A group of Geordies enjoyed a superb mountain and desert riding experience across the deep south of Morocco. The ride took us from the High Atlas Mountains though the beautiful Draa Valley and onto the fringes of the Sahara desert.
Distances covered averaged about 50Km per day and gave first hand
experience of a totally different culture to our own; passing through remote Berber villages in the High Atlas mountains, visiting ancient Kasbahs as well as the honour of witnessing the sublime light of the desert landscape.
(To view images in better detail double click the image and press on large for size)
Essentially non-technical hard packed trails were on offer with the option of more technical single track variations throughout the trail.
Vehicle support for this trip is essential as is a plentiful supply of spares and supplies. The use of a guide is also recommended as there are few if any road/village signs and the main language whilst in the mountains is Arabic/Berber.
Fly to Marrakech airport and an overnight stay gives a chance to explore the old town or medina and its famous Soukhs.
I would highly recommend using a specialised tour company for this trip along with the use of local guides. We used Saddle Skedaddle (www.skeddaddle.co.uk) who were excellent but to be totally impartial there are other firms offering similar trips.
Once overnighted in Marrakech vehicle support vehicles take you up the Tichka Pass into the High Atlas mountains and to the kasbah of Telout. Here the biking starts!
When to Bike
Late autumn and early spring. The summer months are far too hot and you there is snowfall in the High Atlas from Dec-February
Route 1 (42Km)
Out of the Kasbah and onto a relatively flat tarmac road for about 10 Km and then onto the main piste of 32km of off roading. This piste can get very rough in places and although there is a drop of about 600m in total the terrain itself is undulating. On route we were passed by a few 4 wheel drive vehicles but otherwise it was just ourselves and the Berbers we met as we cycled through their villages. Mud villages, canyonland scenery and wonderfully friendly people. A great start and we overnighted in a fantastic old converted Kasbah.
Route 2 (40km)
An early/easy start to the day with a trip to the 11th century kasbah of Ait Benhaddou (used in the Gladiator film). This was followed by an hours drive to the start of our remote trip into the heart of the J Sirwa region of the Atlas mountains. This region is just south of Moroccos highest peak Toubkal. Here we set off, initially on a well maintained piste, which gradually got rougher and rougher as we passed through ever remote Berber villages. As ever there were tons of friendly kids waiting to greet us. A steady pull up a steep and rough track finally led to a plateau and then a few kms of delightful riding to an overnight wild camp.
Route 3 (52km)
An earlyish start straight out of camp with fabulous riding across the plateau. The villages here are even more remote and as ever the people friendly and generous bringing out bread and mint tea on our arrival.
The route drops roughly down from tha plateau into a small valley with a village and then a hard slog up the otherside and onto a further boulder strewn area with very remote stone houses inhabited by nomads at certain times of the year. A stop for late lunch and then we enjoyed the delights of a wonderful long downhill stretch into a berber village where we spent the night in a very basic berber house.
Route 4 (84km)
A rough 24km ascent to start, I will say no more!
From here though a 30km descent was the best mountain biking most of us had come across. Then a cheeky 3km ascent followed by more wonderful downhill to the plains and then across a 'speedway'track to our support vehicles and an overnight stay in a palacial kasbah near Ouarzazate.
Route 5 (40km)
Well rested, watered and manipulated by the man in the Hamman, I think we were ready for the next leg away from the High Atlas and toward our ultimate goal the Sahara desert.
Todays ride would be our first introduction to the world heritage site of the Draa valley (the third of our trip the other two being the Medina of Marrakech and Ait Benhaddou). This proved yet again to be fantastic riding.
The Draa has a character all of its own with lush date palms lining the river, ancient mud buildings and stark crags and mountains in the distance. The route itself was varied with some short steep climbs and some rough single tracks off the main track. The final destination a beautifully renovated kasbah was delightful.
The final cycle day of a fantastic trip. Here a well maintained piste took us further along the Draa valley with the the anvil shaped mountain Jbel Kissane being a prominent feature throughout most of the day.