How was your holiday? How was your trip to the Morrocan Anti Atlas Mountains? Was it very hot? What did you do?
A full white moon sat in a bright blue sky on the first morning. The mountains, spread out over the sweeping horizon, were crisp clear – great chucks of red ochre on the far side of a wide flat valley of red dust and spiky scrub. Streaks of cloud smudged the summits waiting to be moved on by an African sun.
‘It’s like LLanberis pass, but magnified a thousand times’, I declared rashly.
The clouds moved on but while we were hacking our way uphill to make our first acquaintance with Moroccan rock, they gathered together again to become large drifting mass and a few hours later the world turned into north Wales. After abandoning a nice bit of scarlet tat to an impromptu abseil, we arrived back at the hire car, sodden and complaining of frozen fingers. Adventure climbing.
A gale blew all night but the blue sky and bright moon had returned by breakfast and continued about their business all day without interruption. North Africa was properly installed again.
We were here to do ‘adventurous’ climbing - on the north side of the Anti Atlas Mountains with the nearest town of Tafraoute an hour cork-screw drive away. A ‘new’ climbing area where the first thousand new routes set up by early 2013 have already been expanded by at least another thousand by the start of this year. Multi pitch; big exposure; perfect weather; solid rock. It all sounds so good and the local guest house – a fort perched on a lump of rock with the fittingly exotic name of Kazbah Tizourgane – is making a killing with UK climbers keen for fresh rock clamouring to stay there.
And the route book looks like a delicious menu – superlatives abound: ‘excellent’, ‘classic’, ‘superb’, ‘superlative’. Stars crowd in – there are armfuls, not just handfuls, of 3 starred routes. So where to start?
Ignoring the north Wales incident, we chose a 3 star HVS: ‘Crazy Mushroom Ridge’ on Babouche Buttress. The route grading description says 4a/5b/4c/4a/4b. The reality goes: V Diff/ 5a/4a with minimal protection/ pitch missing/ 4c. Our assessment is endorsed by the pair following us. Maybe it’s an aberration of the first ascensionists. We try again further down the valley in the pleasingly baking afternoon sun on Orange Wall – and the grading surprises us again. In fact we are so surprised we finish in the quick but colourful sunset and walk off in the dark. Adventure climbing.
‘Let’s crank it up. Time for an E1’. Famous last. Firesword. 3 stars. 5b /5a /5b/5b. First pitch = 4a. It’s cold standing in the shade but the call to prayer warms me. Second pitch = 5a/b. On the third pitch, hanging on desperately with 100m beneath my toes, I complained loudly – and not just about the rucksack on my back pulling me off the steep crack. I made an official complaint of no uncertain terms shortly after pulling over it, to see a traverse – 5c grade: all of it. The leader was surprisingly calm (I suppose one of us had to be). By the fourth pitch time had become an additional part of the adventure. My thoughts: It really wouldn’t be much fun finishing with possibly 5c moves in the dark, and further lack of fun would be possibly provided by a blind walk off a ridge in the black night with only small cairns secreted in spiny shrubs to point the way.
And yes, it was no fun. The final pitch was hard and poorly protected so plan b (diversion) happened. So yes, we finished in the dark. Yes, I was that desperate to get off the route that I left a recalcitrant cam wedged in its malicious crack, and yes, it took a further 2 hours to find our way (safely ) down to the start. (And yes, we had head torches). Adventure climbing.
A day’s entertainment in kaleidoscopic Tafraoute on market day calmed me down and the next day, with another early start, I went to Tramline Slabs with lowered expectations. Not lower enough. ‘How many out of 10’ asked Chris after 3 hours on a 3 star 2 pitch VS. Thomas the Tank Engine. ‘2’ he said. So the next day I stayed in the sun, stationary, and sent him out to play with the others on a 3 star E3 and they all had tremendous fun.
I choose fun. I choose sitting in the sun. I choose no unwelcome surprises. I chose reliable route descriptions. I choose having a break from this strange activity. Maybe fishing….