette of a man creeping up on Chris’ sleeping bag, not knowing what to do and still having my earphones in I panicked. Stuck in my sleeping bag I was useless, I shot up startled, and begun to make a range of noises whilst fumbling with my zip. I wasn’t succeeding and if this had been serious I would have epically failed. When I managed to pull my earphones from my ears, and actually focus without my glasses, I realised it was Chris, and he was returning from having been to the toilet. Felt a bit of a numpty, but at least it was funny for him, and me a little later.
Having woken nice and early had our bread, we headed for the refuge de la Tazarhart, or Lepiney on our map. I was really looking forward to today. Hopefully we would get another mountain ticked. Unfortunately I had slept awfully, due to my new foam sleeping mat. Cheap and nasty was the word. I was knackered.
We arrived having made good pace in the cool morning air, what a cool little mountain refuge, not quite what either of us expected. We dumped our bags, and looked at what we could do next. We decided that we would head for the peak Tinharin, 3,910m. As we headed up in to the mountains, I wasn’t exactly feeling sharp and a little worse for wear due to lack of sleep. We got to the gully we were supposed to ascend, but it was protected by permanent névé. We skirted around the base of the mountain hoping for a weakness in its defences, but we were unable to do so. We down climbed with tails between our legs and headed back. I was done.
Tazarhart Plateau and the new plan
We were suitably disheartened, but in all honesty with my fatigue and Chris’ belly we probably needed the rest. We sat and waited at the refuge, until at last a group of men walked in, I forget their nationality. They were being guided, whilst us ‘crazy English’, travelled alone. Chris asked what they had done for the day and they explained which gully they had ascended on to the plateau, it sounded way better that the boring linear route we were considering. So we scouted it out on the map and got excited about a bit of adventure. We looked at the gully from the hut, and realised it appeared quite steep.
Next morning we were on it, out of bed, more bread, which was starting to get quite stale by now. And off we went with a spring in our step due to a good nights sleep. We wound our way over to the foot of the gully, it looked even steeper close up, quality. The scree made for a welcome challenge negotiating the field with our Lake District experience. As we climbed, it definitely felt like it was getting steeper, and memories of a Central Gully on Great End in the Lakes. Me and a friend of mine completed this gully in summer on an extremely wet day, and more than once the question was thought and voiced ‘why the fuck are we here?’ This felt a little like one of those moments, as Chris and me had kind of committed ourselves. The way looked passable, and we took our time. Had the other group used ropes? Or just been dragged up? We teetered across various grades of scree, not daring to take a photo for fear of losing the camera for good.
After much thinking, negotiating, hopping, jumping, scrambling, tiptoeing and general panicking, we made it on to the plateau. Thank god for that, that was awesome. We took at a look at our achievement, and in all honesty it wasn’t really showing its difficulty, typical. I hope this photo helps give a little perspective. I now saw why it was a winter route, much like Central Gully on Great End. Both though being fantastic adventures.
I now did my usual, which I am unsure whether I offended Chris or not. I popped in the earphones and appreciated the views across the Toubkal massif and Tazarhart Plateau. It’s not difficult to believe that planes have attempted to land on here, and somewhere there is a plane wreckage.
Eventually we were rewarded with views of Toubkal at the summit of Tazarhart, 3,980m itself. I decided to send a friend, Dave Bunting, a text to let him know I was in the mountains enjoying myself, as I knew he wasn’t.
We headed down to Tizi Melloul, and up on to the two peaks we were after, Afella, 4,002m and Clochetons Central, 4,045m. We sat and looked at the region we had just spent the last couple of weeks and couldn’t believe we would now be heading down for the last time. Having now had our fill we headed down from the mountain back to the refuge. We collected our things and headed straight for the Refuge in Azib Tamsoult. When we arrived it was like a ghost refuge, we were the only ones knocking around in the huge refuge. Thankfully more trekkers in the form of Brits arrived to break the silence.
Next day we headed back out of the valley via the Tizi n’Tzikert, as to avoid any kind of retracing where possible. It was a nice walk out, and monotonous walk down. It was knee destroying, but we had done some serious ascent and descent in the last week or so. So it was to be expected. We returned to Imlil, dumped our kit and headed in to Imlil to hound the drivers for a cheap fare back to Marrakech the following day. We conceded to the fact it was fairly fixed, and managed to get a cheapish deal out of Ali.
Back in Marrakech, we stayed in Purple Camel, a good hostel, two things had to happen. One was to find something resembling a little bit of culture so we could do the tourist thing and the other a fast food restaurant that wouldn’t scrimp on the fat. Enter the golden arches of McDonald’s, tick. Culturally we explored the square and markets, and haggled for gifts for family back home. I wanted to get Dora something.
Have you seen the film ‘Hostel’?
Chris and me were approached by a young man, encouraging us to visit the Berber in the city. So reluctantly agreed to do so, we had nothing better to do. We headed off with this man far out in to the suburbs of Marrakech, where I felt more and more vulnerable to any number of crimes. I chatted with Chris, and thankfully he was on the same page. We arrived in the tannery district, and wondered what we were doing here. Are we going to be turned in to some rich man’s coat, why are we here? Why didn’t we refuse or turn back? We arrived at two large doors and a man waiting for us, he greeted us with a smile, the last smile we would ever see? The doors opened with a grate down the alleyway. We are so screwed, what was making us walk down here, in our flip-flops, shorts and t-shirts. We walked down, and as we turned a corner a man of about 6’2″ with a blade the width of his shoulders and wearing a well soiled slaughterers apron, began to shear the fat off an animals hide. Where the hell are we? The man now walking with us began to speak giving us a tour of the place, it was just a tannery. We walked around in our flip-flops, and just couldn’t believe why hadn’t we refused and turned back. What had made us walk here? Fear had sucked us both in, and we played along, never again.