Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Scrambling: Northwest Ridge Zaghouan

Distance: 7.1km
Hiking up: 460m
Hiking down: 460m
Level: difficult, scrambling
Time: 4-5hrs
GPS Track

The route looking in northwestern direction

For those who are new to the word scrambling: It's essentially moving up and down rocky terrain, just using hands and feet (so no climbing equipment). Whilst the climbing should be safe and relatively easy without using a rope (otherwise it would become proper rock climbing), the terrain can be exposed with big drops. For safety, a helmet should be worn when there is a danger of rock fall.

The first section of the route, a bit of shrub to fight at the start

To get to the trailhead, drive up the mountain road from Temple des Eaux. As the road climbs, after 4km the road will make an almost 180 degrees turn (a dirt track continues along the ridge that you will tackle on this route). Shortly after there will be two switch backs. About 300m further you can park your car at a relatively flat spot. It's not an official parking but locals park their car here as well.

The start of the route is a bit hard. Hike in northwesterly direction. There is no path up the ridge. You will have to work your way through the shrub for the first couple of hundred meters. The actual crest of the ridge is quite clear and it's easy enough to avoid the bushes. The first bit of scrambling starts soon, with massive hand holds and good footing. Gradually the terrain becomes a bit more complicated, but there are usually more options to scramble up.

Using hands and feet and a helmet on the more vertical sections

The first sections have short scrambles up (and occasionally down too), maximum 3 metres. Halfway the upward part of the route there's a bigger wall, looking quite daunting but in reality is not very difficult. It starts at a dip in the ridge of about 8 meters. To get to the base of this wall, don't walk all the way to the end where the gap is. You will need a rope to abseil this as it is vertical. 20 metres before that, there's a way to descend. However, it is a little tricky and you will have to stay cautious.

The biggest but not most difficult obstacle on the route (find the hikers!)

The big wall (25-30 metres) is, as said, not too hard although it appears to be at first glance. You have to see it like a giant's staircase, with always a bit of flat ground underneath you. Just take the time to find your way up. Once you're up you'll find the crux (hardest part) of the scramble. A vertical bit of around 3 metres has to be tackled, with a bit of climbing needed. The hand holds are big though. Up this rock ledge it's pretty exposed so bring your vertigo pills! Just one more climbing section more, a lovely scramble, and you are up the summit plateau.

The crux of the scramble

The fantastic last section of the scrambling part of this hiking route

There is still no clear path on the summit plateau, but it's easy to find your way through grass, low shrub and a pointy limestone surface. As the plateau widens, you want to stay slightly on the left side as at some point you will meet a shepherds path. If you go to much to the left, the terrain becomes difficult again. It's worth the effort finding the proper trail. The trail leads to the upper part of a mining complex, where mainly the metal lead was excavated. The mine shafts are still open, but are not in use anymore. A track winds down, to the main complex. There is a small trail meeting up with a wide dirt track on the base of the mountain ridge. It's a bit hard to find. There is a little open space at what seems like a view point (overlooking the southern ridges and Jebel Zaghouan. From here, the trail zigzags down to the track. Turn left (going up) and climb almost 400m up to the main (tarmac) mountain road. Turn left here and find your car after half a kilometre.

This photo gives a good impression what the scramble is about

This is climbing DOWN a tricky section, performing the correct technique

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