26-Jul-2007 -- I had already envisaged this Confluence during my last year's visit to Morocco. For one thing, it would be the closest Confluence to my starting point near Agadir if I neglected the ones that I had already visited. Moreover, it promised to be a somehow challenging Confluence regarding its location in the High Atlas Mountains, in close proximity to Jabal Tūbqāl, the highest mountain not only in Morocco, but in the whole northern Africa. Anyhow, during last year's stay I didn't get into the mood to start the preparations for such an expedition, and so this Confluence remained a "white spot" – with the option to try it on another occasion.
Back at home I studied the Google Earth maps of the Confluence's surrounding, which showed that the Confluence was to be found not on top of an inaccessible mountain, but luckily close to the bottom of a valley. But what proved to be most helpful, I could find some detailed topographic maps of the area on the Internet, which showed some sort of road or track all along the course of this valley, and approaching the Confluence at least to the last kilometre. With this promising information I was even more decided to give this Confluence a try on the next chance.
And this chance drew near during this year's stay in Morocco. After a couple of days of relaxing, time was ready to prepare for a little trip into the mountains... I did not hang my hopes too high in what was concerning the possibilities to get to this Confluence on first try, however my minimum goal was to do at least a profound reconnaissance and collect sufficient information for a successful second try in case that I should fail on first try. Thus I did not opt for the expensive rental of an all-terrain car without knowing whether I would need one, but even the rental of a normal streetcar proved to be somehow difficult during this time of year, as most car rentals in Agadir had their cars rented out. Finally, with the help of my brother-in law Ḥafīẓ, I could find a rather "used" Renault with nearly 170,000 km on its odometer. At least it was equipped with air condition.
My wife decided to stay at her father's home in al-Qulay`a together with our little daughter, but my son Marwan was eager to come along, and of course my brother-in-law Nur al-Din, who had become severely infected of confluencing some years ago, when he had already accompanied us to three other Confluences. We packed the car with all necessary items, Nur al-Din loaded bottles and a big cask of water together with sandwiches and other foodstuff, and then we were ready for an early-morning start. We awoke early and left al-Qulay`a at a quarter to 5 a.m. Our first aim was the city of Tarudant, about 100 km to the East. I had been to Tarudant several times before and had always taken the old road that passes through a number of villages and small cities on the way, so I was very astonished that there is now a new 4-lane road not yet indicated on my map (although actual edition!) that runs east from Agadir Airport, with very little circulation (at least at this time of day), and which can be driven along at maximum allowed speed without interruption except for a couple of roundabouts on the whole distance till Tarudant. So we arrived unexpectedly already at a quarter to 6 a.m. at Tarudant, where I decided to give the car's tank another fill before entering the mountains. This was an unexpectedly difficult task because most stations had not yet opened at this early hour, so we lost a little time driving to and fro searching for an open station. After we had finally found one and filled up the car, some of those stations that had still been closed before were now open, too, grrr...
A short hour later we were at Bin Raḥīl, the last town before reaching the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains and the mountain pass road leading to Mrrakš (Marrakech), and were having a light breakfast at a café. The sun had just risen, but I already noticed an enormous heat coming along with an easterly breeze. But I didn't give it too much attention; up in the mountains it would be cooler, so I thought. A little later we left the town and were finally entering the mountains on the narrow and winding road. This road very rapidly gains altitude and soon offers spectacular views down into narrow mountain valleys with tiny villages, back down towards the plain we had traversed before, and up towards the serpentines of the road and the pass ahead. Not far from the mountain pass we found a cascade of ice cold water running down the rocky flanks, a welcome refreshment already at this early time of day, and although the car's air condition was running. Soon afterwards we traversed the Tizi n Test pass at an altitude of 2082 m and began the long descent on the road towards Mrrakš. It still took quite a while until we finally reached Ijukak, the town where we had to leave the main road and where the true adventure was to begin.
After leaving the main road, an unpaved and unsealed but wide track lead through a forest and along the course of a small river called Asif n Ugandis. This part of the way could be driven along without any problems, although I avoided to drive too fast because by the car's passing a large dust cloud was raised, and occasionally some boulders or loose gravel had to be avoided on the road. After a while we met some men walking along the road and asked them for the way to one of the villages that were indicated on the topographic map in the direction of the Confluence. They gave us some hints and so we took the correct turnoff to the left just before reaching a mine about five kilometres from Ijukak. From now on the track was much worse: It was very narrow so that no other car could have passed, and it was winding along the mountain flanks, while steadily rising higher along and above the bed of another small river called Asif n Wanukrim. I had the GPS receiver online and it counted down the remaining distance to the Confluence, but there were still about 10 km to go. We first passed the small village Tijγišt, and could make it even to the next village Iγir, but then the track got ever steeper in parts, and more difficult to drive along with our streetcar. The car's worn out state now imposed a real problem. The motor was poorly adjusted and did not deliver much power, and to avoid stalling of the motor on the steeper parts of the path, I often had to drive with a lot of throttle and the clutch slipping.
Nevertheless, the motor stalled occasionally and I feared to quickly ruin clutch and motor while driving in this manner. So I had to accept the fact that we would not be able to go any much farther with this car. It would have been best to return to the last village, but the road was extremely narrow so that it would be a serious problem to turn the car around, and driving backwards for about 1 km would also be a dangerous undertaking. So I started desperately to look for a place where we could leave the car at the roadside without blocking the road passage, as some tire traces on the ground proved that there had been indeed other cars passing along this road before. But this proved to be another severe problem: While on the left side either the mountain flanks, gullies or large loose boulders reached close to the road, to the right side there was a precipice falling down to some gardens and the riverbed below. Eventually, before arriving at another extremely steep part of the road, I found a place that seemed at least to be a possible parking place for the car, but not before we would have removed a lot of boulders from it and filled a deep ditch with the boulders. It took quite a while to prepare the roadside in this way, but finally the car was parked so that another car would be able to pass with a couple of centimetres of air in between. Till here we had driven 220 km since we had left al-Qulay`a in the morning.
When I had a look at the GPS receiver I was deeply deceived: We were still 7.3 km from the Confluence! But the clock showed only half past 10 a.m. now and this should be still early enough to cover such a distance on foot. The decision was soon made; we were not willing to give up after having got so far! We applied a good amount of suntan lotion to protect ourselves against the assumedly high UV radiation here high up in the mountains, had another hearty breakfast, loaded everything that we regarded necessary in our backpacks, and set off. We left the car at an altitude of about 1570 m (see waypoint 004 on the topo map), which meant that we would have to climb another 500 m to reach the Confluence. This doesn't sound much at first impression, but in fact it soon began to become an infernal trip, at least for myself. Although the road could be very well walked upon, it was ever rising and also very steep in parts, and the heat even at this altitude in the mountains was enormous. Already after a short while I felt very exhausted. Nur al-Din carried the heavy backpack with two big bottles of water and other foodstuff, but he went off as if he would walk upon levelled ground. Even my son didn't show much signs of exhaustion, but I had to gasp for breath every now and then and had to hold back Nur al-Din who marched off vigorously.
During the first moments of our march, the sun burnt down from a blue sky into the narrow valley that we were walking along, and the bare mountain walls were focussing the heat down on us. Luckily, after a while the sky got overcast, which meant a big relief for us. Under the burning sun, we probably would have had to give up very soon. So we continued slowly but steadily upwards along the valley, we passed several small villages along the way, and occasionally met some friendly people who wondered about these strange visitors. The mountain scenery was very picturesque, and below us we had views down into the riverbed with gardens, almond and walnut trees, and greenery. The song of birds accompanied us and occasionally really big lizards could be seen between the rocks before they hid in their lairs. Time passed by, and if I hadn't the GPS receiver I would have lost any feeling for the covered distance. But after every bend of the road, we could always see another village ahead and the path rising ever higher up into the valley in front of us. I expected to find some water here in the mountains, similar to the cascade that we had seen in the morning, but except for the creek several tens of meters below and some small basins filled with fishy and badly smelling water - however some local children took a bath in them - we did not see any water at all. So we had to be very economic with the water we were carrying with us, but in any case it was much too little for the three of us. I think it would have been necessary to have at least 3-5 litres for everyone of us. So I feared that my extreme exhaustion could also be a sign of severe dehydration. Although I could only walk a couple of steps in the steeper parts of the road before I had to stop for a rest again and again, the distance to the Confluence diminished because we approached it in nearly straight direction, except for the bends in the road. I was only carried forward by the idea that the way back to the car would be always down, down, down...
After seemingly endless hours we finally found a small cascade beside the road used to irrigate a field where we drank like dying of thirst, and filled up our bottles. A couple of hundred metres further, the road that had brought us so close to our goal finally ended beside a house. We were now at 30° 59' 51.1"N 8° 0' 59.7"W, still 1.6 km from the Confluence. This was also the highest point that we reached; we were now at 2004 m altitude. With a sturdy 4-WD car it would have been indeed possible to get until this very point, and then it probably would have been a feasible task to cover the remaining distance on foot and in time. But we had already walked for hours now. Nur al-Din was as fresh as could be and was eager to carry on, but I fought a strong battle with myself whether we should still try to get any closer to the Confluence, or return to the car from here. The time was now 2 p.m., so we had still a little time before we would have to return, thus I decided to carry on our reconnaissance a little further to see how one could get along from here. Anyhow, there were only footpaths from here on; we could see one footpath leading higher up in the mountains, and another footpath down at the riverbed, both more or less in the right direction. Between the creek and us were some houses strewn upon a steep hill flank, later we learned that this village is called Inmzal, but getting down to the creek involved some sliding down this hill flank that was covered with loose gravel. Beside the creek we found an irrigation canal with streaming clear, cool water. We drank again as if we had never drunk before... We could follow the canal a little further upstream, but a short while later we finally had to give up for today. We had now reached 30° 59' 40.4"N 8° 0' 41.3"W at an altitude of 1930 m, still at 1.25 km distance from the Confluence. It was now nearly 3 p.m. and I estimated another 1-2 hours to cover the remaining distance.
The place was tranquil, the air was refreshing beside the canal, so we had a short picnic here in the shade of a tree, took some pictures, drank again from the palatable fresh water, and traced back our tracks along the canal and up the hill to the road. When we arrived again at the house beside the end of the road, a man came out and had a conversation with Nur al-Din. He said that he sometimes guides tourists up to Jabal Tūbqāl from here, so that it is not uncommon that visitors come to this place. The views from up here were fantastic, we could look down the whole valley that we had come along, somewhere in the misty distance was our car waiting for us. It was 4 p.m. when we started our way back along the road, and as I had expected, the going was now much easier than before, only my legs were now heavy and my feet sore and and aching. We were about 6 km from the car as the crow flies, but of course the way was much longer when counting the bends in the road, I estimate that we had walked at least 10 km up and had now to walk 10 km back again.
Luckily we arrived at the car while there was still daylight; it was one of the most precious and dearest views when I finally saw it again... Now there was still a "little" problem to solve that I had in my mind all the time: How could we get the car turned around on the narrow road? This was really not easy to achieve, again we had to get some boulders moved to create a small space beside the road, and with lots of tiny movements to and fro while cautiously avoiding the precipice, the car finally was turned around. Now we hurried on to get out of the wilderness and back to Ijukak while there was still daylight. Once, a chameleon crossed the road in front of us; we quickly jumped out to have a closer look at it, but finally left it go its ways. When we arrived back in Ijukak, it was time for a couple of cold Colas, I was now slowly recovering from my exhaustion and we were all very happy having passed this adventure without serious mishaps.
I passed the car's keys on to Nur al-Din who was very surprised but accepted to drive part of the way back home. We looked also for a possibility to get some gasoline because the car's tank was emptier now than I liked for a long way through the mountains without gas stations. Outside Ijukak we found a station, they had only regular, no super as normally required for the car, but better than nothing... Darkness now fell very rapidly, as the sun had long since disappeared behind the surrounding mountains. Everything went well on the way back, at the cascade we filled the big cask that we had with us with fresh mountain water, and in Bin Raḥīl we stopped again to have a tea, it was around 10 p.m. and the enormous heat that I had noticed in the morning was still fully present. We reached my father-in-law's house in al-Qulay`a eventually at midnight. On this day the heat had also reached Agadir and its environments, and during the coming week we had some really hot days with temperatures in the 40's °C there. I needed a couple of days to recover from this adventure, and any idea of repeating the visit in the coming days with a 4-WD car was quickly abolished, not only because of the hot weather. Anyhow, my minimum goal was achieved, the knowledge about the ways to get to this Confluence is much clearer now, and Nur al-Din, Marwan, and me will surely give it a try again on next occasion.