Previously the playground of rock climbers and mountain bikers, the Anti-Atlas has much to offer walkers too. David Wood, author of the new Cicerone guidebook to the region, describes the huge potential for walking, trekking and scrambling in the area.
Mention the Atlas Mountains and the chances are that someone will say Toubkal. Such is the draw of the higher summits that many people seldom give a second glance to the splendour of the mountains which fall in their shadows. Well to the south of the High Atlas is a range of mountains of 7000ft which overlook the southernmost part of Morocco. Known as the Anti-Atlas, these mountains occupy the space between the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Algeria to the east and the disputed territory of Western Sahara to the south.
Here granite tors mingle with huge quartzite domes - some fashioned into sweeping landscapes dominated by sharp ridges and pinnacles.
All is shadow and light and strange shapes can be conjured up in the passing of a day. People spend hours just gazing at the mountain range which displays the massive iconic Lion's Face but the best treat is reserved for those descending the Ameln Valley towards Tafraout late in the day. Here layer upon layer of crimson ridges and pinnacles are silhouetted against a wide sunset sky.
For many years the north western Anti-Atlas has seen a steady flow of tourists, particularly French and German travellers, who have based themselves in the oasis town of Tafraout. But the region has been firmly off-radar to the majority of UK residents prior to the work done by British rock climbers in describing and mapping the area. Publicity was generally scant and there was little by way of documented information about walking and scrambling before the recently published Cicerone guidebook.
People often associate deserts with sand dunes and camels, but in reality they are defined by an annual rainfall of less than 250mm. Most of the landscapes of this wonderful area are those which feature quartzite domes rising out of a scrub stony desert which in itself takes on varying hues and shadows with the passing of light. Rain brings flowers and prolific herb growth in springtime and winter and the almond blossom is celebrated as a festival in February. Even in December there are eleven hours of daylight.
What to experience and where to find it
Variety: The area is remarkably diverse, and it is possible to be on a 7500 foot rugged summit and in lush palm tree valleys in a single day with time left for a swim or beer on the hotel terrace. The next day can take you through the palm tree Utah-like Ait Mansour Gorge with an optional rim walk if you are prepared. The dedicated trekker can also take on a 110km seven-day trek which runs the length of the north western Anti-Atlas and ends in this gorge.
Size: With an area the size of the Lake District and Snowdonia combined, there is plenty to go at. Recent road improvements and three accommodation bases reduces travelling distances to a maximum of 50km each way - albeit on windy roads.
The freedom of the hills: There are few walls and generally no fences. This combined with good on-sight navigation, means that it is virtually possible to walk at will.
Height: Because the summits are below 2500m there is little likelihood of altitude sickness and the presence of a light breeze means that a T-shirt a lightweight base layer and thin windproof is all that is needed for most days.
Mountaineering: The two 7,700ft highest summits (Jebel El Kest and Ardrar Mqorn) have scrambling options and elsewhere it's not hard to find stand-alone scrambles. The fit can try their hand at the Ameln summit crossing – a two-day 23hr crossing of the skyline.
Photography: The Ameln Valley villages with their ancient dwellings and complex irrigation channels present a gift to photographers, who will find a rich palette to draw from.
Legendary hospitality: The people of the Anti-Atlas are at ease with themselves and others and you are valued as much for your presence as your money.
Sample route from the book:
Need to Know
The ground is often rugged and can be loose underfoot, particularly on the granite tors around Tafraout. You can often see the general direction of travel but few paths are fully formed and some skill in navigation and route finding is needed.
There are no organised mountain rescue services so some self-reliance is needed. Mobile phone signals are good and the police and local volunteers have been known to bring people to safety.
Reptiles, insects and animals
Snakes and scorpions are active in the springtime. They do like not being trodden upon so will generally stay out of your way unless threatened or surprised. Biting insects are very rare and mosquitoes are not present outside of full summer. Spiders are rare. Dogs and cats are plentiful and generally stay away from you. Rabies and tetanus jabs are worth having as a precautionary measure.
Maps and navigational aids
Until recently walking maps were virtually non-existent but the Oxford Alpine Club has recently produced an excellent range of 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 scale maps of the whole area. The Viewranger app can be helpful but often does not provide enough detailed coverage for many routes.
There are doctors, dentists and a medical centre in Tafraout. Anything complex will need to be dealt with in Agadir or Casablanca.
When to go
The season is wide with the period from May to late September being generally too hot. Temperatures of 30◦C+ are common but the air is dry and there is often a breeze on the hill so it can feel quite pleasant. It can get cold over the winter and after periods of rain in spring and autumn.
How to get there
Agadir (the closest airport) and Marrakech are well-served by a range of budget airlines from several UK destinations. The national carrier (Royal Air Maroc) and Air Arabia also provide options. Onward travel can be arranged by cheap public transport or car hire.
Where to stay
Most people plan their stay around Tafraout where there is a range of good quality hotels and apartments to suit any budget. An alternative base, especially during hot periods, for a short stay or en-route to Tafraout is the Kasbah Tizourgane at Ida Ougnidif. This is a fully renovated fortress which has interesting historical features.
Check out Walks and Scrambles in the Moroccan Anti-Atlas by David Wood
Walks and Scrambles in the Moroccan Anti-Atlas
by David Wood
Guidebook to 41 graded walks and scrambles in the Anti-Atlas mountains of southern Morocco. Routes from 3 to 25km, including a summary of a 1-week long-distance trail from the north to the south of the Anti-Atlas. Covers six main areas, including Tafraout, Jebel El Kest, Ait Mansour, Ameln Valley, Taskra and Tanalt.
The routes best suit confident walkers and scramblers with a sense of adventure. Walks range from easy (2hr) to very difficult (13hr) explorations. Easy and moderate options require basic fitness and route-finding ability. The graded scrambles (1 to 3S) should appeal mainly to experienced scramblers.
The mountains of Jebel El Kest (2375m) and Adrar Mqorn (2344m) which dominate Tafraout, the strange eroded and weathered rock formations, the deep gorges of Ait Mansour and the skyline rim, the springtime flowers of the Tizi N'Takoucht escarpment, the Ameln Valley villages and the elusive Adad Medni.
- For more info or to buy the book see cicerone.co.uk