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Morocco – Lions head

Yesterday we had a rest day after driving to crag s and walking in Mungo was feeling rough (something hadn’t agreed with him) and we were both aching /dehydrated from four consecutive days climbing in the heat. We decided to call it a rest day, head back to Tafraoute and relax so that we’d be ready for doing a big route today.

Looking at the guide we decided the Great Ridge on the Lions Head look like the one to go for. 800 meters of climbing to the top of one of the most impressive peaks in the area. To make matters more complex the guide alluded to having to abseil from a massive pinnacle. And the ridge looked to be quite scrambly in places.

The abseil convinced us that two ropes was a good idea. I carried one flaked in the bag ready for the abseil, the other was shortened with a few coils for us to move together on.

Up at 5:00 we scoffed some bananas and a yoghurt before jumping in the car and setting off. It was still dark outside and the driving directions were a not vague so we did a little faffing finding the correct parking location. (My description would be, “turn left at the main turning after leaving Tafraoute then take the first right to Assgour. Follow the main road up into the village passing the parking for crag h, at the western end of the village. Here then road traverse east until it reaches a dead end. Park at this dead end.”).

We then set off on the track heading east but soon left this to cut up behind the ‘small’ crags above Assgour. By this point it was 6:00 and the sun was casing enough light we didn’t need head torches anymore.

The ridge itself was easy to find and has an obvious chimney between a free standing pinnacle at its end and the main ridge. Traversing through this lead us to some slabs to start the ridge proper. The bottom section continuously varies between slabs and the main arête with only a few harder moves until we reached a short abseil. This was doable using a single rope and also looked down climb-able from below. More scrambling and a short down climb later you reach the foot of the pinnacle.

This is accessed via an exposed chock stone. The climbing on the pinnacle itself is hard then anything we’d encountered to this point. With some loose rock about we follow the buttress to the left of an obvious vegetated gully. This gave way to a groove you can bridge up then more scrambling across and around to the right of the main ridge and a very loose chossy but steep set of grooves. These finally less you to cleaner rock and some wonderful climbing up the arête. Once on top of the pinnacle there’s a long section of spires to be tackled, including a bridge over a very exposed gap. The spires finish and a short down climb on the last spire leads to a fixed abseil point off the pinnacle.

Lions Head
Lions Head – image from Summit Post

We then chose to climb the main central buttress / arête on the top section of the route. First we gained this with a down scramble from our abseil base, then headed up a weakness with easy scrambling to gain an exposed stance on the ridge proper. Here I swapped into rock shoes (I had been climbing in decent approach shoes until this point), dropped the coils and enjoy two fine 50+ meter pitches in an outstanding position before the angle eased back and a gentile scramble lead to the top. Its a fantastic climb and well worth doing if you’re in the area.

The decent was fairly straight forward, walking north for a bit before dropping down to a stream bed to the east and heading back south along it for a a few hundred meters. We then headed off east as it begins to steepen just after a large snake infested pool and a break in the skyline invites you to traverse. This then becomes a track which leads you along an exposed catwalk before easing again to become a ride down a scree filled gully. Once this bottoms out a path leads you back around to the car. On this path we met a very friendly shepherd who was intrigued by our climbing kit still swinging from our harnesses.

Back in Tafroute, there was a classic car rally in town with everyone out to see it, the place was buzzing. Our hotel had messed up the booking so we had to swap into two small single rooms but these looked plenty comfortable enough and were offered to us for free because of the mistake (I’m sure partly our fault for being gone from the room before the sun was even up!). There was also some local singing in the Resturant by what we assume to be local women (heads covered with a giant silk sheet). A fitting end to the day.

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Morocco – Crag H new route

So the change of hotel was a bad plan – I slept fine but had to sleep on my back because of the heat (I’m normally a side sleeper but needed to starfish for maximum cooling) apparently this means I snore loads, between that and the lorry depot near by Mungo didn’t manage much sleep so we paid up and headed off to the crags. We’d head back to the Amandiers later.

View over Tafaroute
View over Tafaroute

This time we’d chosen Crag H on the south side of the Jebel Massif. This means the hour and fifteen minute drive had been swapped for a fifteen minute drive and a forty five minute walk. This made for a nice change.

The walk in was really entertaining in itself. Starting at Assgaour we headed through the village and down a narrow track amongst the ruins. Of the old village. It was the kind of strange juxtaposition I had only sending in Bosnia before. In that case due to war; here I’d guess more to do with the ease of rebuilding on new land (let me know the real reason if you do). After them a faint path headed around the rock band behind the village and into the gorge. This was interspersed with patches of concrete to make progress easier and a water pipe followed it up the valley. On the way up we bumped into a couple friendly Moroccan chaps who wished us well with our climb (well at least I think that’s whats they meant, need to improve my French). At this point the path lost its focus so we scrambled and picked our way up the valley until we reached the scree leading to the base of our climb.

Assgaour
Assgaour

We’d decide to pick our own line up the crag to hopefully top out on the obvious flying arête feature. As yet unclimbed in our guide at least. Our route description is as follows (now written in the new routes book at the hotel):

Crag H – Camel-radary (200m hvs 5a ***)
1) 50m 4b; start 30m right from the base of the flying arête near a small corner. Climb the slabs above to an awkward belay in a corner just around the Arête on the buttress.
2) 30m 4c; traverse back around the arête and follow the obvious weakness in the buttress making a move on the slab to gain a small belay ledge by a thin crack.
3) 45m 4b; climb the crack and buttress on the right for 5m until easy ground is reached. Scramble up this trending right through some vegetated ground until a good belay is reached just to the left of an obvious open book corner.
4) 20m 5a; traverse to the base of the corner and ascend it for a few metres until a diagonal break in the right wall. Follow this weakness and gain the arête (crux). Traverse up and right to an awkward belay in the next corner over.
5) 40m 5a; climb up the corner / slab on its left until the arête can be passed at a large boulder. Follow the slabs above to a wide layback crack between the wall and the large flying arête. Force your way up this to the top of the flying arête.
6) 25m 4a: gain a large ledge by easy climbing and traverse right and step across to an airy wall with easy jug pulling to the top.

As a first new multi pitch route we were both pretty please to get to the to of this so its hard to be objective about its quality but I believe it offers a great day out for competent parties. It has bold slabs, airy walls and arêtes, technical corners, and powerful steep crack climbing. Please give it a go if your in the area and let me know what you think. (I’ll also happily give more guidance on where we went). Pitch 4 may also be of interest to parties trying to gain the edge of the flying arête – it looked possible to climb on to it from below the belay on this pitch at a similar standard to this route.

New Routes Book
New Routes Book

The decent was a fun scramble down into the gorge and back along the path we came in on. Here we bumped into the two friendly locals again. We must have looked as parched as we felt because the offered us drinking water fresh from a spring on the mountain side. Smiles, handshakes and broken conversation followed. I can’t stress enough how nice and genuinely friendly they were.

Back near the car one of the local kids had a mime conversation with us. He was very entertaining and also friendly. Wanting to shake our hands for climbing the hot mountains (entirely done in mime).

All that remains of the day was for us to drive back to the hotel, re-book in, have a swim in the pool and write up our route over a mint tea. 

Top of the flying arete
Top of the flying arete
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Morocco – birthday climbing

Not many people decide to get up at 6:30 on their birthday, for me however it was good to wake up early. We’d packed our bags both for the days climbing and for moving hotel. Mohammed had shown us the location of the bakery and we were there for opening time at 7:00. Before rapidly hitting the road round to the crags of Tizim Waylim. We ate the pastries we’d picked while driving round so we were at the base of our climb for 8:45 ish. It was pleasantly cool in the shade (or maybe I’d just grown used to the heat) and nice to be out of the baking sun. The vistas of the massif in the early morning light where also stunning.

Mungo was up for leading off so we racked up and he set off trying to follow the vague line on the photo of our chosen route (above and beyond hvbs 5a). Pitch one was a bit flakey with the rock having a loose feel to it however this soon changed as the rock cleaned up amend a perfect belay location was reached. This was about 30 metres up. Two pieces of gear had been placed by this point so we gave block leads a go. I quickly re-flaked the rope whole Mungo had a nose at the guide. Within a couple minutes he’d set off again and disappeared out of site over a lip that turned out to be the crux of the route. Some shouting later it transpired he was very run out but on steady slabby ground. A while passed before a woop and a shout of ‘I’ve some gear’ came down. A while longer and another shout this time of ‘safe’. I set off up the pitch, passing the bulge and covering very Avon like ground. It was fun absorbing but thought free climbing. The kind I really enjoy. Mungo’s belay turned out to be two solid cams and a dodgy nut he’d bounce tested over a semi hanging stance.

The line of our climb
The line of our climb

I took over the lead hear and made swift progress over easy ground to reach some solid nuts and built a bomber belay. A few more moves after trading gear again and we’d topped out just as the sun came onto the face. Perfect timing.

We new time was on our side for the rest of the day so played around with coils and moving together techniques on the rocks at the top of the climb (Mungo hadn’t used coils before so it was good to do some learning before it was required on the job.)

A walk through flows and fig trees lead us back to the car for a bite to eat and a plan for the afternoon.

Moroccan flowers
Moroccan flowers

There was still a parallel valley for us to explore. This time though it was unpaved. Thankfully we opted to go down this, completing a loops past the crags. The drive itself was like something out of top gear. Complete with overheating car, rally style cornering to make up some hairpins and rough rutted track all the way. It was an absorbing two and a half hours.

Top Gear Style Drive
Top Gear Style Drive

We then headed back to Tafraoute picking up a hitcher on the way to do our good deed.

Moving into our new hotel it became quickly apparent why it was cheaper. The promised air con was missing and the main facilities were communal not ensuit like we’d been shown. However the proprietor was friendly and it does have WiFi so we can’t really complain.

Another three course Moroccan feast was had for dinner though I’m sure a big bunch of this will be sweated out tonight given how hot it is as I type this. Why did we leave the comfortable hotel with a pool again? – still, up at 6:30 again tomorrow for more climbing. A bit of suffering never did me any halm and teaching my body to sleep anywhere still can only be a good thing.

One year older but still looking to live that dream.

Crags as far as the eye can see
Crags as far as the eye can see
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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 – 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.