Over the R704 in the High Atlas – craziest road we’ve driven.
The Tizi-n-Test pass in the high Atlas is famous for being a precarious route over a mountain pass that was blasted out of the rock by the French in the 1920’s. In reality it is a stunning drive but it is only the last 7km that are challenging. The R704 beween the Dades and Todra Gorges is a different deal all together, as we found out when we drove it in convoy with @Hymerlife.
When we drove the tizi-n-test we saw lots of motorhomes making the same drive. On the R704 we met only 2 adventure bikes and a Land Rover during 70km of driving…make of that what you will.
Leaving the famous hairpin section an hour above Boumalne Dades (this is where most tourists go, take a photo and go no further) we drove until M’Semrir, which is where the exciting part of this road really starts. Recent rainfall had washed away the tarmac and as we bounced over the unsurfaced diversion a JCB above us was dislodging boulders that rolled down the mountain and worryingly close to the route for our van. 20km after M’Semrir the tarmac runs out and you are on Piste road as you climb toward the summit of the pass (one of he highest in Morocco) at 2,910m.
Much of this is single track with sheer drops across long sections. Meeting oncoming traffic is your worst nightmare on these sections. Before setting off on the climb to the summit we met a local guy who said that the pass had just reopened three days before after a six week closure with snow. He said that modern motorhomes might struggle following the snowmelt but that we ‘should be ok’. He was right, but only just right as it turned out.
Aside from the stunning scenery and the challenging drive, it is the characters that you meet on a drive like this that really make memories. Who could forget the shepherd who stopped us after the summit to ask for “stomach medicine” and went on his way very happy with our spare bottle of Gaviscon. Or the group of Berber women at 2,800m leading their donkeys to who knows where.
The route to the summit is a long series of single track, unbarriered, off-road hairpins but it was after the summit that it became really challenging. The recent snowmelt had left enough mud to make our 2WD vehicles struggle and what had been an exhilarating and enjoyable drive become something distinctly more challenging. Having to extend our tow rope with a hammock strap in order to pull @hymerlife out of wheel deep mud at over 2,000m up was not in our plan for the day, but was surprisingly successful! As we descended below the snowline, the piste became dry again but made up for this by disappearing in places into riverbeds with the kind of terrain that demands more clearance than our classic Hymers can offer. Having grounded three times, but with no serious damage, there was a palpable sense of relief when 8 hours after setting off we arrived at Agoudal and rejoined tarmac on the R703 to finish the drive down to Todra Gorge.
This really is a fantastic drive and although it is often listed in the top 10 most dangerous roads it is achievable without 4WD with care and planning and in the right conditions.
We’re resting our vans for a while now but I’m sure we’ll be back for more mountain passes when we’ve recovered from this one!