Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Pillars of Hercules

01-06-2013 - 3-6-2013
Gibraltar from Monte Hacho

You’d think, wouldn't you, that when the Romans came up with the idea of the Pillars of Hercules that they would be clear about which hills they meant? I understand that it was the furthest west that Hercules got when doing his twelve labours - although I think they were named after a pub in Soho, in that London. Anyway, the least the Romans could have done is give the precise longitude and latitude for the summits of the two pillars. It is generally recognised that the pillar on the northern side of the Straits of Gibraltar was the Rock of Gibraltar. However, there is less certainty about which one on the Libyan (as it was then known) southern side it is – the two contenders are Mount Hacho, which is in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and Jabal Moussa, which is just over the border in Morocco. As an obsessive hillbagger I decided that I would try to visit the summit of all three – not something that many people, if any, bother to do.

The messy top area of the Rock.
Obviously lots of people get to near the top of the Rock of Gibraltar – there is a cable car, special taxis and several walk ways. Hardly any get to the actual top because of walls, barbed wire, steep rocks, difficult vegetation and the apes ( although I found the seagulls, behaving like bonxies, more menacing as they flew straight at me and did not swerve until the very last moment). I started at sea level and walked around the town looking for a haircut  – and found a traditional barber still using cut throat razors and scissors. Then feeling a lot more light-headed I walked up the long traversing road to the Pillars of Hercules sculpture, paid my 50p entrance fee (it is £12 if you drive up there) and got to the point where the path goes down the other side on the Mediterranean steps. 
Mediterranean steps
From there it was pretty easy to clamber over a wall to avoid the barbed wire and on to the rock by O’Hara’s battery. Most people don’t go to all this bother and they are probably right not to. There is another summit to the north that looks as high, but the barbed wire has been reinforced all round that one – I know, because I tried to get round it from both the north and south, despite the gulls.

I walked the rest of the ridge as far as the cable car and then felt I had done enough and followed  the steep steps that go straight down into the town with its cafes offering ‘real fish and chips’ and ‘all day breakfasts’ for the people on the cruisers who are already feeling homesick.
I decided against setting up a hedge fund to take advantage of the lax tax regime in Gibraltar.
11.59km, 781m ascent

Gibraltar from Spain
Overnight in a carpark by West Quay, Gibraltar
Monte Hacho from the ferry 
Next day I caught the Acciona Trasmediterranea Ferry from Algeciras to Ceuta – a ferry ride that was a tad quicker than the Portsmouth – Santander one i.e. one hour rather than 24. The days objective was to get to the top of Mount Hacho 203m P   which has a fort built on top. Not having a proper map it took a bit of driving around until I finally decided to park in the Mirador de San Antonio (117m) -with great views across the Med - N35.89975 W 5.29456 on the northern side of the peninsula.

 From there I found a dirt road that lead across the west side of the fort – just before the road came to an end I found, by chance, a narrow track that lead uphill to the walls of the fort. Forcing my way through the overgrown vegetation accompanied by the calls of a peacock I came out on a road that came up from the town – when I looked later, I could not find the beginning of that road though. This took me up to a locked and closed wooden door – close by was the highest accessible natural rock I could find, N35.89372 W5.29261 – although it was obvious there was higher ground inside the high walls. I followed the walls around for a while and then found an alternative way back down to the carpark.
Highest accessible point at back
The pretty but closed back door
The main door to the Forteleza de Hacho
Later, I discovered another dirt track that went up to the east side of the fort and here there was a gate guarded by a sentry. N35.89543 W5.28794. I did ask, but he politely refused to let me inside. 

Overnight in a car park in Ceuta.

Jabal Moussa from Monte Hacho
Jabal Moussa from the ferry
On the third day, would you believe it, there were clouds and, in particular, there were clouds obscuring Jabal Moussa 839m (prominence unknown, by me). I nearly let this put me off – I didn’t have a map, I suspected that there would be no signposts/waymarks or any other form of encouragement and it was going to be stumbling around in the mist. However, I decided I would at least have a look.
Moussa from east end of Ben Younech
Crossing the border into Morocco was fun – I am sure the authorities have tried to make it as difficult as possible. Interestingly the Spanish make the crossing to and from Gibraltar more difficult than the Schengen agreement intended. However, at least they don’t have the numerous forms, the booths with their windows away from the vehicles so that you have to get out and all the time there are several people, pretending to be official ‘helpers’ in the hope of a tip. And does everyone get the interrogation about whether they are carrying guns in their vehicle?
It was almost by chance that I ended up driving down a road to the village of Ben Younech which hugs the coast at the foot of Jabal Moussa. This road crossed the mountain at quite a height but there seemed no obvious way from it and when I stopped to have a proper look I was waved at by a soldier across the road to move on. It took me a while to figure out a possible route from the village. In the end I drove through to the other end of the village and parked by a little house (61m) N35.91111 W5.40246 – it wasn’t until I got back I realised that it was a cafe and that it was called the Populare Jabal Moussa - see the sign. 
The cafe sign - told you it was called the Jabal Moussa
The col is on the left of the prominent rock
From there I followed a goat/goatherd track that lead into a dry oued/stream This track then goes up to a few houses which could be reached by a road, but there was nowhere to park, I passed by a few chickens and then into the scrub. I eventually hit upon a mule track that lead in sweeping traverses all the way up to a col at 593m N35.90183 W5.41508.

The final mule track traverse turns back to the col
Then it was back to goat tracks and the occasional small cairn. I picked my way through the limestone rocks, loose stones, endless flowers, goat droppings and messy scree on a broad ridge to a second col from where the summit came into view. The summit was marked by a goatherd’s shelter and what could have been the rusty remains of a beacon - 828m N35.89808 W5.41133.
Just some of the goats - can you spot the Rock of Gibraltar and, I think, Torrecilla?
Moussa summit

Promise you this is natural - not someone's rock garden
The cloud swirled around – so that sometimes I was in mist, sometimes above the cloud with views over the Straits of Gibraltar and along the coast to the Port of Tangier. All around me were dozens of goats and an abundance of bright coloured flowers.

The village mosque

Going down I decided to follow the mule track more diligently than I had on ascent – mainly out of curiosity as to where it would come out. Eventually I got fed up with it, as it wasn’t really that much easier walking than the ascent route I had chosen. I came out in the village by a mosque N35.90849 W5.39984 –  just as the overwound cassette tape of a prayer was played loud and tinnily and set off the village dogs barking in unison.

I reckon if I had followed the mule track all the way I would have come out near the taxi rank N35.90731 W5.39286 where there is a small carpark.
So, there you go. My first African mountain (if you count the Canaries as European) – Jabal Moussa, Jbel Mussa, Jebel Sidi Moussa. And it gets my vote as the other Pillar of Hercules because at least you can get to the top, even though it is a bit of a ‘labour’.
9.08km 1640m ascent
Jabal Moussa from the south
Overnight in Motel Rif Aire de Repos, Route de Fes, Bni Kola, Ouezzane

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Well, just wow! Jill (aka anonymous)