Another Moroccan Season Begins…

8th March 2009

The ferry slowly cruised toward the coast of Africa and through the darkness the lights of a new continent appeared.  Our journey across Europe was complete but we still had to cross most of Morocco until we reached our final destination, the Ahansel River running through the heart of the Atlas Mountains.  The sea breeze was bitterly cold so we dawned our beanies and snuggled into our down jackets for the landing in Africa.  This was not yet the sunny Morocco of the brochures.

Our blitz across the country came to a halt and suddenly we were busy with work.  In a matter of a few hours gear was unloaded, food was bought, equipment was sorted, and the bare essentials for a river trip loaded for our reconnaissance trip down the Ahansel River. We set off for the river and marked the beginning of yet another Water By Nature Moroccan season with a toast and a few cold ones.  Cold ones is a bit of a misnomer, I think, considering that the weather was colder than the beer.  Whatever happened to Africa being hot?

Despite the high water levels and cold temperatures our one-day adventure down the river went off without a hitch.  What is usually a four-day river trip down a steep and technical grade three river was transformed into a one-day run down what turned out to be one 68-kilometre long rapid also known as the Ahansel River.  The river was fast and turbulent, flowing with the muddy brown colour characteristic of a flooded river.  This descent, which ended with most of us shivering as the sun came down on Bin el Ouidane Lake, was probably the highest flow the Ahansel has ever been run.  Once again, jokingly the WBN crew kept asking each other: ? What happened to the idea of sunny Morocco??

The first commercial trip of the Morocco season happened the day after we first learned the river and it will probably be the best-remembered trip of the whole year.  Six brave souls ventured out with Shorty and Bob to tackle the Ahansel on a two-day river trip ? The classic WBN adventure that takes you down 68km of spectacular river visiting two unique Berber camps along the way.  Mother Nature had another idea in mind for these adventurers.  The water, in Water By Nature, was not going to be experienced on the river but rather beside the river in every form of precipitation and fowl weather imaginable.  As the storms started at river level, the blizzards started on the mountains, and both the guides and clients were puzzled as to the whereabouts of sunny Morocco.

The rain fell.  The river rose.  Then the hail fell.  And the river rose.  Then the snow fell.  And the river still rose.  Night came, the winds howled and we all struggled to stay warm.

The plan for day one of rafting was cancelled because of the sudden rise in water levels.  The river had risen well beyond a raftable water level so the new plan was for us to spend another night in camp and raft the entire river the next day.  We were all hoping for a break in the weather.

On the morning of day two we awoke to a fresh blanket of snow covering camp.  The river was still raging at a very high level and the temperatures were in or around the freezing mark.  After much consultation the decision was reached that we were not going rafting and that the best thing to do was go home.  This was going to be easier said than done.

Sunny Morocco?

Sunny Morocco?

Our evacuation route was by road over the mountain passes and back to the town of Oauouizaught.  Things became more complicated when news was heard that the passes were closed because of snow, part of the road out of camp was impassable, and the weather forecast was getting worse.  Soon the situation became comical when more news was heard that our evacuation vehicle was stuck behind the one and only snowplow in the area that had suffered a flat tire.  News of this brought smiles and laughter to the group who, despite all that had happened, and despite not being able to go rafting on their rafting holiday, were all in good spirits and still having fun.

Eventually the WBN vehicle made it to camp and the evacuation began.  The roads were horrendously slippery and still covered in several inches of snow.  Everyone was utilized to push the van out of snowdrifts and hold the trailer on the road as it fishtailed across the tarmac.  It was a slow go but we eventually made it over the pass and back to the comfort of warm dry clothes in town.

Its been an ongoing joke now with the WBN crew that the idea of Sunny Morocco is a myth.  Its been confirmed now that there is sun and warm weather in Morocco.  Spring has sprung these past couple days and the blizzard and fowl weather were just a hiccup. There?s more snow on the mountains this year than in any of the past twenty years.  This promises to keep water levels higher than usual and make the upcoming Moroccan rafting season the most exciting in years!

Bob Vranich

Water By Nature Trip Leader

by Hamish McMaster

Hamish McMaster is the Water By Nature owner. He has spent the past 25 years exploring and playing on the world's great rivers. He still loves nothing more than getting out there and sharing adventures.

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