Have you ever heard of the 24 hour challenge in Morocco? No neither had I until I had spent a little time out there with some of my surfing friends. But, once I had heard of it I knew it would be something that would stay on my bucket list until I managed it.
Morocco is a beautiful country, and is blessed with such a variable landscape that there is something for everyone. The beautiful long coastline that snakes around the northern and western edges provides beautiful beaches to both relax on but also to surf, with the northern beaches surrounding Essouira providing the perfect place to windsurf and kite surf due to their high winds.
The Atlas mountains create a natural barrier against the Sahara desert, and the snow capped mountains provide a view out of place with the surrounding 40 degree sun. Hidden at the footfalls of the Atlas is the aptly named Paradise Valley; a verdant wonderland of tall green palms and thundering waterfalls plied by the ice melt further up. A badly kept secret where you will find local children diving and playing in the school holidays.
Morocco is, by all accounts, an explorer’s wonderland. But what about those who have a different sense of adventure?
Surf, Ski and Sandboard around Morocco in less than 24 hours. And yes it is possible!
Taghazout on the western coast (just north of Agadir) is renowned for its surf, from beginner beaches such as Bananas, to reef points like Boilers it has something to challenge you no matter your skill. For this challenge you have to leave these perfect swells behind as it is too far to travel. Agadir itself has some surf on the long stretch of sand that fronts this modern city (rebuilt after a serious earthquake in 1960).
Start Time: 10:00
An hour in the water, and a few waves caught; part one of the challenge completed.
Jumping in the car, and getting changed as our driver headed east up the A7 mountain pass to maximise our time. An easy drive at first that ends in slowly winding up narrow roads, with lorries flying precariously around tight corners towards you, inches away from precipices, hundreds of feet steep. As beautiful as the views are through the Atlas mountains, the speed and arrogance of other drivers on the road terrified me so much I found myself holding my breath at every corner praying that we didn’t slip over the edge.
Four hours in a Police roadblock stopped us as we approached a small mountain village. A small stream by the side of the road was decorated by small patches of snow. The contrast of the snow against the hot arid countryside we had been passing through was mind blowing. Suddenly realising how significantly the temperature had dropped, I grabbed my salopettes and jackets and stuffed them on awkwardly in the back of the car. Our driver eventually persuaded the Police them to let us pass.
An hour and a half later we arrived in the only true ski resort in Morocco; Oukaïmden. It also happens to be the highest ski resort in Africa. There are other locations where you can ski, but realistically they are only really good enough to toboggan on, and that is not good enough for this challenge. We hired skis from the little hut, not the shacks displaying gear older than I am, and made our way around to the nursery slopes. Slope maintenance here is not what you would find in European resorts; hard ridges of iced up snow plague the slopes, so we decided to get used to the conditions before heading up the chairlift.
We found a guide at the top of the chairlift who helped us pick a route down the unmarked piste. Possibly the bumpiest slope I have ever skied on, and definitely not an experience I could describe as a nice gentle cruise. None of the 5 routes down are particularly easy, and after completing the longest 3km route, we picked one of the shorter ones to ensure we could keep on schedule, although that was full of boulders and equally awkward!
Time Check: 18:45
Kit returned, and hangry after our ski we headed to Chez Juju for dinner of traditional tagine. Although this was not the best quality food we have eaten in Morocco, by this point we were starving and practically inhaled everything that was put in front of us. As always in Morocco it was a ‘meat’ tagine, with no real indicator what meat had been used, possibly donkey given the number of them used to transport skiers to the chairlifts.
At this point we were tired from travelling and, in all honesty, there was not one of us looking forward to getting back into the car with all of our kit for a long, squished, journey through the night into the desert.
Five hours into the drive, around 01:00, we passed through the city of Ouarzazate, known as the gateway to the Sahara. A little cheer erupted from sleepy people flopped out over the back seat of the car; desperately trying to find a way to get comfy and have a couple of hours kip. The further we travelled into the desert, the colder it got and we found ourselves creeping back into our ski gear to try and stay warm as the car’s heating system was failing to do anything much.
As the weak desert sun began to rise we arrived in Merzouga, thankful that we would no longer be cramped up in the car.
Time Check: 06:45
Unfolding ourselves from our seats we went in search of the hotel staff, who despite the fact we had planned such an early arrival took some time to appear. We were ushered into the dining area, thousands of rugs covered the floor and a small wooden table was set up for us to eat. Of course, the art of making Moroccan tea is not a simple or quick one, even at this early hour.
We had been told that we would be collected at 7:30 for the hour and a half camel trek to Erg Chebbi dunes; the location of our sandboarding experience. Leaving us just one hour to sandboard in order to complete the challenge. Again, our careful planning came undone as Moroccans work on their own timescale and did not appreciate our rush. At ten to eight I started to worry we would not make it, and hassling the poor hotel staff to confirm that our pick up time was correct did not seem to make any difference. The lack of sleep and hours of being in a cramped car clearly betraying my usual calm.
Eventually, a car picked us up at five to eight and took us down the road to the camel car park, where we mounted the camels, and lopped awkwardly into the desert.
Time Check: 09:30
By this point I was really starting to get nervous, again harassing the guide like a small child on a road trip with constant questioning of ‘are we nearly there yet?’. Another ten minutes and we had arrived at the dunes.
Dismounting from the camel, I ran to the pile of boards and boots that awaited us, well ran as best you can after being astride a camel for so long.
Booted up we launched ourselves at the nearest dune, determined to make it on the slopes in time. A ten minute climb later, I was all strapped in and ready to go. I wiped the sweat from my brow, pointed my board down the slope and tipped my weight forward. Carving down the orange sea of sand, until a third of the way down I lost my edge and tumbled most of the way down the dune.
The alarm on my watch went off as I came to a stop. 10:00, 24 hours after the challenge had started. Although I hadn’t completed a full run on the dunes, I feel that it counts.
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