Morocco whitewater, March 2009
Moroccon White Water: Carnage and Stunning Scenery
Carter, Emma, Geoff, Larry, Tom, Yatesy and I have just got back from a white water trip in Moroc.... here is what occurred. --- David
Day 1 – To Moroc
After a one hour kip following a lengthily kayak porn session at Geoff’s gaff, Larry, Carter, Geoff and I (David) set off at 2am for Luton to meet Emma, Tom and Yatesy.
After minimal faff and a brief duty free stop for 6 ltrs of single malt and some super strength vodka for Larry (we were heading to a fairly dry country after all) we boarded the plane on time and set off. I chose to sit with Carter and we proved to be perfect flying buddies – me not relishing take off or landing and him being concerned that when the plane banked it might simply slide out of the sky.
Our driver for the trip met us off the plane and after a fashion we had the boats loaded and were off to Marrakesh and our Riad. After taking peppermint tea on a terrace overlooking the main square the group split up for dinner. Carter and I opted for sheep’s head and lungs. A treat it was too. It is worth noting that we also set out on a mission to find a beer selling riad - a Beerriad, if you will - we succeeded.
Day 2 – The Ourika
We drove out in to the High Atlas mountains early in search of the put-in of the Ourika. After much head scratching, stabbing at maps, and Carter’s rapidly improving franglais communications with locals, we found it. I spoke to an elderly man who had excellent English who told me of a group of Italians that had paddled the river in the last month and he showed me where they had put-on.
Carnage almost immediately ensued when we got on the river, but after a few minutes things calmed down…. then the swims commenced. I think the Ourika is my fav ever river, but I know that others in the group would not agree! It was quite alpine, with a steepish gradient and some nice, technical lines. With the 7 of us split in to two groups, Paul led off, with Larry following and me bringing up the rear, and Geoff group following on. One particularly memorable move involved riding up a rock that looked like a certain flipper, but which must have provided a kindly kicker as it sent all three of us flying through the air and landing with a massive ‘whoop whoop’!
After one member of the team took a nasty swim, Geoff Paul and I ran the last section of the river together to fetch our van… except we didn’t because after a few km in we got off the river due to another swim. I nominated myself to ander up to the road and after a quick chat with a local I jogged back and related the news that the van was 2 km away. ‘Jog on then’ instructed Carter… and for some reason I did, BA and all. After 2km I enquired again in my awful Berber/French hybrid, how far to the van? Why, 2km came the reply. 3 similar conversations and 6-8km later I reached the van. Luckily the scenery was so stunning even a jog of that length in a cag was an enjoyable experience. I came back with the van and our driver to find Carter and Geoff playing marbles with a load of kids.
Everyone was smiling on the drive back.
Day 3 – To the Dades Gorge
We drove for most of the day through rain and at more than one point the road looked more like a river than a highway, with rivers pouring across it at regular intervals (story telling device clue: this is foreshadowing).
We landed up at an excellent hostel right on the river and enjoyed an evening of drumming, drinking whisky (with muslims!), and Berber philosophy.
Day 4 – The Dades Gorge Part I
The drive to the put in was once again stunning with the High Atlas rearing up against a foreground of bizarre valley formations under a cerulean sky.
At the put in we were soon surrounded by 20 kids who were all very polite and inquisitive. I tried to encourage them to shout ‘faff’ at the group but they were far less English than that.
We put on and were soon gliding down a beautiful Grade II among the gorges. The paddling was easy and gave us a good opportunity to re-group following the Ourika.
The only real incident of the day resulted from Larry getting David Bailey on our asses with his head cam and taking ‘Swim of the Trip’ down a nice quite channel, all the while giving the ok signal as he went.
We set up camp a few km down river, basing ourselves around a cave that was 30m away form the river up a tight gully. Again, roughly 19,000 kids were soon on hand to help us and enjoy a bit of banter. Carter and I set off to the nearby settlement and managed to bag some fire wood from a local.
Day 5 – Dades Part 2
After wandering back to the settlement to exchange cous cous, tinned sardines with tomatoes and some Boots Shapers bars (Larry’s!) for the previous nights firewood, we put back on and were treated to a few km of the most mind blowing gorge scenery I’ve ever seen. A few of us were in Sort last year and saw what we dubbed the ‘Gaudi Gorge’ and this even beat that – truly special.
We soon arrived back at the hostel to find the lads who worked there and our driver rather worried that we were lost – a miscommunication had led to them expecting us back the night before. Apparently they had been driving the road near the river to try and spot us the night before. They soon forgave us though and we were downing more peppermint tea and noshing omlette berber within the hour.
Day 6 – To the Ahensal
We drove to the Ahensal. More stunningness.
Day 7 – The Ahensal Part I
The plan was to start up river at La Cathedral, but by the time we got to the river we decided to put-on at the town. The river was raging and was very clearly in flood. Almost as soon as we got on there were multiple swims and we made very little headway before camping. The major incident of the day led to Carter and I climbing back up the river side cliff/steep valley back to where Emma, Larry and Tom were. Tom and Laz had made their way to the top of the valley and Carter and I used ropes to get directly down to Emma where she was waiting with her and Larry’s boats. The break in was hardcore, in to a definite –IV that reminded me of things I have seen on Uganda vids! Sometimes it’s best to run things without seeing them! Carter and I assured Emma that she could make the break in (which involved a tight, hard ferry in to very fast water to avoid getting nailed on a vertical wall) and make it she did – with style!
Soon after that Emma found us the best camp spot ever, ever. See pics.
Day 8 - The Ahensal Part 2…. The Big One!
This entry could go on for ages but I will try and keep it short.
After some early easy boating through nice 2/3 wave trains (which Tom paddled really well through!) we soon found ourselves at a blind right bend accompanied by some very ominous sounding water. After Geoff, Carter and I dropping as far as we could around the bend without losing line of sight, we decided to inspect. What followed was a grade 3+/4. Larry decided to put on below it while Geoff, Yatesy, Carter and I ran it and Emma and Tom did the sensible thing!
First Larry swam. Carter, Geoff and I gave chase. Then we rounded a corner in to some definite grade IV and Geoff got nailed and swam. Then I noticed my shoulder had stopped working and got nailed. I rolled up but again, no shoulder to brace with, so over I went again. I got up again and rode out the rapid with one arm shouting ‘I’m hurt’ at Carter who had made it through (will that bum ever get nailed?). I eddied out and could not use my right arm which was now shaking. Larry ran down the bank and helped me out. I felt my shoulder… or where it should have been – it had gone, fully dislocated, hence the inability to brace.
Meanwhile Geoff (who had earlier in the day totally destroyed his ankle by rolling it over on rocks) had pinned himself, his boat and, miraculously his paddle against a tree, so I had to wait for that bit of carnage to get sorted before my own personal carnage could be attended to. I ask Tom if he could put my shoulder back in – no he couldn’t (although if you ever want a calm person to talk to when you are in dire pain, pick Tom, he’s ace), Larry also said no, but then Paul Carter, my new hero and demi-god said yes. 45 mins later after Geoff had given up hope and somehow rescued HIMSELF, Carter came back and instructed me to get very relaxed. This I did and he popped my shoulder back in for me. Thanks Dr Sue for giving him that lesson!
So…. Next we had to get out because apart from my shoulder nobody wanted to go near the river anymore! Carter and Larry set off in search of a sign of life while Yatesy and Geoff made a fire to give off regular smoke signals for them to relocate us with.
Two hours later they returned with three locals in tow – and a mule! The mule was loaded with everything apart from boats – that is seven people’s kit, inc camping gear, stoves etc) and we started the four hour hike out to the road. As we hiked more and more people joined the entourage and by the end we had several families and mules for company.
We still had the problem of our boats being down by the river four hours away so some negotiations were required – how much for 7 mules for a day to go back with some folks to get the boats? It turns out to be about £17/mule. Bargain. So, off we went for a night in a hotel, safe in the knowledge that our boats would find their way back to the airport via 7 mules and our driver.
That evening in the hotel a guy from Water by Nature rocked up at our table. Water by Nature is a company that runs raft and kayak trips in Moroc. He told us the water was at a THIRTY YEAR HIGH (see what I did there with the foreshadowing?). He then tried to flog us his services and even after I pointed out my sling his steely determination did not diminish – he wanted a sale! Still, I would still do it all again without a guide.
Thank you to Geoff for organising the trip and to Carter for being such a wonderful leader on the rivers… and for popping my shoulder, of course.
Lots of Pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/tomandemma00 - Tom
Being continuous, there wasn't much chance to get on water shots with my camera, but there are plenty of off the water shots here: http://picasaweb.google.com/pgyates/Morocco - Yatesy