Dragon Berber was a trekking expedition held in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco over the 13th – 21st October 2012. Twelve members of the 37th Signal Regiment (Volunteers) took part. The main aim was to reach the summit of Mount Mgoun (4068m) over a six day trek. On arrival in Marrakesh we met our local agent Brahim Toudaoui and were taken to a hotel to overnight before departing for the mountains. Our hotel was 10 minutes from the airport we were led through reception and into an impressive courtyard – the rooms stood four stories high making the courtyard shady and cool. Intricate flower patterns made from tiles of different shades of white blue and red covered both floor walls and columns.
The drive down to the mountains was a long and seemed to last forever, especially for those who didn’t travel well. The route was sprinkled with small villages and souvenir shops. We arrived in the first town in the Sahara, with a film studio that produced films as Golden Child and Lawrence of Arabia. At a lay-by in Agouti we picked up our guide Abdul and just moments later at a rocky pull-in we met our mule drivers. The warm fresh evening air, lush green plantations and the tranquil sound of the stream, was a gentle start, as we made our way on the first few steps on our journey up the Atlas mountains.
The fist night we stayed in a Kasba which was very cozy inside. We were all served very sweet mint tea in a shot glass: this started every meal followed by a spicy soup. For main course couscous or rice salad with olives peppers onions tomatoes cucumber sometimes served with chicken fish or even on one occasion a very fresh goat. Desert was always fruit and in the evening the last drink was chamomile tea which was very relaxing and guaranteed a good nights sleep.
The trek now started. A typical day would include 10 hours of walking, arriving at the next wild camp site between 5-6pm. There does not appear to be an evening, it just plunges into darkness at 6pm. The trek followed marked routes: a lot of local traffic uses these, we had to give way to mules heavily loaded in the same way you do to heavy goods vehicles in this country. The trek included following canyons towering 400metres high and 10metres wide. Ascending ridges 3000m high, to be faced with another. However the view was spectacular – at any moment you expected Luke Skywalker to appear, flying down the valley! Our group was joined by members of the Moroccan Army and the Local Gendarmerie, which increased our group size to 20 plus guides, mules, chef and Couscous the dog which joined us on day 2 and stayed with us throughout the trek. We now looked more like Alexander the Great’s army.
On the Peak attempt day, the plan was to get our heads down early and to be up at 3am. To set off at 4am to Mount Mgoun summit, but already Abdul had concerns about the high winds. At 3am I put my head out of the tent I could hear peoples voices eager to trek to the highest point of the journey the stars were vivid in the sky and the wind seemed to have dropped. Then came word that it was unsafe to go up – this was a great disappointment to all. Our military mountain leaders disagreed, but had to accept the decision of the guide but demanded a challenging mountain day. The route was changed to include reaching the height of 3076m before descending into the lush valley, the end of our tour. At our last campsite a memorial service was held for our fellow mountaineer WO2 Pez Thomas who was killed in action in Afghanistan earlier this year.
The mountains were fantastic, challenging and demonstrated the process of millions of years of tectonic plate movement, weathering and water erosion. It was a huge privilege to be part of a great team and experience such a great trek through high and lows, dry and wet, hot and cold. To meet the Moroccan army and a great team of guides cooks and mule drivers, oh yes and we can’t forget security provided by Couscous the dog.