Travelogue : Massif Sirwa
Inshallah April 2002

One says that the Massif Sirwa are relatively undeveloped and they are still relatively little visited. I wanted to know why Morocco, with its labyrinthine medieval cities, isolated hilltop casbahs, and epic landscapes, has fascinated travelers for millennia. And I soon found out if you seek solitude you need not to explore far beyond the more-established routes. Therefore, to my mind, this trip became an exciting adventure. The Massif Sirwa is a mountain range of exceptional beauty and cultural interest.

On this hiking trip we pass sheer rocks, rough plateaus and desolate valleys. The Djebel Sirwa — to the south of the High Atlas, with a view upon the mountain Toubkal and other high summits of Morocco — forms a natural border with the Sahara desert. This chain of mountains shows its visitors another side of the Moroccan highlands, a world that is even more rough and impressive than the 4.000 m high summits to the south of Marrakech. This far-off Djebel Sirwa, surrounded by magnificent, isolated valleys is one of the least known mountain range of Morocco. It is an extinct volcano which reaches a height of 3.305 m.

Starting point

Friday, April 5

A long ride with a mini-bus brings us from Marrakech, over the massif Toubkal, on the road from Agadir to Ouarzazate. Near Talouin we get off the road straight into the mountains. After a few minutes, the asphalt road changes into a track with many loose stones by which we are jolted in the mini-bus. The blown up dust searches a way into the vehicle through the little windows. Threatening clouds circle around the highest peaks along the track. It seams like it has been raining a lot here the last few days. In the afternoon, we arrive at Mazwad instead of Tislit. The driver have probably missed a junction. We decide to spend the night in some kind of community centre on the outskirts of the village. When we make a little walk through the small village (photo), a lot of little children join us, enthousiastically shouting "Bonjour, bonjour". They follow us until we get back to the improvised gîte.

Saturday, April 6

Early in the morning we leave Mazwad (1441 m) by crossing the river and start our first climb. We have to catch up on the part that wasn't planned. Normally, our walking trip should start at Tislit (1544 m), so we have to make an extra effort for about 10 km to catch up with the original schedule. It catches the eye that the valleys we pass through are very green and fertile. Via Takchtemt (photo) we cross several plateaus in the direction of Assais (photo). The dark rock formations near Tislit are very special and unique for this particular region. The spectacular rock formations, the deep clefts and the serrated mountain ridges rival the surprising green grass carpets and colourful spring flowers with beauty (photo). As we walk into the astonishing gorge of Tislit the sun peeks from behind the clouds (photo). This spot should be our starting point. After 200 m we climb out of the gorge until we reach a height of 1765 m. A small path leads us through some small villages with names like Aït Diya (photo) and Aït Amrame. In these villages little children are far more distant than elsewhere. For certain people this long trip begins to count heavely but with a joke, a smile and a wink they move on courageously. Near Aït Ma'rouf, we meet the drivers and the mules carrying our complete expedition gear, including tents, camp stoves, tools and food (photo). After some hot tea with lots of sugar, we quickly start to pitch the tents because dark clouds gather over our heads. A powerful wind is rising and billows out the canvas. Before entering my tent I sit down near the fast-flowing, narrow river and hurry up washing my feet but I can't hold them very long in this ice-cold water. It seems like everybody has huddled together, two by two, searching for warmth in their tents. There's no activity left in the camp. When somebody shouts that soup is ready to be served everybody spurts to the larger tent. A hot soup is wonderworking. After dinner, we go to sleep, tired of this exhausting first day. I can't fall asleep easily because of the murmuring water and the high wind. The storm goes on a night long by which I often wake up with a start. Early in the morning, it even starts to rain...

Sunday, April 7

After breakfast we leave the valley (photo) and by the time we reach the first village, the sun starts to shine again. Before we climb on, we dip water out of the well in the village. The valleys around here are extremely green and lots of colourful flowers cheer up our path. We pass through Tagouyamt and at midday we arrive at Tizguit. There's an old fortified ganary stuck to a cliff. In this region we see more castellated 'agadirs' towering high above the flat roofs. Next to the sheer cliff is a small, steepish path going up. We take a break on one of the few stone-paved platforms where the farmers use to dry and pulverise their grain, corn and cereals in summertime. One platform below us, some elderly man and little children enjoy the warmth of the rays of sunshine protected from the wind. The mountain path gets steeper and steeper and we even have to walk through a village step by step. Many little children follow and accompany us (photo). The only way seams to be up! The higher we climb, the weather is changing for the worse. We even have to put on some extra clothes to keep us warm. Suddenly, it seems impossible to reach Aït Tigga today. By the time we reach the snow-capped top, it starts to hail. Our guide sets some thorn-bushes on fire to get some warmth while waiting for everybody to get together again (photo). Unfortunately, there's also a lot of unpleasant smoke and it is too cold to stay on the top. We have to look for shelter and therefore we start to go downhill as fast as possible with a heavy wind pushing in our back. For a long time we haven't seen any mountain village anymore. Almost down we pass through some ghost village. Because of the continuous bad weather, we keep on descending more than foresee. We decide to put up our tents close to eachother behind a stonen wall of an empty stable. It's freezing cold and gloves are more than welcome to pitch our tent (photo). The ritual of last night repeats itself. Once the tents are ready everybody disappears in their warm sleeping bags waiting for hot tea to be ready. Meanwhile, I put on some thermal underwear to keep myself warm. After the evening meal, everybody disappears like a thief in the night. Our tents keep on shaking by this terrible storm. After awhile, I'm able to find some sleep.

Aghigha mountaintop

Monday, April 8

In the morning the storm has calmed down and there's sunshine again. We have to climb up again to get back on the trail we left yesterday. In the next village we refill our water bottles with potable water from a well. After that some of us start to climb the Aghigha (photo). It's a very difficult climb and I'm very exhausted when I reach this snow-capped mountain top (3051 m). From here you have an excellent view over the High Atlas mountains. On a clear day like this you can even see the Massif Toubkal and the Massif M'goun (photo) on one side and the mountain Sahro in the other direction. During the steep descending we greet several young boys playing football on a plain, stony improvissed field. They came up a long way because it takes us some time before we reach the first village. We walk from one village to the next but there's no sign of our drivers. They have taken another route with the mules. No drivers, no picnic. The trip takes it out of us and our feet starts to hurt. After awhile some little children tell us they have seen the drivers pass through. In the afternoon we finally find them and we decide to set up camp a little bit further than Aït Tigga. The rest of the day we take some time to relax and wash ourselves. In the evening, it starts to rain. Again a turbulent night with lots of downpour and stromy wind.

Tuesday, April 9

We wake up with water in our tent but lukely when we open it, the sun is already shining. Today we make a very beautiful walk passing many snow-capped mountain tops (photo), wet paths, green valleys and ghost villages. Most of the valleys in this region are rocky and not fertile with now and then a valuable piece of meadow (azib). Above the 2000 m these 'azibs' change into openair villages where families of sheperds come to live with their flock from June to September. At the end of the annual transposition of one flock to another meadow, the head of the family climbs up to the top of the highest mountain of the Massif Sirwa to sacrifice a sheep. By this way, the native population honour the mountains as a source of water and wealth. As we move on we see a lot of different birds on the plateau. Within a green valley we have to cross a wild river. We look for big stones to jump from one to another. There are not so many places save enough to cross. For the first time, we have a view upon the Amzdour and the Sirwa mountain (photo). After another long descend, a few of us get ahead of the rest of the group. Suddenly, we have to cross a second wide, swirling river. We follow the river for awhile to find a right spot (stones) to cross it. With a little luck we manage to jump over it. Only one person gets wet feet. After some climbing, the five of us meet the drivers in the ghost village of Azib-n-Iriri. From here we have a perfect view upon the mountain flank on the other side of the river. After an hour we see the rest of the group arriving near the river. The drivers take the mules to go and help them cross because the river has become even wider where they have to cross it.

Amzdour mountaintop

Wednesday, April 10

It's a beautiful morning. The clouds are blue and the sun is shining brightly. There's only a cold breeze. Azib-n-Iriri is located at 2606 m. At 9.30 am we leave our camp for the mount of the Amzdour. I've put on some warm clothes and taken some extra in my rucksack. We pass a few creeks bringing down some meltwater. Some parts are very squelchy. There's no specific trail so we have to search our way up clambering and climbing. As we reach the snow line, we can see the snowy twin tops of the Tikniwine (photo) and Sirwa mountain standing in the sun (photo). On the other side it is possible to see the Toubkal. The snow makes climbing easier. Here and there, there's ice. The wind has become freezing cold. I'm glad I have brought another jacket to put on. After we overwon a difficult traverse (degree of difficulty II), we reach the top. We can only stay a few minutes on the top of the Amzdour (3002 m) because there's almost no shelter against the piercing wind. While descending I accidentally bump my knee against a rock. That hurts. We take the same way back as we came. We refill our water bottles and we halt a little time to enjoy the sun when the wind is falling (photo). At 1.30 pm, I arrive back at the camp (photo). I am a little bit slower because of my injured knee. After a delicious meal, I go and refresh myself in a nearby creek. Suddenly, the clouds blot out the sun and it begins to hail. I can assure you that it isn't funny when you are standing in the cold water, almost naked! I hurry up and run to my tent. The sky is becoming overcast (photo) and the hail changes into snow. We are snow-bound (photo). It keeps on snowing the whole evening. We have to push against the canvas of our tent frequently to prevent it from collapsing under the snow pressure. At some moments, I begin to believe that our outside tent will be blown away. What do we do? Start to think about a contingency plan or go to sleep?

No spring in the Sirwa

Thursday, April 11

When I wake up I'm still able to breathe. Our tent is still standing. When I take a look outside I see a 30 cm thick snow carpet (photo). The wind has blown the snow into everything. We take breakfast standing in a filthy stable. My hands are hurt by the cold when I take down the tent. We have to change our plan. It's irresponsible and impossible to continue the trip and to climb the Sirwa with this kind of weather. Our guide has never experienced this kind of bad weather in April. We decide to descend as fast as possible to get away from the snow. While going down, we can still laugh with the description of this voyage; 'Spring in the Massif Sirwa'. There's a lot of water and mud on our way down. After a few hours we reach a track (photo). We follow this road in the direction of Tachakoucht (photo). Just before entering Tachakoucht we have to take off our shoes to cross a calm river. Tachakoucht also has a community centre that can provide us shelter for the night. Almost every village has a resting-place like this. Usually, they are located in a typical, characteristic old building. Some of them are managed by private persons, but most of them are part of the village community. After a welcome rest in the inner court of the gîte (photo) we take the opportunity to unpack our wet tents and put them to dry in the sun (photo). While everybody is taken a break at the gîte, I go look around in the village to see if I can capture some nice snapshots.

Friday, April 11

It's a half day walk to our new destination point; Tamelakout (photo). From here, we drive back to Hôtel de Foucauld in Marrakech by mini-bus to spent our last day near Djemaa al-Fna.

Related travelogues:
Morocco, the High Atlas and the climb of the M'goun
Algeria, a hike through Tassili n'Ajjer
Link of interest:
Anders Reizen
Copyright notes:
This is a non-profit web page. This travelogue is written by / most of the photographs are taken by Joël Neelen. Thanks Ingrid! © December 2005. All Rights Reserved.