Trekking: Jebel Sarhro

Few tourists venture into the starkly beautiful Jebel Saghro (aka Jebel Sarhro or Djebel Sahro) as most of the flat-topped mesas, volcanic pinnacles and deep gorges dotted with palm groves are only accessible on foot. This arid, isolated territory is home turf to the seminomadic Aït Atta, legendary warriors famous for their 1933 stand against the French here, on Jebel Bou Gafer.

Jebel Saghro is accessed from three trekking hubs: Kalaat M'Gouna and Boumalne Dades on the north side of the range, and the southern village of Nkob. The most scenic routes head through the heart of the range, between Igli and Bab n’Ali.

This circuit has one big advantage over the classic Saghro north–south traverse: it begins and ends on the north side of the mountains, so you can easily resume journeys to Dadès gorges, Merzouga and the dunes.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration Five to six days

Distance 56km

Standard Medium

Start Tagdilt

Finish Kalaat M'Gouna

Highest Point Tizi n’Ouarg (approximately 2300m)

Accommodation Camping and gîtes (homestays)

Public Transport Yes

Summary A great alternative to the classic Saghro traverse, showcasing the staggering and varied beauty of the range. Given demanding climbs and long days of walking, you might add another night to the route.

Before You Go: Jebel Sarhro Checklist

Maps The 1:100,000 Boumalne and Tazzarine maps cover the region, but a more detailed trekking map with history and information on the back is 1:100,000 Randonnée culturelle dans le Djebel Sarhro, by Mohamed Aït Hamza and Herbert Popp, published in Germany, written in French and available in Morocco, including at hotels in Boumalne and Nkob.

Guide Several foreign tour operators run good-value trips here, but many of them subcontract to local guides. You can find a licensed local guide directly through a bureau des guides in any of the three Saghro trekking centres: Kalaat M'Gouna, Boumalne and Nkob. Expect to pay Dh350 a day for a guide and Dh150 for a mule.

Water Dehydration is common any time of the year, so pack extra water.

Food Stock up in Ouarzazate or Boumalne de Dadès. The three Saghro departure towns all have tea, tinned fish, biscuits and bread, and you may find eggs, dates, almonds, bread and tinned sardines in some villages.

Mule Given the amount of water you must carry, mules are a worthwhile investment. Your guide can organise mules and muleteers.

Gear Bring a sleeping bag. You won’t need a tent, unless you’d rather camp than stay at refuges (mountain cabins).

When to Go

While many High Atlas trails are impassable between November and February, Saghro is a prime winter trekking destination. Winter temperatures can dip below freezing, and snow may fall as low as 1400m – but even when it does snow, it is usually possible to trek. In autumn and spring, night-time temperatures rarely fall below zero. When summer temperatures get scorching hot (above 40°C), water sources disappear, and even scorpions hunker under rocks for shade.

Getting There & Away

Minibuses run from Boumalne Dades to Ikniouln (Dh28), at the northern edge of the range, departing around noon and returning to Boumalne early the next morning. There may be extra buses on Wednesday, when Ikniouln has its weekly souq.

Day 1: Tagdilt to the Assif Ouarg Valley

Tagdilt is an uninspiring village but a useful trailhead, with three gîtes and a daily camionette (pick-up truck) from Boumalne. For 2½ hours, you could follow the piste (dirt track) used by vans crossing the mountain to Nkob, or veer onto the track that occasionally strays to the side, rejoining the piste further up the slope.

At Imi n’Ouarg, the third village above Tagdilt, the path leaves the road (which continues to mines at Tiouit). The path turns right (southwest) beside the village school, marked by a Moroccan flag.

The path follows the right-hand side of the winding Assif Ouarg valley, beneath the summit of Jebel Kouaouch (2592m). After an hour (about 3km), there’s a farm above terraced fields where you can arrange a homestay. The host’s sons can be hired as muleteers, and hot meals may be available.

Duration

Four hours

Distance

17km

Ascent

200m

Day 2: Assif Ouarg Valley to Igli

The most memorable walk on this trek is also the most difficult, starting with a 35-minute climb towards the head of the valley. The path leads left (south) and Jebel Kouaouch is the highest of a row of peaks straight ahead. The path zigzags over a stream, up towards Kouaouch and a lone juniper tree – a good place for a breather. Depending on your fitness and the weather, it could take another hour to reach the pass. As you climb, there are good views back towards Tagdilt, and once over the ridge, the High Atlas and Jebel Saghro come into view.

The path drops steeply down ahead, but our track veers right (southwest) across the valley’s shoulder and over another ridge, with views south to the palms and kasbahs of Nkob. Igli is due south over a series of slopes, with the famous Tête de Chameau (Camel’s Head) cliffs appearing as you walk down towards the settlement. Three low buildings form a gîte with a toilet and wood-fired hot showers (Dh10). There’s no electricity or sleeping mats here, but the friendly gardien (caretaker) runs a shop selling trekkers’ necessities, including mule shoes, and if you bring flour, he’ll have it baked into bread.

For breathtaking mountain sunsets, you’ve come to the right place. You might add a round trip to Bab n’Ali, one of the most spectacular rock formations in the Saghro, returning to Igli for another night or continuing to the Irhazzoun n’Imlas gîte.

Duration

Six to seven hours

Distance

19km

Ascent

620m

Descent

860m

Day 3: Igli to Tajalajt

Looming on the right-hand side as you walk is the peak of Jebel Amlal, sacred to the Aït Atta and the site of August pilgrimages. The morning’s walk is gentler than the previous day’s, leading through wide, rocky valleys. After 1½ hours, beneath the village of Taouginte, the path curves around an Aït Atta cemetery, where graves are marked with piles of stone. The path then leads below the Needles of Saghro, a long, dramatic cliff that slopes down after another 1½ hours to the Amguis River. Several valleys meet at a beautiful camping spot, amid palms and oleander. Half an hour southwards down the valley is Irhazzoun n'Imlas, a village above well-tended fields with a riverside lunch spot.

At Irhazzoun n'Imlas the path joins a piste that runs left to Nkob and right towards the Dadès. Take the right track (northwest) towards a sheer cliff on the left, with the rocky path leading beneath it and up to a broadening valley. The piste loops around the north side of Jebel Tassigdelt Si El Haj (1722m) and then south again towards Tiguiza, where there is a basic gîte. Before Tiguiza, another piste leads right (west) to Akerkour village, into a narrowing valley dotted with palms, and up an incline to Tajalajt, where you can arrange a homestay and maybe obtain basic meals.

Duration

Seven to 7½ hours

Distance

24km

Ascent

350m

Descent

400m

Day 4: Tajalajt to Achmrah

Take the valley piste from Tajalajt, above splendid terraced palm and almond groves. Less than 1½ hours brings you to Assaka n’Aït Ouzzine (1584m), its ruined kasbah teetering above the beautiful valley. Next, the piste leads out of the valley into a rocky, windy steppe.

After 1½ hours from Assaka spent wedged between 2000m ridges, you’ll arrive at Tagmout (also called Amgroud after one of the mountains overlooking the village) and a well-kept gîte with electricity, mattresses, blankets and possibly lunch (around Dh30).

From Tagmout the piste leads northwest to Kalaat M'Gouna and south to Nkob, with transport headed to Nkob’s Sunday souq. The trek heads due north, climbing over an hour to Tizi n’Tagmout (1754m) for stunning views to the M’Goun Massif. Another hour leads to El Mersse, where shade and a year-round spring facilitate camping.

The track continues due north, mostly in gentle descent, but with occasional climbs. Less than 1½ hours after El Mersse, there’s a riverside camp site under shade trees at Tidkit and it may be possible to sleep chez l’habitant (in someone's home) here or in Achmrah, another hour down the track. However, the Berbers on this side of Jebel Saghro are seminomadic and may be absent April to May. If the houses are empty, the animal shelters will be too – a less glamorous but practical place to sleep.

Duration

Eight to 8½ hours

Distance

26km

Ascent

200m

Descent

300m

Day 5: Achmrah to Kalaat M'Gouna

The best parts of this morning walk are the beginning and end. The track north of Achmrah makes a short climb, suddenly revealing M’Goun and Siroua vistas. Less than half an hour later, it crosses a piste that leads to an anthracite mine and should not be followed. Instead continue north, occasionally northwest, on a well-worn track that leads down a gully towards the Dadès Valley. As you get closer, you will see the villages of Aït Youl on your left, Aït Haroun on the right, and a valley studded with old kasbahs. Head for Aït Haroun, where there is a bridge over the Dadès River. The Boumalne–Kalaat M'Gouna road is nearby, but long after you return to the modern world, Saghro’s seminomadic spirit stays with you.

Duration

Four hours

Distance

14km

Ascent

150m

Descent

450m