Stage 18 - Col de Tichka
A spectacular day in the High Atlas.
I woke up cold, about 4:30 - realizing that I’d been cold for a while. The wind wasn’t really strong but it was cutting through the tent and my (I’ve now decided) not-warm-enough bag. I finally managed to crawl out of the sleeping bag a little after 5:00 in the predawn light. Put on all my woollies, before venturing forth. Packed up as usual and grabbed a coffee by 6:00 then back inside hotel’s common room with a semblance of last nights warmth to sip it down and contemplate the day ahead.
French toast for breakfast as an added treat the usual porridge and fruit. Downed several slices, and by that time the sun was coming over the hillside, warming all. Decided to shuck the down vest but kept the gloves and leg warmers (and 3 layers on torso). Wind had dropped away almost totally by the time we pushed off at about 6:45. A gorgeous morning - big peaks ahead now showing clearly. Almost no traffic but that’s expected to change after 9 km or so, when we join a main road across the mountains.
We’re into our climb immediately; at first more or less as yesterday but then the grade kicks up, and the switchbacks start coming. I lose count of those. At the junction with main road, the support van and Doug are there directing us through some road construction mess and a stream of traffic now coming up the road from direction of Marrakech. I ditch the leg warmers, but keep the jacket, albeit now off and stuffed in jersey pocket. The road continues up, but I don’t recall more of the severe switchbacks. The views are just amazing. Finally over the top at 2260 m … the highest point, I think, on this tour.
The world open up before me - it’s just truly spectacular. The High Atlas are BIG. It’s not just a simple col … as in up and over, but a series of short up and downs for a few kilometres, long big views all the while. The peaks are just massive beasts all ‘round. Then a glorious, jaw-dropping ~30 km downhill run, descending just over 1,000 m in a wild series of switchbacks. Overall, this is the most impressive mountain pass I can recall cycling across, including anything I’ve done in the Canadian Rockies or in Colorado, or in the Pyrenees for that matter.
The road finally enters a valley of sorts, and continues its descent along the Qued Tamjdert. I join the lead group for a coffee further along this river valley; everyone seems elated, all talking about how spectacular the morning has been for us. Then we push on … more descending and then a final 300 m climb toward the end before a final plunge out onto the Marrakech plains. We’ve dropped some 1,333 m on the day.
We hit the lunch truck at about the 60 km mark; and that’s it for the day. Per arrangement, TDA will bus us into the Marrakech hotel instead of allowing the ride to continue. End of Ramadan traffic is now thick and chaotic flowing mostly up and out of Marrakech, but plenty going our way as well; little if any shoulder for at least half the remaining way into town. A little anticlimactic but there you go. The hotel when reached is modern and far too luxurious for 24 sweaty and chattering cyclists, still mostly in Lycra. Rooms are quickly assigned, occupied and showers entered. A re-grouping by poolside bar follows. Plans made for going into town later in the afternoon, namely the Jamaa El Fna Square, to witness the end of Ramadan.
A truly super day.