Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Hiking to the summit of Jebel Ressas



Birdseye view of Jebel Ressas looking towards the Southeast

Distance: 5km
Time: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: hard
Altitude difference: 600m
Notes: many different routes but no real easy way to the summit, difficult to get the permission from Guard National
GPS Track


Approach by normal route

Jebel Ressas is an imposing mountain just 15km south of the capital Tunis. The 795m high limestone rock is towering over the town of Mornag and is one of the most distinct landmarks seen from Tunis. The hike to the summit is not a walk in the park. I have hiked up the summit via three different routes and can now say which route is the easiest in terms of technicality and route finding. But it's a great little area of rugged rock faces and friendly forest and it's worth the effort to reach the summit.

At the time of writing this blogpost the most difficult part of the hike is obtaining permission from the Guard National. The GN office is is Mornag (on the road that goes out in the direction of Grombalia). I have been denied permission twice, because the highest ranking police officer was not in. The others take no responsibility and simply tell you to come back another time "because it's not safe today". At the trailhead near the Verger Karoui, a forest guard (not uniformed) denies you access unless you've got permission. He'll call GN, so if you just go without permission you might get in trouble.





Map of the route from Mornag to the trailhead of the Jebel Ressas hike

The Long Route up
As you can see on the Google Earth image above, you'll go around Little Ressas first which is the Eastern part of the mountain. At the highest part of the village you walk towards the green sign that says you need permission and turn left. Follow the clear trail. After about 5 minutes there's a junction where another trail cuts back and goes up. This is a side trip and takes you to a field of large boulders. Otherwise stay on the main trail that basically rounds the mountain until you are at the south side, see the image below. After around half an hour you're at an area where on your right hand side there's a bit of an open space. Here you go up. There is no clear trail and you'll have to find your way up by finding  gaps in the forest. It takes another 30 minutes to make it to the saddle between the main peak and Little Ressas. Turn left and find your way to a steep treeless and with scree filled slope. This is difficult walking. The alternative is staying in the forest and find little trails and a bit of bush whacking and scrambling to find your way up (this is what happens if you follow the GPS track).


Jebel Ressas seen from the Northeast

It takes 30/40 minutes to get to a grassy slope, where you can see a knife edge ridge. Keep going up, pass the old open quarries and continue to follow the highest ground. In front of you you should be able to see the summit already. At some point you'll go down (bit of a scramble down) and then go straight up for the final approach. In less than 10 minutes you'll be standing on the summit of Jebel Ressas! You know you're there when you find the big metal pipe lying on the ground. On the other side you can see the scarred mountain, caused by there cement factory. For the way back, go where you came from towards the grassy slope via the top of the ridge. Here you start descending in a northernly direction. On your left there's a big ridge and rock wall. In front of you there are some towers. The trail zigzags down (a bit away from the wall). It's steep and slippery, pay attention! When you have reached the first of the rock towers, go towards the big wall and again zigzag down. Pretty tough descent! At some point the gully becomes completely filled with scree and boulders. Traverse to the right side as you're looking down and go through a gap where you enter the forest. Stay on the same altitude, traversing towards the Northeast. After about 300 metres the terrain becomes a little easier and there are small trails going down. Keep following these trails until you reach an open space. Here turn right and hit the trail that descents back to the village and your car (or bike).


On the summit of Jebel Ressas 

The Normal or Direct Route up
The trailhead is the same as the long route. At the green sign saying you need permission to enter the mountain, leave the dirt road on the left side and follow the small trail up in Southerly direction. It goes up gradually, bending more towards the west. After about half an hour you'll enter an open space. You can clearly see the rocky towers and ridges. This is where you're headed at some point. First, in the middle of this open space, turn left and choose a trail that winds up towards the saddle between Little Ressas (on the left) and Big Ressas. It's steep and easy to loose the trail. It takes 15-20 minutes to get to the point where you start traversing to the right (southwest) along the steep rock through the forest. After 300 metres there's a little gap that leads to the left side of a massive ridge line and equally big wall. There's also some rock towers. This place is dubbed The School of Rock, named by climbers from the US. Go up the rocky gully, until it gets a bit more grassy. From here it's the same route as the Long Route. Pass the open quarry on the right a keep seeking the higher grounds. You are now on the ridge line that leads to the summit. There is a small dip in the ridge, after that it's the final ascent to the summit. Going back is the same way (the yellow line on the Google Earth map).


Don't worry, this is not part of the route! Just optional!




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