I suspect the majority of tourists if they cross the High Atlas, do so on the Tizi-n-Tichka pass; judging by the lack of ceramic stalls on the roadside far fewer bother with the Tizi-n-Test pass and only a tiny proportion of those would consider turning off to tackle the road along the Ougdemt valley to Arg N30.98984 W8.40574 (2145m).
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Hamish Brown claims in his book ‘The High Atlas’ that this road is paved all the way. The first few kilometres maybe, but then there are about 20 km of narrow difficult unpaved rutted road with no passing places and much of the way with a serious unprotected drop on one side. Luckily in both directions I met nothing coming the other way other than a few muleteers. Other hillbaggers will be aware that sometimes getting to the start of a walk is harder than the walk itself. I wouldn't say that the drive this time was harder but I was glad when I finally reached Arg. Within moments there was a swarm of men from the village inviting me to their homes for mint tea – I tried to put them off by promising I would go to one of their homes ‘ce soir’ but that I needed to get going before the day became too hot.
The walk entails following the road through the village, with several more offers of mint tea, and then the road narrows to a mule track that heads off to long line of cultivated irrigated terraces where as ever the women were doing the work as the men stood around in small groups. Fairly soon the track drops down to the valley floor and becomes much less well defined. At the junction of two valleys N30.98742 W8.43015 (2555m) a group of men waved at me to carry on up the main valley towards an obvious col on the summit ridge. Quite why this route is any better did not ever become clear – it was a slippy, scree ridden ill-defined path all the way to the col and was taking me away from the summit rather than towards it. Also I realised that the previous day’s exertions on Toubkal had tired me more than I thought. I kept going up and then decided to make a long traverse from N30.98935 W8.43836 (2915m) across to the next col rather than go all the way up to the first one. This did not really turn out to be any easier and in terms of the effort/progress ratio did not make much difference. From the second col I traversed on the left hand side to the third col and then gained the summit ridge where the going was easier, even if the air pressure was lower. The final stretch was more of a walk and would have been quite easy if I had had the energy for it. Hamish Brown writes about the first ascent by Joseph Thomson in 1888 as an ‘extraordinary feat of mountaineering’ so maybe I should be pleased that I managed to get to the top of the Ultra, Jebel Igdet/Igdat N30.96462 W8.44337 3619m P1613 too. Karl Smith in his trekking book mentions there is a trig on the summit but I saw no sign of it – just a cairn and another cairn on the slightly lower summit a short distance to the south-east. The views back to Arg and the Ougment valley were fine – however, there was little to be seen of the Toubkal which looked like it was having another afternoon thunderstorm.
On the return I kept more to the summit ridge and when avoiding the more scrambly sections dropped down to the other side than the one I used on ascent and found the going a bit easier. At the second col I decided I would try going down the alternative valley. Sometimes the scree made it easier going, sometimes it was just difficult and tiresome. I was glad to reach the valley floor and the mule track. As I walked back to the village I could see the women gathering and carrying fodder and hear them singing and ululating as they worked. For quite a while I was accompanied by a mule that seemed to have slipped its tether – I began to worry that I would be accused of mule rustling. As I reached the village it was getting to dusk – one or two men used the two hands at the side of the head ‘sleeping’ gesture as an invitation to stay overnight – I thought they looked quite sweet doing that – I managed to decline by muttering about ‘mon voiture’. Somehow I slipped inside the voiture quietly without having to go through the lengthy elaborate ceremony of mint tea making. Despite Igdet in theory being a relatively easy quick grab from the road, I was too tired to be sociable.
Overnight on the edge of Arg village – falling asleep to the accompaniment of braying mules, ululating women and the mullah’s call to prayer.
One of the pleasures of travelling in a motorhome is that one night you can be high up in the Atlas mountains, the next night listening to the waves on a large lake created by the Barrage Ahmed el Hansali in the middle of Morocco close to the delightedly vowelly Ouaoumana. From Arg to Ouaoumana. Being besides a lake also gave me the chance to do what the Moroccans do whenever there is even a small pool of water, clean their cars. The van was literally covered in dust inside and outside – even things inside the cupboards were covered in a film of desert sand.
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