Climbing in the Moroccan Anti Atlas

Earlier in November I took a week off to go climbing in Morocco. We headed to the Anti Atlas mountains, flying to Agadir then driving a couple of hours to the south in search of sun, trad climbing and tagines. We found all three, in abundance!

There’s so much climbing in the Anti Atlas that it’s hard to know where to start. Most climbers stay at either the Kasbah Tizourgane (as we did – it comes highly recommended) or in Tafroute – and are therefore closer to either the north or south side of Jebel el Kest. We climbed solely on the north side for 8 days and still have plenty of climbs to go back for – I’m sure the south side is equally enticing and endless!

One of the beauties of climbing in the Anti Atlas is there’s something for everyone and every day – everything from single pitch hard cragging to 800m alpine routes. Because of this we managed to climb every day, taking chilled ‘rest days’ on the shorter crags and climbing longer multi pitches when we were feeling a little less tired!

Cragging on Ksar Rock with the village below

The rock is amazing. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as the only quartzite I’ve climbed on is Gogarth and Back of the Lake (at Lake Louise in Canada) which are a world apart from each other and not just distance wise. In my mind quartzite could have been anything from crumbly and smooth rubbish to grippy and solid amazingness, and whilst there is some of the former the majority of rock in the Anti Atlas is pretty solid. The grippiness did vary from gritstone-esque to smooth but you have the advantage that there is absolutely no polish.

The Samazar Valley, taken from Scimitar Ridge

If there’s one criticism I had, it’s that there’s too many stars in the guidebook(s) and that some of them are, perhaps, a little enthusiastic. This makes it a little hard to separate the incredibly good lines from the not-so-great ones, but when you find the good uns… wow! Some of our favourites coming highly recommended:

  • Firesword on Dragon Buttress – a 4 pitch E1/2 with some challenging moves and a great atmosphere.
  • Leaving Las Vegas – the softest E2 5c you will find anywhere, on Adrar Umlil, a lovely long single pitch bridging exercise with bomber gear and interesting moves.
  • Golden Compass (E1 5c) also on Adrar Umlil – 2 contrasting pitches with an incredible undercut flake on the first pitch and a bold wall for the second.
  • Pink Lady (VS 5a) on Lower Eagle – 6 pitches cutting their way through a steep and intimidating wall at a very amenable grade.
  • Ksar Rock has some great 1-3 pitch routes at all grades – just look for the stars! With a 5 minute walk in it’s perfect for a rest day.
  • Fr Elsie (HVS 5a) on Adrar Umlil – put up by some of our group on the trip, it apparently deserves 3 stars!

The White Domes - a climber just visible on the amazing corner of Leaving Las Vegas

That’s only some of them, there really is a lifetime of rock and great routes to go at. Some of the less good included Prince of Persia on Adrar Umlil (definitely not worth it’s 3 stars) and Black Beauty on Lower Eagle (bit of a one move wonder, though a striking line).

Of course, Morocco is a little more ‘interesting’ a destination that a trip to Spain. Around the Anti Atlas the locals do seem used to climbers and as long as you respect their culture (by covering knees and shoulders, especially when in town) they don’t seem to mind you being there. I have to wonder what they thought when the first western climbers arrived – these crazy English folk who choose to go and scale the cliffs in the heat of the day – what are they thinking?!

The food is delicious and, in the Kasbah Tizourgane, is all cooked for you, making it a lovely relaxing holiday! Lunches came from the local shops in Ida Ougnidif and generally consisted of bread with either soft cheese or sardines (note for next time: take some sandwich fillings!), crisps and biscuits.

Starting up Firesword on the Dragon Buttress. The route takes the smooth face to the right, ending in the top right corner.

Gear

A varied and large rack is a must for Morocco – there’s no bolts! Cams sit really well in the quartzite and there’s lots of cracks. I carried a set of Black Diamond Camalot C4s from 0.3 to 4 on most routes, topping up with doubles when needed. There’s also some amazing off widths, meaning I actually used a Camalot 5 & 6 on regular occasions!

Plenty of draws are essential – we tended to carry around 12-16 on longer routes. These being extendable is a real bonus! A set and a half of nuts such as the Wild Country Rocks is also essential, and a few larger hexes can prove useful too. We didn’t find too many placements for tiny cams or nuts.

Double 60m ropes such as the Mammut Genesis are ideal, routes can wander quite a lot requiring doubles and there are plenty of 50-60m abseil descents. A helmet is also essential as there is some loose rock around – going for a polycarbonate helmet such as the Black Diamond Vector keeps the weight down as well as keeping your head a little cooler!

There is no where in the area to buy climbing gear, so take plenty of essentials such as chalk, tape and tat – many abseils will need re-equipping. We also put in a spare rope, helmet and harness just in case anyone had any ‘accidents’.

Clothing wise, the local Berber culture requires you to cover knees and shoulders. It’s generally pretty warm, so going for cooler layers such as the Rab Aeon Tee and Mountain Equipment Approach Pants keeps you both cool and covered. Don’t be fooled, however, still take a warm layer! In the shade on north facing crags it can get pretty chilly if the wind picks up. I used a Rab Strata Jacket as my warm layer, which was ideal – warm but light and packable. Combined with a Montane Windshirt this was all that was needed. It’s worth throwing in a light waterproof too – it did rain on us once!

A lot of longer routes have a walk off descent that does not go back to the base of the crag, so it’s worth packing wisely and carrying your bag with you on the climb. I used a Mammut Trion Light pack which was fantastic – big enough to throw everything in to on the approach, but small enough to climb with when needed. See my review of the pack here.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *