The Tessaout Valley Traverse – M'Goun, High Atlas (Morocco)
Spectacular views of the High Atlas, beautiful mountain villages and the hospitality of the Berber people – this is what you get when hiking the traverse of the M’Goun Massif in the High Atlas mountains from the gorges of Tessaout river to the Bououli (or Bou Oulli) Valley via Tizi n’Rougoult and the gorge of the Tifri river. The M’Goun Massif is certainly one of the less travelled gems of Morocco and this two-and-a-half-day track is one of the easier multi-day treks in the region. It offers a wonderful variety of fertile valleys, barren mountaintops and narrow gorges.
Especially in spring, the Tessaout Valley with its beautifully terraced fields forms an astonishing contrast to the barren mountains surrounding it. The region has colourful rock formations and you will see yellow, red, purple, green and grey walls in the steep gorges. In more touristy places, this region would surely be called “rainbow valley”. There are wonderful mountain views from Tizi n’Rougoult (or Tizi n’Roughelt). The Tifri river winds down through narrow and spectacular gorges. The terraced fields in this unspoiled valley and the stay at a family house in Rougoult (or Roughelt) felt like a journey a few centuries back in time. Also, the hospitality in Rougoult and Bououli were a wonderful experience.
Attention: The downside of hiking in spring is the non-reliable weather situation. We got surprised by snow, strong wind and higher water levels.
ITINERARY (20.04. - 22.04.2019)
Ait Ali N’Ito – Amezri (22 km; ⬆ 550 m; ⬇ 100 m)
Amezri – Rougoult (20km; ⬆ 650 m; ⬇ 1000 m)
Rougoult – Bououli (7.8 km; ⬆ 50 m; ⬇ 250 m)
Accommodation: There are (basic) gîtes d’étapes and homestays in the villages.
Food: The gîtes and homestays will provide dinner (usually tajine) and breakfast. Ask for a lunch package, as there are no restaurants on the way and the few shops we passed by were either poorly stocked (Amezri was an exception) or closed. Lunch packages will usually be limited to bread, boiled eggs, tomatoes and sometimes cream cheese.
Language: Most people in the villages only speak Berber, but you will usually find someone who speaks (basic) French (e.g. the owner of the gîte). If you have any special dietary requirements such as vegetarian or allergies, bring some pictures or try to draw what you (don’t) want to eat. Our vegetarian diet worked surprisingly well and we had a lot of fun with our host families while drawing cows and chickens.
Maps: We used Locus Map (on our smartphone) together with the map of Morocco from Andro-Maps . Usually you can recharge your phone at night, but bring a power bank just in case. Note that the spelling (in Latin letters) of the town names greatly varies between different (map) sources and it is sometimes hard to recognise that the same place is meant. Villages often also have more than one name in different maps. Our GPS trails downloaded here: day I, day II, day III
Difficulty: The Lonely Planet describes this route as family friendly. We have our doubts that children will enjoy the quite strenuous 7-hour-walk on the second day. Nevertheless, the track has no real technical difficulties. Early in the year, snow can make the crossing of the pass a little bit difficult and the many crossings of the cold Tifri river will almost certainly ensure wet shoes.
Day 1 – Ait Ali N’Ito to Amezri
Difference in altitude: ⬆ 550 m; ⬇ 100 m
Distance: 20 km
Our time: walking 6 h – plus breaks
GPS-log: download here
Ait Ali N’Ito is a small village. The gîte (approx. €20 pp including breakfast and dinner) is nice and has beautiful views over the Tessaout valley. The gîte is located right where the tarmac road leaves the Tessaout valley, which makes it an ideal starting point.
The first day along the Tessaout valley feels more like a long stroll than a strenuous mountain adventure. The trail follows the valley bottom through beautifully terraced fields along the river. The flowers and the lush green of the vegetation formed a beautiful contrast to the barren mountains surrounding us. On the way, you pass the Berber villages of Talat n’Tazart, Imi n’Ikkis, Ichbakene and Ait Hamza. We were sometimes greeted by groups of curious children asking (more or less pushy) for pencils, other gifts (cadeaux) or money. You have to cross the river once or twice, so it is advisable to take some water sandals. From Talat n’Tazart a dirt road leads the last 6 km to Amezri, which is the biggest village in this region of the Tessaout Valley. Alongside the way you can see the multi-coloured rock of the region: yellow, green, purple, red, grey – all in one rock wall.
When we reached Amezri in the evening (end of April) it started snowing quite heavily. We were happy to find the (very basic) gîte, which is located slightly outside the village towards the river. Just ask for “Agnid Mohamed”. It has even better views than the one in Ait Ali N’Ito. We had the feeling that the people of the village are quite poor. Even the young guy working in the gîte strangely tried to convince us to give him our jackets or walking sticks.
Day 2 – Amezri to Rougoult via Tizi n’Rougoult
Difference in altitude: ⬆ 650 m; ⬇ 1000 m
Distance: 20 km
Our time: walking 7 h plus breaks
GPS-log: download here
When we got up the next morning the weather had cleared and we could see the snow-capped mountains surrounding the Tessaout Valley. Simply beautiful! This also meant a good amount of snow on the pass Tizi n’Rougoult.
From Amezri the route follows a dirt road with a gentle slope to Tasqaiwalt (or Tasgaiwalt) for some 45 minutes. Here the climb begins and you quickly gain height on the slope behind the village. The path is clearly visible in most places and easy to follow, although the fresh snow made some steeper slopes quite slippery. From the pass there are amazing views of the M’Goun Massif, though the 30 cm fresh snow and the strong winds made this place quite hostile when we passed.
The way down follows the Tifri through the Assif n’Waqqa n’Daghour Gorge (just walk straight down from the pass and follow the river). The deep gorge is spectacular. The way climbs over rocks through this wonderland. We felt that we had to cross the river at least a hundred times – only the first twenty were real fun. :) While the water is not deep, it is hard not to get wet feet when the water level is higher in spring. In summer (in the absence of snow) I assume this is a pleasant experience :).
In Rougoult (sometimes also spelled Ghougoult or Roughelt) there is no gîte, but some of the villagers offer homestays. Just ask around. We truly had a wonderful experience of Berber hospitality in Omar’s house. He met us shortly before the village and was very helpful in guiding us the last kilometer. As several locals passed us by on the way down, we guess everybody was already informed about our arrival.
Day 3 Rougoult – Ait Bououli
Difference in altitude: ⬆ 50 m; ⬇ 250 m
Distance: 8 km
Our time: walking 2 h
GPS-log: download here
On the last day the route follows the dirt road from Rougoult to Ait Bououli. This is more a stroll along this beautiful and multi-coloured valley than a serious walk. In April 2019, the road was not passable for vehicles but the repairs were already under way. Ait Bououli is a small village on the tarmac road from the valley to Demnate. The village has several small shops and cafes. Once a week, there is also a souk in Bououli. There is a simple but clean hostel with a lovely terrace and lovely hosts at the eastern end of the village directly next to the road. If you stay overnight, it is worth while exploring the valley upstream of the village with its big walnut trees and terraced fields.
How to get to and from the trek
Ait Ali N’Ito is difficult to reach by public transport. The road from Ouarzazate to Demnate is very quiet. Your best bet is to take a taxi from Demnate. Check before leaving if the road is open, as it might be blocked by landslides or snow (especially early in the season). If time is not a constraint for you, you can also try waiting at the road side where minibuses pass infrequently. However, you will probably have to walk the last 8 km from the main road to Ait N’Ito.
From Bououli to Demnate there is a daily bus (approx. €3) very early in the morning (4-5 am). There might also be some other infrequent minibuses during the day, if you wait at the road side. A taxi from Bououli to Demnate is probably the most convenient solution and costs about €40 for the car (1 h). Demnate has frequent buses to Marrakech.