Travelling around the world, there are occasions when things can go seriously wrong, especially when they’re outside your control – like the weather.
I’ve experienced a total white-out in a blizzard on an Icelandic mountain, when the Land Rover a few yards ahead of me disappeared completely from view. And, on this Moroccan trip, a freak hail-and-rain storm turned a pleasant scenic drive on
a mountain track into a scary adventure. Scary, but exhilarating.
A group of us were in Morocco to meet up with Vince and Ed Cobley for a reconnaissance of a new route for the LRO Adventure Club. We were staying at the Timnay campsite near Midelt, 100 miles south of the major towns of Fes and Meknes.
We had a day to spare, due to Vince allowing us more days to get there than we needed. Some of us decided to head for the Cirque du Jaffar, a picturesque 50-mile drive along unsurfaced tracks in the shadow of the Ayachi mountain. At 12,260 feet this is the highest peak in the eastern High Atlas mountains, the vast range that sweeps across Morocco from the Atlantic to the Algerian border.
The skies were clear as we set off in a five-vehicle convoy. There were the three Disco 3s of Pat Thompson/Nigel Jones, John Fyfe/Alan Edgar and Trevor Edge – all of whom I’d met before on a Tunisia adventure. There were also Ken and Jo Brayshaw in their Disco 2, and my partner Pat Summers and I in the 2.4 Defender double cab that I had on test.
We passed through some small villages then headed out into the flat countryside on loose-surfaced tracks before starting to climb on the mountain tracks. The views were impressive as we stopped to check the GPS and stretch our legs. But as we climbed further, dark clouds were forming menacingly over the mountains – a storm was on its way.
The tracks became ever-steeper and narrower, hugging the mountainsides as we continued climbing to more than 7000 feet.
Then the weather turned nasty, with forks of lightning and the boom of thunder in them thar hills. There was heavy rain followed by hail, turning the mountainsides white.
Our track became increasingly slippery, slowing progress and making us all concentrate very hard on how we were driving the loose-surfaces, which were occasionally off-camber – which is not ideal when there’s a big drop-off to one side.
I was crawling the 110 along in low-range second gear using minimal revs. A D3 in front accelerated harshly and the wheels slithered towards the edge, the driver quickly backing off to bring it in line again.
This prompted some in the group to wonder what they’d do if their vehicle did slip over the edge. There was no way to find grip, so the driver would have to try and steer into something like a tree to stop against rather than plummet all the way to the bottom.
But that wasn’t going to happen because we were in surefooted vehicles that were performing heroically in the extreme conditions – which is, after all, one of the reasons why we all buy Land Rovers.
The hail stopped, but it was still raining; and water gushing down the mountainsides was causing washouts at the various turns we encountered. The track was literally washing away in front of our eyes and careful choice of line was crucial to get around. We worked as a team, spotting one another through the tricky sections to make sure we were on the correct lines.
On a couple of turns, we had to nudge the outside wheels up the mountainside to make sure the inner wheels kept away from the precipice.
We started to descend eventually, but we encountered a number of swollen streams and rivers – which were getting deeper by the minute. An uprooted tree floated down one
of the rivers between two crossing vehicles, narrowly avoiding both.
It’s at times like this when all of the training we’ve done and experience we’ve gained is put into practice – inexperienced drivers would never get out of a situation like this.
We crossed more swollen rivers and continued along sodden tracks until, suddenly, we were at the bottom and turning on to a road. Suddenly, our scary adventure was over, but we’ll never forget it – and we’ll be talking about it for some time to come.
Sadly I haven’t got any photos from the really tricky sections – because I was concentrating on getting us out safely and as quickly as possible.
Back at the Timnay camp, Vince, Ed and the Adventure Club team had arrived with some other AC members who had been on an earlier trip. There were about 50 Land Rovers within the camp’s walls; and the
small bar/restaurant did a roaring trade that night.
The next day, those at the end of their adventure headed north and the rest of us – 20 Land Rovers in total – drove off south for the main purpose of this trip, to recce a new route for the Adventure Club. The plan was to take in the stunning Todra Gorge (which features in traditional LROAC trips), but then heading along part of the Dakar Rally route in the deep south before cutting south-west to Tan Tan on the Atlantic coast.
From here, we would head north along the beautiful Atlantic
shoreline, then cut through the Atlas mountains on the high-altitude Tazi ne Tiznet pass before dropping down into bustling Marrakech for a visit to this amazing city, with its fascinating sights, sounds and smells.
Much of Morocco had experienced bad weather; and when we reached the Todra Gorge, the road that the locals have worked so hard to build in recent years was washed away in parts.
Experts say the best time to go through the gorge is early morning, when the sun changes the colour of the rocks from pink to a deep red-brown. It was afternoon when we got there, but it was still stunning, and the sun was shining.
Hopefully, it would continue to do so for the rest of the trip – which will be featured in the July issue.
The full story can be found in the June 2009 issue of LRO. Download a digital issue, or order a back issue by calling 01858 438884.