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The Pillar

The sun and heatwave have finally made it to Torridon – Jen was off today and I had a nice cooling dip in the gorge during the morning followed by a pleasant coastal walk in the afternoon after I was getting a loan from https://www.cashcrazy.co.uk/desperate-loans/ because I need the money to buy new equipment.

Having not managed to climb at Diabaig yet – I was really excited to head over after work and give the classic ‘Pillar’ (E2 5b) a go. Several people have mentioned to me this is as good as left wall and a must do for the area. I had to go take a look.

For those that don’t know Diabaig is at the end of the road through Torridon village and a beautiful spot. It has hills of Lewisian Gneiss surrounding it with many crags. The Pillar climbs the central line of the most obvious slab/wall.

The Pillar
The Pillar crag, the route is up the middle of the face – photo by Jen Roberts

All I can say is the line lives up to the reputation and while I personally would put it below Left Wall on my all time favourite climbs it’s definitely up there. Starting off with a continuously interesting well protected crack you gain a ramp to move down and left before questing up the face above. Some holds are obvious others a bit hidden but they keep arriving just where you need them to make the climbing so enthralling I almost didn’t realise I’d made it to the top. Gear is plentiful though you don’t loose that committing feel with linked sections of moves between key pieces. Does it deserve four stars – yes I think it does.

Climbing The Pillar - photo by Jen Roberts
Climbing The Pillar – photo by Jen Roberts
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To Cloggy

Another fine week of weather saw plenty more fun taking place.

The week started with customer service training. This involved a day spent between reception and one of the class rooms which was decked out with computers learning the process and computer system. It was a hot day and unfortunately the content was quite dry though the team teaching us did their best to make it entertaining and give us breaks. With the long evenings and both Niels and I keen to get to some of the rarer visited crags with long walk in’s we headed over to Llechog with a classic link up of Zarquon Resurrection Erection (E2 5c ***) the first two pitches being really good but quite broken between them. The theme for the climb was “sideways” as when asked what the climbing was like on the first pitch that was my responce. The reason being the whole butress slants at an angle and all the natural features in the rock follow this giving it all a balancy feel like you’re on an arete despite much of the time being on slabs. The crux pitch was lead in style be Niels. It involved delicate footwork and good finger locks on grippy rock. Being the last pitch, those wanting to get the best of the route on a short timescale you could ab in and enjoy the climbing. Our walk down was in the dark with a phone call ahead to Rhys to save our salads from being locked up overnight. (Thanks again – it would have been a very hungry evening without your help).

Niels on Llechog
Niels on Zarquon Resurrection Erection, Llechog – e2 5c

The second day of customer service training went very quickly as we’d managed to cover most of content on the first day. This meant we had a bit of time until lunch and a slackline session seemed like a fun way to pass the time while remaining about the centre in case we were needed (as requested by Carlo our boss). Of particular fun was a session with Harry the handy man (an ex wrestler, an all round nice guy) having a go at the “harry potter” where you lie down on the line like it’s a broom stick and get wobbled like your flying by everyone else. It should be pointed out now that Harry’s in 60’s!

Alice Slacklining
Alice Slacklining

The afternoon was taken up by marshaling the timed navigation component of the Interntional Mountain Leader (IML) scheme. This involved the group of asparent IML holders running around the side of Moel Siabod collecting orienteering stamps within an alloted time to prove their navigation skill. Our job was just to be on hand with mobile phones should any issues arrise. This mostly invovled sitting around in the sun watching some fairly stressed individuals maddly dashing around before heading back to the centre for the compulsory tea and cakes (A Brenin institution).

For the evening Niels, Dan and I again headed out to a remote cliff with the intetion of getting more multipitch climbing ticks. This time we headed for Craig Yr Ogof (Cwm Silyn) and chose the route Kirkus’s Direct (HVS 5b). I lead the first two pitches and Niels lead the final 5b pitch. The crag as a whole had a particularly conteninental feel about it that evening with the scree aproach and hot evening sunset meaning I was climbing in a baselayer most of the evening. the views were fantastic and the climbing was brilliant up a beautifully steep slab which just keeps giving holds when you need them. The decent is someone loose down a scree slope and had a bigger mountain feel to it. Make sure you take some appropraite footwear with you for the way down if you try it.

Craig Yr Ogof
Kirkus Direct, Craig Yr Ogof

The next day (Wednesday) was a minibus driving assessment and night porter in the evening. the minibus driving assesment involved spending the morning driving around the local area including plenty of reverse parks and corners that made you breath in to get used to the vehicle before heading over the Parisellas’s ice cream shop (one of the best in North Wales acording to expert Mike Raine). I actually really enjoyed the whole experience and it convinced me even more that I want to get my D1 as soon as possible.

Thursday was a “general” day which basically means I help out where ever I can. I end up spending the morning in the kitchen which was great fun. Al was the head chef for the evening and provided plenty of entertainment while still keeping us very busy. I ended up chopping up the fresh fruit for the evenings fruit salad. The afternoon was a mix between reception and moving pictures around as the many photos around the place were being swapped. Also the “Wild” show had turned up with a heard of alpacas, vultures and an enomous eagle providing some entertainment whilst on reception. They were preparing the place for a live broadcast Saturday morning.

During the evening Josie (another of the Center Assistants) and I headed over to Dinus Cromlech to climb Ivy Secptre; a route I hadn’t climbed for 11 years and this time I’d be heading back to lead the crux pitch. It would also be Josie’s first E1. The “easy climbing” to the first belay proved anything but, probably because we were off line, but an inocuous looking shallow groved proved terrifyingly poorly pretected and tenuous. luckily Josie is made of strong stuff and lead it with some jokes and ammusing comments. I then got on the sharp end for the main corner and thoroughly enjoyed bridging and pressing my way up through the roof’s to the top. A great well protected and fun pitch. Even better then I’d remembered it being and the last of the main corners on the Cromlech for me to lead. I’d have to venture onto the walls next.

Friday was again hot and sunny with Carlo deciding it was time to send us out with Sid (one of the best sea kayak instructors there is) to find out how good we were in kayaks. We headed kitted up, loaded the boats and headed over to the coast of Anglesea for a gental paddle getting the hang of leaning the boat to control direction and rock hopping to test our skills. I learned that sea kayaking is one of the most fun ways to travel around the coast line especially crusing round watching the wildlife. Something I intend to do more of in the future.

Sea Kayak preparations
Sea kayak preparations
Sea Kayaking
Sea Kayaking

It was another of the Centre Assistants birthday’s on the Friday so we had a BBQ / Part in the evening with Pims, Ale and other drinks going round, some fancy dress and lots of jollity it was really good fun but made the start for the day off on satuday a bit slower then it should have been. This was a day I’d been targetting getting on all week – a visit to Cloggy.

For those that don’t know Cloggy is the climbing nick name for Clogwyn Du’r Arddu. It’s an impressive cliff, high on the flanks of Snowdon with an equally impressive climbing hirstory. From it’s early days the cliff has seen the major climbers of each era testing themselves on hard lines. The easiest of which goes at VS and is still a major undertaking. We planned on doing the classic “White Slab” I’d remembered reading of in Don Whillian’s auto biography “The Villan” but to our incongruous suprise it seemed climbers from all over had the same plan. I’d never climbed on this cliff before so was pretty pschyed to get on a route so we queued up under Lithrig (White Slab already had two teams queuing for it). I won rock paper sissors and opted for the crux second pitch. While we were queing Fran, Jake, and George, as well as Mike and a friend of his (all from Plas-y-Brenin) turned up. The first three setup below Pigots Route and set off at a similar time to us (Mike and his friend followed us up). Niels made short work of the first pitch and built a bomber semi-hanging belay while I headed out on the second traverse / pendulum pitch. The the moves up until the crux were brilliant, around 4c/5a climbing with good gear in a airy position. Then came the crux down climb / traverse. This took am in in ordinate amount of time trying and reversing the move to find the sequence. After many attempts I committed to a higher varient I’d been trying where I rocked over onto a distant but good foot ledge using three slopying finger pad crimps. I hadn’t planned what to do with my left had at this stage but hoped my balance would win through and I’d figure out the rest of the sequence from there. unfortunately this didn’t happen as I’d fogotten a crucial left hand hold and ended up shouting take while gathering some speed. A mediocor backup nut I’d placed above the curcial sling runner popped and came wizzing down slaming into my thumb. Kicking myself for missing the crucial hand I pulled back on and quickly dispatched the sequence to a woop as I reached the belay. Niels was up for the beta on the moves so managed them to some exlamtions of “that was hard” soothing my ego I’m sure… The rest of the climb was steady VS climbing with good gear and lovely moves up the groves / corners to the top. After topping out we decided that we were quite spent and my thumb was beginning to feel sore / swell up so we decided to call it a day and head back down. We’d both be back to the cliff though as soon as weather allowed.

The Majestic Cloggy
The Majestic Cloggy

Sunday was stores duty during the day. This turned out to be very busy for a couple hours while courses were getting kitted out / handing kit back and quiet the rest of the time. At lunch and in the evening a few of us went for a quick boulder at the RAC Boulders just down the road. It was good fun especially as the “marsh” boulder had dry landings which is very unusual so we did several problems not normally on the circut there as well as the usual suspects like the pump traverse. After some food and a break to let it settle I went for a short run around the forest to stretch the legs as well as the muscles that had been worked bouldering before heading off to sleep wondering what the next week would have in store.

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Week two

I can’t believe that we’re already at the end of week two – time is flying by! This week I’ve been short roping up a grade three scramble, climbing single pitch to demo how to lead and doing plenty of multi pitch routes to get the mileage in. All the while we’ve had a couple of induction days to learn how the centre works and picked up our kit from Mountain Equipment, Scarpa and Deuter.

Mountain EquipmentScarpaDeuter

A few of us had a day off on Tuesday but the forecast was for mixed conditions so we decided that it would be a good opportunity for a scramble. We picked “Sharks Fin” on Glydr Fach. This was grade three but on a cliff I’d done some other scrambles on before so I had an idea what we’d be in for. It was a good opportunity to practice the short roping / scrambling techniques I’d been a mock student on with the guides a few days before. Unfortunately group numbers worked out as a four so much of the route ended up being done as short pitches. The route itself is nice a varied with plenty of what I’d consider as good quality top end scrambling. I was certainly glad to have the rope on a couple of the moves given the slightly damp conditions we were out in.

The following two days were planed as induction. The first of which was a lecture room based day where we got to meet a few of the team and learn how the rota and kitchen works. After the day in the lecture room we headed off to Tramadog though it proved a little too showery to get much done.

The second induction day was a day climbing with Cathy (our mentor) watching us to see where we were with it. Again we’d headed to Tramadog – this time the upper tire – It proved really good fun with five routes climbed (one of which was a demo of leading for Cathy). The hardest had the peculiar grade of e1 6a with it being a nice thin finger crack.

Following on from the climbing we pocked up our new kit. There was a sack full of goodies – mine containing:

Waterproof jacket – Mountain Equipment Tupilak Jacket
Waterproof salopettes – Mountain Equipment Changabang Pant
Fleece – Mountain Equipment Dark Day’s Hooded Jacket
Pertex / Microfleece top – Mountain Equipment (not sure which jacket this is)
Baselayer – Mountain Equipment (not sure which baselayer this is)
Softshell trousers – Mountain Equipment Trojan pant
Hat – Mountain Equipment
Cotton Tee’s – Mountain Equipment
Boots – Scarpa Cristallo
Rucksack – Deuter Guide 35+
Daysack – Deuter Speedlite 20

Not a bad set and certain to keep me comfortable in most of the conditions I’ll be likely to encounter. I’ll try and find some time to give reviews of these pieces and the system as a whole at some point.

To finish a great day we then headed to the pass and climbed direct route on Dinus Mot – this route has plenty of character and has a lovely move on the last pitch.

Becky enjoying a belay on the Cromlech
Becky enjoying a belay on the Cromlech

Over the next three days I only had a night porter shift (looking after reception from 17:00 until the morning) so could get out everyday. Becky also came up for the weekend and we got out on plenty of multipitches include Mur y Niwl on the beautiful Craig Yr Ysfa where I forgot to pack my rock shoes (oops) so ended up seconding in my Cristallo’s, luckily these boots are great to climb in so it made a really enjoyable day.

Niels
Niels when I mention I’ve not got rock shoes

All in all another great week, keep feeling I need to pinch myself to check I’m not dreaming.

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First week at the Brenin

What a week!

This week has absolutely flown by. I’d originally intended to write a blog post daily as a bit of a diary of what I’ve been up to but quite literally haven’t had a spare moment to put it together until now. Revised plan is now to make it a weekly diary.

So it all started with arrival on Monday night. As I was pulling into the car park I bumped into my new fellow Centre Assistants (CA’s). They were all heading out to the RAC boulders for a quick hours bouldering before dinner at 19:30. Needless to say I quickly parked up and joined them without even unloading. We started with the warm up slabs and some chatting to get to know each other then got stuck into the classic traverse. That went just before dinner and we then headed back un-packed and settled in to sleep ready for our first full day.

RAC Boulders
RAC Boulders – image from V12 Outdoors

In the morning we found out a bit about our week. We’d be eased into life here gently with the first day shadowing the adventure days instructors on the water. We headed out with a great school group and I got my first experience back in a kayak for many years. This proved really good fun as the weather was kind and we joined in with the games and skills the instructors set for the kids. In the afternoon we were in canoes with the same group and learnt a lot (as did the kids) about moving about the boat in order to effect trim so that it was easier to paddle into/away from the wind. Finally being super keen we headed out to the Cromlech in the evening so that Niels (one of the other new CA’s) could have a go at leading one of my favourite climbs – Cemetery Gates. He dispatched this with aplomb and we rushed back to make it just in time for food. Our psych still not sated we then headed out to the PYB Boulder

Llunnan Mymbyr
Llunnan Mymbyr – a pleasant place for kayaking

Day two was an induction day – in the morning half of us went out driving the Galaxy’s to be assessed as competent to pick people up, the other half had fire safety training. In the afternoon we swapped over. I was in the morning group. It turned out to be a really informative session learning a lot about the functioning of the centre and some tips on how to make the most of our time here / help clients enjoy their time here. This finished up a bit early and the weather was still good so we headed out to Llanberis pass so that Jen (another CA, and a paddler) could take her first steps into multi pitch climbing. We did Wrinkle, a classic climb of the area and really good fun.

By now it was Thursday and this was a mock assessment day for the rock component of the British Mountain Guide scheme. We were to be clients and have an agenda for what we could get out of the day. Myself and Niels teamed up, both having similar goals for the day. The weather had turned a bit worse so we opted to improve our rope skills and keep warmer by practicing short rope techniques. This is a method of moving with a good degree of safety over technical ground while maintaining speed to cover a lot of ground. It was an incredibly fun day with lots of skills learnt. We did four scrambles on Tryfan of grade three; using methods such as pitching, using natural protection with a shorten roped, firm stances and the like. In the evening having heard it was balmy and warm at Tramadog which is near the coast we headed over that direction and did six pitches; two on the VS Grim Wall and four on the Severe Poor Mans Peuterey. The descent was finished in the dark.

Tryfan
Tryfan

Friday, we had a tour of the centre in the morning to meet some people and get more familiar with the place. This also include some playing about on the jump bikes to test out the pump track and skills loop (both are really good). In the afternoon we had to prep an assault course for some filming by the BBC over the weekend. We also got to try out some of the challenges and that definitely meant we’d get to know each other well. In the evening it was my first night porter duty. This proved a busy night with everyone turning up for the weekend.

Today was a day with only night porter to do. The weather was fantastic and with it being a bank holiday we decided to head over to Gogarth, Main Cliff to have a go at some routes. It turned out to be quite busy and an inefficient start with a guidebook to pick up. So people were on the route we intended to do. Instead we did one of the classic E2’s of the crag – Resolution Direct. I lead the second pitch which was my first of an E2 and proved good fun but gripping at the time. After that it was 15:45 so we headed back in time for the night duty.

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Morocco – Lions head

Yesterday we had a rest day after driving to crags 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. This was something new for me cause before this the places I have visited were never this hot that they left me dehydrated. I remember before the last trip when I was at home going through the inflatable sup reviews to enjoy the cool water and now I’m at a point where all I need is rest for a few hours before going on any other trek or trip. The trip isn’t bad per se, but it wasn’t what we or “I” had come prepared for.

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 – 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 – 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.