February 7, 2017 – 10:30 GMT
This morning we’re making our first traverse of the two-week trip, from Oukaïmeden, south over the Tizi n’Eddi and then south and east into the village of Tacheddirt. (“Tizi” is the Berber word for pass). There isn’t enough snow to ski and tour over, so we’ll have to trek. The plan is to spend two nights in Tacheddirt as there are a couple of skiable peaks just outside the village.
I’m feeling a little under the weather today, so instead of loading up and carrying each of our packs with skis, we decide to hire a muleteer (and his mule) to carry our gear and lead the way across the pass. One of the cooks in the refuge “knows a guy” and has arranged the whole deal for us. It works out to be about 15 bucks, and we’ll pick up the muleteer’s lunch as well. When we head outside, the mule is tied up to a pole, solemnly waiting for the days chores.
I’m not exactly sure why I’m not feeling well, but there are likely a couple contributing factors that came up yesterday.
It started with our first lift ride up the chair in the morning. We hopped on the lift (with far less of a calamity than the day before) and a couple hundred feet up the hill the lift stopped. No big deal, chairlifts stop all the time, and besides it’s a beautiful sunny day and we can just watch people come and go. Two hours later, however, we haven’t moved an inch and we’ve done a play-by-play of every self-extraction scenario we can reasonably think of. It’s midday day at this point, and the hot sun is beating down on us. As we sit there a couple hikers crawl up the hill to about where we are and we yell down to them to see what’s going on.
– “The power has gone out”, the man says in French.
– “Does a single person down there know how to fix it and how long it’s going to take?” I ask.
– “Nope, sorry”, the man replies and then goes slip sliding down the hill.
Thankfully the fiasco ends soon after and the lift starts crawling to the top. It stops a couple more times but seems to have enough power to get everyone off (both up and down the mountain). By the time we ski back down to the bottom the lift has been closed for the day, and we decide to go for a little tour up to a small peak southeast of Oukaïmeden.
The second run is a bit better – we even make fresh tracks all the way down – but at the top of the skin track I’m feeling exhausted.
Fast forward back to this morning and maybe a little over-exertion, combined with a little dehydration while sitting in the sun on the chairlift and a sub-par sleep last night, have resulted in me now feeling not at full strength. In any case, the mule is packed, we’ve agreed on the route and fare for the muleteer and we starting making our way out of town. Fortunately no one hassles us to rent a mule this time, because we already have one, and soon we are past the crowds and chairlift heading towards Tizi n’Eddi at 2960 m.
Shortly after descending from the tizi, we get to a fairly steep and slippery section – there is some hard packed snow and a bit of ice. The muleteer steps behind the mule and grabs it by the tail (apparently a common practice to “encourage” the mule along). He mutters what I presume are kind words of encouragement to the mule, and I stand behind and watch. As the mule starts moving through the section of the trail, I cringe. First, for the mule, who can’t possibly be enjoying itself. A close second for all of our gear, which in my opinion seems precariously balanced on the mule’s back, and with one wrong step on it’s part the gear could easily go bouncing off rocks to the valley floor a few hundred metres below. Fortunately our muleteer appears to be a pro, and everyone gets across the slippery section with no damage. We all high five at the far side.
From there it’s smooth sailing down into Tachedirrt. As we start to head more to the east some of the high peaks across the valley come into view: potential ski destinations for tomorrow. The views are spectacular.
Walking in to the village of Tachedirrt is yet another sight to behold, yet in a very different way than when we walked into Ouka. The village itself is a traditional Berber village, with very little infrastructure geared towards tourists (aside from a couple gites – one of which we are staying in). At the edge of the village we cross a stream where a few women are washing their clothes and drying them out on the rocks. As the muleteer leads us up the path along mudstone huts, I jump out of the way to let a flock of sheep and a cow go by, as a local villager is herding them down to one of the pastures for the afternoon. When the muleteer knocks on the door of the gite, a man in long robes answers and welcomes us. We are in a totally different world.
The gite we are staying in is beautiful. There is a huge patio that faces southwest, so we get settled in and enjoy the afternoon sun. Watching the villagers come and go does not get tiring. Men and women herd their flocks of sheep up and down the main path; others work in the terraced pastures where vegetables grow in the summer months, and kids kick soccer balls around in the grass. All under the constant presence of the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains, that we are intending to ski off of. The contrasts continue to amaze.