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Morocco – Tagzene Gorge

That last few late nights and early starts were beginning to catch up with us today.

The original plan was to head for some shade, and the Dwawj Slabs sounded like the perfect venue. Described as both ‘a place to escape the heat’ and ‘best on the hottest days’ they sounded ideal for our late season visit. Like all plans however this one was set to change.

I don’t even remember the first two alarms in the morning, luckily the third woke us and we were only 45 minutes behind schedule. Also the late night the day before had left us completely in packed and unorganized for a prompt start so it took us an hour to get going. All this combined with the usual food shop left us arriving at the slabs around 10:30 without having eaten breakfast. The slabs were also bathed in beautiful hot sunlight. Just what we had wanted to avoid. A quick look at the guide did confirm they were supposed to face north west.

So after some discussion and a bite to eat we decided that we’d scope out a few of the other crags in the area and see if we could find some shady short routes before an early return to maximise the following day. We headed off with this new plan taking the unreliable car up a dusty track to scope out one of the high crags in the region before deciding the the sun was going to arrive on it just before we could get even one pitch up on any of the routes. The Tagzene Gorge sounded a better alternative promising shade at any time of day, it being a gorge and only a few more km up the road. Back in the car we headed on.

Hunting for crags
Hunting for crags

The parking was straightforward and the walk in to the gorge was a stunning meandering path beside the river bed through cultivated barley fields studded with the odd almond tree before it descended into the most amazing rock cleft with a boulder strewn base. We had a nose up and down this to get our bearings before deciding to plumb for a new line on  the aptly named ‘shadow wall’. Mungo had worked out a gap between to of the easy routes which frequent this wall, and I thought it looked doable. He offered me the lead.

Tagzene Gorge
Tagzene Gorge

The climbing was fun with adequate but spaced gear and jugs wherever you needed them. It follows the obvious broken buttress above the blankest part of the slab. The rock was mostly solid and third climbing was never hard but was enthralling. Not a classic but my first ever new route so something to be proud of. Its called ‘One For Stemma’ in honor of Emma who didn’t make the trip. (The reason for Stemma not Emma is another story).

The second route we tried was another new line though this one more broken. Mungo took the lead this time and the route description would go something like: “Start below the lowest point of shadow wall, scrambling easily up the broken arête until just below the obvious clefted overhang, cut round this to the left to be presented with four nice wall moves which feel all too short lived before the way arête leads to the finish, VD”. Mungo decided to name this Camel-mile Tea.

Finally the sun had moved from the classic of the crag so we quickly headed over to have a go at that. The route is called Djinn and proved delicate and balancy while still providing steep airy climbing. It would have justified the day on its on and is well worth making time for if you’re in the area.

More Exploring
More Exploring

A potter back to the car while again taking in the stunning scenery took us to four forty five so we headed back for a refreshing swim in the pool.

Relaxed and content we decided to head into town for some mint tea at the Tanger (as recommend in the guide and worth a mention). We then bumped into one of Mohammad the carpet sellers seemingly extensive network of contacts. We indulged him with some of our time and were rewarded with some local recommendations for both cheaper accommodation and good places to eat. A meal at one of these recommended places and paying up our last night in the Amandiers finished off a very successful day.

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Morocco – climbing day one, Ksar Rocks

As with all first days on new rock types, and partnerships we new it would take a day or two to get into the feel of it out here. With this in mind we had decided that the venue of Ksar Rocks would be fitting. It features shortish multipitch routes on all aspect. The guide describes it as ‘if you only visit one venue here make this it’. A ringing endorsement for the crag.

Having packed and sorted stuff the night before but being quite tired we got up at the holiday friendly hour of 8:30 and set off around 9:30 (sourcing some food as we left Tafaroute). It’s an hour and a bits drive to the crag passed some stunning unclimbed rocks enroute. Leaving us racking up at the bottom of the first route around 11:00.

Mungo Getting Ready
Mungo Getting Ready

Its hear where lessons start to be learned. The first of which was that the east face doesn’t loose the sun until around 14:30, the second was that a similar looking line shown from a different angle with the same number doesn’t make it the same route.

We’d plumbed for a severe* grade climb to ease us as gently as possible into the rock. Expecting to race up this. We spied what looked like the guidebook line (and was one guidebook line) before setting off. At first the climbing seemed a little alien. The heat was making my palms sweat and the rock was grippy but had a disquieting sheen to it. The route we hard started up was called south eastern unfortunately this wasn’t the intended one that we were reading the description for; so our line strayed from the severe standard. We managed to clock this at the top of pitch two where the ‘climb the right wall to a ledge before stepping right and heading up the crack’ looked more hard very severe then severe**! By this point I’d already lead two exposed and poorly protected traverses out to the arête on our right. We decide the sensible course of action was to change the line we followed to join up with an adjoining route. This proved a sensible decision, with the top pitch of ‘voodoo’ providing the pitch of the day so far and a great lead for Mungo. We decided that this variant should be noted and we’d call it ‘south eastern flogic’ (flogic being ‘failed logic’ or the ruder version ‘f*** logic’, thanks Mike for that one.) Its grade would be something like Very Severe 5a.

Ksar Rock
Ksar Rock

On the route down we resolved to learn our lessons and decided on one of the modern ‘classics’ of the crag – if you can have such a thing for such a recently developed area. The route in question was great eastern and proved a top outing with all the pitches having great character and quality. Well recommended. By this point as well we were climbing in the shade and decided this was much more pleasant at this time of year so resolved to look for shady routes during the rest of our stay.

Lessons well learned we finished the day with more Moroccan cuisine contented. 

Mungo with the view from the top
Mungo with the view from the top

* actually one of the easiest grades of climb.
** Significantly harder and much nearer to the limit of our climbing ability.

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Morocco – journey to Tafraoute

The following day we got up at eight so we’d be ready to collect our hire car by half ten and get underway to Tafraoute. Breakfast was pancakes and honey which went down very well in the pleasantly cool atmosphere of the riad. This relaxed us nicely before the exciting journey to the airport. Mungos family had arrange of us to be driven there on the back of what can only be described as a motorbike come trailer rolled into one. Judging by the looks we got this isn’t the normal way westerners get about in Morocco. It did make for a very entertaining journey though.

Once there we picked up the hire car. This went quite smoothly despite us being requested to pay a ‘no excess’ which was already covered and written on the hire car booking provided. (Watch out for this of you’re booking a car). The car however didn’t drive smoothly – it was a Hyundai i10 that felt like it hadn’t had a service in its life. Occasionally the power would just cut out and fourth / fifth gear couldn’t even managed 60kmph on a slight slope. Oh well at least it was cheap.

We’d decide to do the mountain pass route to Tafraoute as this would give us a flavour of the place and hopefully a more entertaining journey with stunning views. It didn’t disappoint on either count.

We were soon winding our way up into the high atlas on what can only be described as a single track road with no barriers but just wide enough for two vehicles to pass if you were willing to place wheels scarily near to the edge. This went on for miles and miles but luckily without much traffic. We stopped for an omelette at around 14:00 and the highest point of our journey, however this was pricy for Morocco and not very good. The views were however stunning.

Dropping down from the High Atlas you enter tree dotted plains that extend into the distance and straight roads replace the winding bends of the mountain passes. Further on the road begins to climb again and an almost desert style landscape arises before giving way again to rocky outcrops and the greener fertile land that go with this. Of took us 8 hours to complete the journey to the Amandiers. This was swiftly followed by a brisk walk to the nearest Resturant for a good tagine.

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Morocco – arrival

On arriving at Marrakech the first thing I noticed was a heady smell of fumes, spices and what can only be described as heat. The air was alive with swallows and a long queue was forming at the passport control. An hour later I had my bags and was met by Mungo and his step farther, Colin at arrivals. They were also there to collect Mungo’s step grandmother, Anne. We all bundled into a taxi and rapidly wound our way into the buzzing heart of Marrakech.

Spices in marrakech
Spices in marrakech

Because of that city buzz, we couldn’t make it to the riad. So the last section was done on foot, following a man with a trailer who was pulling our stuff. I couldn’t help but stare at the colours, buildings and people. Quite a change form the Lake District I’d left only that morning.

The riad itself was an oasis of calm and we had a great evening meal of meats, cheese, bread, coronation chicken, and salad waiting for us. Having not eaten for a few hours this was really appreciated.

Ann and Colin
Ann and Colin

Mungo and I then popped out to the square to see more of the city and get a taster of what it is like. Planning to find out more by spending the last day of the holiday back in Marrakech.

Finally we decided we’d had a long enough day and should head to bed so that we’d be fresh for the long drive in the morning.

I’d like too thank Mungo’s family for putting me up for the night and feeding me. It was definitely what was needed after a long day travelling.

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Morocco – getting there

So I finished up work packed everything left in my flat into the car and headed north for a couple days in the lakes with a few friends. The first of these proved fruitful with an assent of Tophet Wall up on Great Gable. This is a Ken Wilson ‘classic’ as describe in his seminal book ‘Classic Rock’. The route was in less then ideal conditions and reminded me its still possible to get hot aches* in May! It is however very enjoyable, winding its way through a spectacularly steep area of terrain. Well recommended – I’ll head back on a sunny day.

The second day was less productive due to the usual bank holiday lake district weather of drizzle intermingled with rain. We did manage a short walk and it brightened up in the evening just in time for me to repack the car and my bags for Morocco. It was still a great day though made by the company of Becky, Ian and Darrell – thanks for a good one.

The evening in the pub and a reasonable start at seven followed by some traffic free roads lead to the flight. Which is where I’m typing this between reading the guides and planning routes. Roll on Marrakech.

* where your hands warm up from being numb and all the nerves fire giving the feeling of putting your hands in hot coals while stabbing them with a knife…

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Striding edge, a spring days wonder

I was up in the lakes by myself this Saturday so needed to come up with a plan for the day.

Forecast was for a change in the weather with the recent cold days being replaced by warm wet air moving in from the south west. The suggestion was that this would happen sometime in the afternoon. Looking at the map I decided that Striding Edge on Helvellyn would be a good candidate. Not overly difficult, a grade one scramble with some exposure, but technically interesting and a day out that I’d not done before despite its stature. My aim was to be at least on the summit by mid day so the key difficulties would be over with a few different options to get back down should the weather turn early. A prompt start would be good idea as well.

So Friday night (well technically early Saturday morning) I made it up to the lakes and pitched the tent before settling down in my sleeping bag. I’d already pre-packed my bag for the following day including winter kit. Note; I’ve put the full list of what I carry at the end of this post.

Morning brewing up
Morning brewing up

Saturday morning started brighter then I’d expected with large areas of blue sky dotted with cumulous cloud. The dogs in Patterdale were barking and there were young lambs prancing on the hill side. A proper spring day in the lakes that’s hard to beat. The scramble itself was banked out with soft snow. An ice axe was crucial for safety but the crampons stayed in the bag. This was because of the mix of rock and soft snow meant steps could easily be kicked and there was less of a risk of a tumble from catching a point on a crack in the rocks. While on it, the cloud that had been shrouding it during the approach started lifting. Showing off some of the key features of the ridge that I tried but probably failed to capture in photos.

Striding Edge
Striding Edge

Topping out the ridge was spectacular. To the south west Helvellyn had a bank of cloud providing a spectacular inversion. To the north east the clouds had parted showing the summits around. It was also the first point in the day where I bumped into other people. The descent I chose was down Swirrl edge.


Unfortunately a few people on this decent had tried it without the proper equipment and experience so looked to be have a hard time of it. The more times you find yourself in this situation the more you realise that you can’t get overly involved – just do what you can with encouragement and advice to make sure the situation doesn’t get any worse before heading on. If you’re reading this and aren’t sure what equipment / experience would be appropriate then I’d recommend booking a winter mountaineering course and erring on the side of caution.

After heading down Swirrl there was still a bit of time and the sun was still out so I extended the route back.

All in all a quality day out.

So if you fancy giving this day a go yourself here’s the details:

Striding Edge Helvellyn Route
Striding Edge Helvellyn Route

1. Start in Glenridding at the main car park.
2. Go out and cross the river to head up onto Lanty’s Tarn
3. From there head up the flanks of Helvellyn via the Hole-in-the-Wall and Striding Edge.
4. Enjoy the view from the Summit before heading a short way North to descend steeply down Swirral Edge with care.
5. Ignore the main path heading off rightwards and instead continue up over Catstye Cam.
6. Drop down near the old bridge in Brown Cove (not crossing the bridge but instead fording the river)
7. Continue along the obvious track past mine workings and the youth hostel back to Glenridding.

As promised a quick not on what I took with me:

Blizzard bag
Small personal first aid kit
Head torch
Altimeter watch (altimeter’s a nice to have though a watch is more essential)
Ice axe
Small sun screen / lip balm
Rucksack and liner
Warm synthetic jacket
Mircrofleece / icebreaker 260
Light synthetic jacket
Waterproof jacket
Waterproof trousers
Walking poles
Guerilla pod
Powerstretch gloves
Warm mits
Warm hat
Hot Squash (in insulated Nalgene)

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Why I climb

Its been an emotional week for me. I’ve some big life changing decisions to make ahead of me and at the moment I’m rocking around an empty house. There is one thing I know will really help; climbing.

Climbing not in the sense of gymnastic challenges over mats indoors or feeling the blood course into my forearms while doing laps on a rope. While both these have there place in my life and I thoroughly enjoy them they’re not what I need right now.

I need to be on an atmospheric cliff, waves crashing below or exposed on a mountain side wind and cloud pouring over a ridge behind me. I need the pressure to perform, that nagging stress that conditions aren’t perfect but you’ve committed anyway. The reassurance of a rope isn’t need by this point, either its there or I’m soloing, it makes no difference. No for me at this moment its the certainty in my ability to figure out the game.

There is the mental challenge of working out the moves, which holds should I use, how to hold them, what order, where should my weight be?

There is the metal fortitude required to push into the unknown, will it get easier, can I keep this up, what will happen if I fall, can I fail?

There is the mental puzzle of placing gear, when to rest and for how long?

There is the physical, can I hold on, will my ankle take the strain, can I pull hard enough or gently enough, how does my balance feel?

All these questions and more are raised in my head but when I’m truly climbing they stop become questions. The confidence grows with every move. That reassuring grip on a crimp, that nut that goes in and gets the little voice in my head to say bomber. Anticipation and  hesitance turn to expectation and confidence.

Only climbing can cure me for the time being, make me feel complete, whole myself. Though I know it’ll be a while before I get the chance again. 

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Twenty Twelve, Review Of My Recovery

So twenty twelve started with a snap – quite literally as I broke my leg skiing – so how did I get on for the rest of the year and what did I learn?

First steps on the road to recovery were taken pretty quickly. Managing to get out of the house quite regularly and perfecting hopping at speed. As a positive it also turns out that being on crutches is also good for recovering from golfers elbow, and sorting out some of the in-balances in the muscles in my arms. I took the first few weeks off from the climbing wall as well, not really wanting to risk worsening the injury so instead set my heart on completing as many of the exercises given to me by my physio as I could. This started with some easy stretching, progressed onto gentile cycling before trying more impact based activity such as hopping and running. For the first time in a while I signed up to the Gym and started spinning classes and weights. After those initial couple weeks I was back indoor climbing again.

By April I’d managed to recover enough to get outdoors again. A few short walks around leafy Surrey before a trip up to Snowdonia to get back into the mountains I’d been craving to visit again. It felt amazing to rediscover the hills after so long between trips. We decided to go and tackle some easy routes on the east face of Tryfan to make the most of the sunny but cold weather. My fitness was good but my leg wasn’t as flexible as before and going down was hard slow and painful work. All in all it was a great weekend and motivated me even more to get back to full fitness.

Tryfan East Face
Emma climbing Pinnacle Rib on Tryfan

Continue reading Twenty Twelve, Review Of My Recovery

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Breaking my leg skiing

Below is something I wrote in January 2012 just after breaking my leg skiing. It captures some of the thoughts and feelings I had at the time. be-warned there’s some bad language in there.

Here I am sitting on my sofa, unable to climb, unable to walk even without the aid of crutches. How’d I end up here…what was I thinking?

So it all really started a couple weeks ago. I was so excited about an up coming ski trip. We’d organised to go to La Plagne, with 100’s of kilometres of pistes and plenty of good off piste this was to be a trip that got me back up to speed after a year without gliding down the white stuff. It was the kick start to 2012. I’d had a great 2011, qualifying as a mountain leader, climbing Cenotaph Corner (E1 Llanberis pass) and Coronation Street (E1 Cheddar Gorge), attempted a full traverse of the Cullin in a day as a group of 5 and almost made it. The plan would be to build on this and make a return to the alps climb to get a big tick and some broad experience travelling in alpine terrain. First a cheeky little ski holiday would get me in the mood and allow me to have some fun while improving my technique. Colleen could make it and hopefully enjoy her first experience of the alps. It couldn’t be better. I’d saved up for a few months and got my own kit for off piste / touring and we set off.

Skiing 2009
Skiing near Chamonix 2009

First day – started with a little helping Colleen to find her feet and getting my own, you can loose a lot in a year without skiing. It soon came back though, the skis feeling good, my technique feeling comfortable to get me down with ease on blue and red runs. In fact the only slow thing was the burn in my thighs. The usual evening banter with my friends, life is good.

Second day – up early, the others are keen. The weather looks great. In the morning Darrell and I race off to the lifts, we’re aiming for the glacier to get some big long runs in before our first lesson in the afternoon. We make it to each of the sequence of lifts you need to get there just at the right time and get on a brilliant red run, freshly groomed and with a lovely winding line. Darrell loves the speed and races off down it, me hot in pursuit. Everything is clicking and I’m flowing down, legs are feeling a little tired but they can cope.

We do the run a second time, more people are about but never the less we miss the crowds at the choke points and enjoy that feeling of travelling in the mountains. If you’ve never skied or boarded I doubt you’ve felt the liberty that comes with being able to move so fast and so competently around in the hills. If you have then you’ll know what’s being referred to.

Continue reading Breaking my leg skiing

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Welcome to my blog. In hear you’ll find the latest about what I’m up to as well as useful information such as weather / conditions where I am, thoughts on pieces of kit I use, and musings on the outdoor world.

I hope you like it.