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Yukoner hikes length of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains in 26 days

Yukoner hikes length of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains in 26 days

When Whitehorse resident Jessy Desjardins first caught sight of the Atlas Mountains during a trip to Morocco in 2018, he knew he’d be back. 

“I went there in 2018 and saw the mountain range, and I promised myself I would come back for a bigger trip to explore more of the mountain range,” Desjardins tells the News by phone. 

And return he did. In early March of this year, the 33-year-old Yukoner arrived in Morocco to hike a segment of the Atlas Mountains from its start to end, which is at the ocean. 

The complete Atlas Mountains range runs through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in North Africa and separates the Sahara Desert from the Mediterranean Sea. The portion of the range that Desjardins hiked was the Middle and High Atlas. 

The nearly 1,000-kilometre journey took Desjardins 26 days to complete. He hiked 40 to 45 kilometres most days, although he managed to cover an impressive 63 kilometres on his biggest day of hiking. His maximum elevation gain in a single day was 2,600 metres. 

North Africa’s highest peak, Toubkal, was along his route. Although he didn’t summit the mountain, he says he reached elevations similar to its 4,167-metre peak. 

“The highest climb day, I think, was 2,600 metres climbed during the day, but the highest point I reached was about 4,000 metres. But I had multiple passes above 3,000, multiple passes above 3,500 and so on,” he says. 

Speaking about the challenges he faced on the hike, Desjardins notes that his biggest concern was ensuring he had enough water. 

“Water was extremely difficult to find, and unfortunately, [this year] was one of the driest years Morocco has seen. I talked to some locals I found along the way, and they were telling me that they were actually praying for rain, since they were farmers,” Desjardins says. 

He notes the beginning and end of the hike were the most challenging from a hydration perspective. 

“The mountain range starts small, and you go into the heart of the mountain range in the middle, which has North Africa’s highest peak, and then after it goes down. So, the start and the end were the hardest parts for water. I had to carry about 10 litres of water at one time to get from one water source to another,” he says. 

“It got a bit easier waterwise in the middle, but I still carried over four litres of water at all times for the middle part. And then, close to the end, I was back to carrying eight litres.” 

Thankfully for Desjardins, he could purchase water and limited supplies at tiny shops in some of the villages he passed through in the mountains. 

He didn’t come across many wild animals, he says, and the scariest creatures he encountered on the hike were the sheep-herding dogs belonging to some of the shepherds living in the region. 

While their dogs were scary, Desjardins is quick to note that the shepherds themselves and other folks he encountered while hiking were “some of the friendliest people” he’s ever met. 

“They always have a smile. I had so many invitations from some of the nomads, who barely had anything — barely a roof over their heads. They would invite me for tea and food,” Desjardins notes, adding that his interactions with residents of the mountains were the highlight of the trip. 

While difficult to verify, Desjardins believes he is the first person to hike across the section of the Atlas Mountains that he traversed. He says that, prior to his trip, he did plenty of research into his route and found no evidence that anyone had ever done it before. He also notes that locals he encountered along the way told him he was the first tourist they’d ever encountered. 

However, he is aware that someone may have done it before him. 

“I would think that maybe a local might have done it [before], and it was never documented … but I do believe I am the first person to have done [the hike] from one end to the other,” Desjardins tells the News. 

Originally from near Montreal, Que., Desjardins has lived in the Yukon for 16 years, both in Whitehorse and the Haines Junction area. He has considerable travel experience, having visited more than 40 countries, and enjoys hiking and outdoor experiences. 

“I’ve done other big crossings. In the past, I’ve done the South Island of New Zealand crossing, which was 1,500 kilometres. And I crossed the country of Jordan on foot,” he says. 

Asked if he has another epic overseas hike coming over the horizon, Desjardins says he’s planning another hike next year in South America, although he’s tight-lipped about the details. He says he’ll announce his next adventure on his Instagram account (@jessyonadventures) in the not-so-distant future. 

Contact Matthew Bossons at 

Matthew Bossons

About the Author: Matthew Bossons

I grew up in a suburb of Vancouver and studied journalism there before moving to China in 2014 to work as a journalist and editor.
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