by Richard Bangs
Mgoun Valley, Morocco
Steadily we wind our way up a pass nicknamed “The Ambusher.” Once a great caravan route for transporting dates, henna, gold, and salt between the Sahara and northern ports, this path is now used by only a handful of local traders. We hike past biblical-looking villages where men with wrapped heads and flowing robes mill about in an ancient way. Up we toil through groves of juniper and into the snow, following in the footsteps of our nameless mule. The winter light is slanted and diffuse.
After six hours of continuous walking, we crest another pass, the Tizi-n-Ait Pass, also known as “The Pass of the Sheep with Black Eyes,” and come face to face with the stunning white comb of the 12,000-foot Mgoun Mountains, part of the Atlas chain. I snug my wool hat against the howling wind as our local guide Rachid wraps his head in a Berber scarf.
A few hours later we stumble into the Hopi-like village of Talat Righane, where low ochre-colored houses seem to have sprung from the ground itself. All the men wear dun-colored burnooses. The women are intricately tattooed with indigo designs on their foreheads, and they have henna-stained palms and fingers. Pendulum earrings of silver, turquoise, and amber swing as they walk.
This is the heart of Morocco’s High Atlas, the great cincture of mountains separating the upper body of Africa from the Sahara, and ours is without doubt one of the most stunning hikes on the continent. Not only does the walk traverse a major range, but it continues down the Mgoun Valley, so isolated that no foreign power has ever penetrated it. This is traveling back in time, dropping into a culture and a way of life that has no connection with the West, no nexus with the twentieth century.
Duration: Four days of walking one-way over Mgoun Pass.
Kilimanjaro. The name alone rings with power, and the walk up the legendary mountain is undoubtedly the classic hike of Africa. Though the summit is 19,340 feet above the sea, this is not a technical climb, just a long uphill slog. Crowned by eternal snows, Kilimanjaro is an overwhelming presence on the African landscape, one of the most dramatic mountains on earth, and to walk its slopes and stand on the “roof of Africa” is to spread a continent at your feet. The most popular route is the six-day hike up the Marangu Route, passing in mountain huts along the way. The more strenuous, tent-only Machame Route is also the more spectacular, winding beneath the glaciers of the mountain’s southern face. The law requires that porters carry all gear and food regardless of your choice.
Duration: Allow six days for the round trip.
Luangwa Valley, Zambia
At one time abandoned to poachers, North Luangwa National Park is the way Africa used to be-teeming with game and void of roads and development. Through the efforts of Americans Mark and Delia Owens (authors of Cry of the Kalahari and The Eye of the Elephant), animals are once again becoming accustomed to people without guns. Aside from a few access tracks, there are no roads, and all game viewing takes place on foot. On a hiking safari up the Mwaleshi River you could encounter buffalo, lions, elephants, giraffes, kudu, zebras, wildebeest, hippos, crocodiles, the rare black lechwe (a kind of antelope), and many more animals, all on their own terms, up close and personal.
Duration: At least 4 days, but infinite variations are possible.
Richard Bangs, a founding partner of Mountain Travel*Sobek, began his guiding career with first descents of African rivers. He is currently editor-in-chief of Microsoft’s online adventure travel magazine, Mungo Park, named for the eighteenth-century African explorer.