Birthday Bank Holiday Weekend: In between the rain

Thanks a lot to everyone who came along to my birthday party this weekend stayed with us over the bank holiday weekend. Having a Spanish theme obviously meant that the weekend would be a wet one! However we did manage to get out climbing on slate, indoors and Indy Climbing Wal, two sessions at LPT and have an garden BBQ on Sunday night, not bad!

Managed one route in slate in Upper Australia before rain hit, thanks for keeping the psyche and getting out everyone!

We also went swimming in Llyn Padarn each morning which has warmed up a fair bit this last week. Peggy our friends gorgeous black Labrador dog was very keen to join us in the water!

Here are a few photos from the weekend:

Celebrating my (actual) birthday on Friday with an early morning swim in the rain before work..brutal! 

Saturday morning hangover cure!

Flying Amy

Flying dog..I got a face full moments later!

Another flying dog shot

Nice rainbow over the windturbines at LPT on Monday

Jon on Night Glue at LPT

Thanks to BOB Hats for an awesome birthday present...A super nice little case for my Nexus 7 tablet

Morocco Taghia - Part 2: The Climbing!

Walking up to Taghia it's impossible not to be inspired (and slightly intimidated) by the big limestone walls rising steeply up from water worn gorges behind the village. I couldn't wait to start climbing.

I was very impressed with the consistently high quality of the climbing on almost all the routes I climbed in Taghia. Usually when climbing long routes in the mountains it's accepted that the quality of the rock and climbing will be less then on our favourite single pitch crag, I was presently surprised that this was not the case in Taghia; I would not hesitate to describe the routes I did in Taghia as some of the best single pitches of climbing I've ever done stacked on top of each other to make pitch-after-pitch of great climbing. The style in Taghia is often wall climbing on crimps but there are also some tufa sections and plenty of slabs and roofs to mix things up. 

Looking up from Taghia
Here are the notes I made on each route together with topo link and photos, hopefully these will be useful to anyone else lucky enough to climb in this amazing area:

2nd May: Le rêve d'Aïcha 6a+ 255m Timghazine, Paroi des Sources - Nice 'short' warm up with short approach, climbed in the afternoon after arriving in Taghia. Awesome couple of easy corner crack climbing pitches.

Forth corner pitch on Le reve d'Aicha

Bridge out in the awesome corner - thanks Sophie for photo

5th May: La Trufa 7a 20m, Dive Master 7c 26m. Les Colonnettes De Tamdarote - Stunning couple of routes on steep single pitch tufa crag. But of long and strenuous walk up a scree slope to get to, but worth it. The crag actually faces East instead of West as the guidebook indicates. The three routes on the crag are all good and apparently the grades of the routes (left to right) are more like 8a, 7c, 7a instead of 8a+, 7b+, 7a as printed in the guide book.

4th May: A borie ou je tue le chien 6c 250m  Taoujdad SW face 3171m - Fantastic crimpey wall climbing with nice exposure. Bit of a long walk in but worth it to top out on a proper summit.

Perfect crimpy wall climbing on second pitch - thanks Sophie for photo

6th May: Susurro Berber 7b+ 285m, Paroi des Sources. 7 pitches (7b+, 6c, 7a, 7a+, 6b, 6b, 6b) . First pitch was hard and long, and good. Could almost be 7c I think. Probably the hardest I've on-sighted pre 9am! Lots of awesome pitches, might be better then Zebda.

New route that's not in the guidebook, here's the topo
Nice exposure on top pitch of Sussuro Berber

For the first week we took it easy, starting on easy short routes (only 7 pitches!) and taking plenty of rest days as Sophie nursed an injured elbow. On such a rest day a guy called Alex Honnold turned up to climb with a couple of strong strong South African climbers Clinton and Gosia who we had been hanging out with in the gite. On the the day Alex arrived they had just got back from a big route and really needed a day or rest and skin grown before heading out with Alex, I picked up the gauntlet and headed out for a 'casual outing' with Alex. Moving slow is not Alex's style; after a relaxed start we made what is probably the fastest ever ascent of a route called Shucran, we swung leads linking blocks of three pitches at a time on an 80m rope and moved together on the easier sections. It was an awesome day out, I felt like I had received a crash course in big wall speed climbing techniques like linked pitches, clipping occasional blots using a 'duck', gri-gri simul-climbing and simul-rapping. This 'casual outing' as Alex called it was good preparation for climbing Fantasia with Alex later in the week. See the notes I made at the time:

7th May: Shucran 380m 7b+,  Oujdad Face Ouest. Good route but a little sharp on the fingers in places. Route could be better bolted, quite a few of the pitches are short and can be ran together. Top belay is missing hangers, backed up with a sling. Speedy ascent climbing with Alex Honald, 3.5hrs to the top, did 12 pitches in 4! Great climbing, super technical, always interesting and varied, lots of traversing. We abseiled the route as going all the way to the summit would be quite a long scramble from the top of the route.

Amazing steep tufa climbing on first pitch of Sucran - thanks to Gosia for photo

Alex firing up some sharp crimping on Sucran

'Casual outing' with Alex Honnold speeding up Shukran

8th May: Libiti Bito 7b, Timghazine, Infrig, Paroi Du Haut. Loose, dirty and run out in places. Obviously does not get climbed often. Bailed after 7b roof pitch (4 pitches up) which I probably more like 7c in the routes current (very dirty) state. We abbed of then I had to do free hanging prussic 20m back up to free rope from crab I accidentally left to hold me in to the wall on abb, I forgot we were climbing on doubles joined with knot for abbing...oops.

10 May: Fantasia 600m 7c. Another day out with Alex Honnold. Awesome route, stunning climbing. Pitch 3 (7b+ 'cheese') pitch is probably the crux; savage crimping on edges, hard to read if not chalked. I climbed again with Alex Honald, moving quickly with managed 7.5hrs base of route to summit. We topped out and walked out, quite a lot of jungle bashing easy scrambling to get to the summit from top of the route. 11hr round trip from gite to gite. Quite a long day out. I fell once on lead on 7a after linking it together after 7b+, I was bit tired and rushing with rope drag. Also came off seconding bottom of top 7c pitch when foot slipped. tenuous climbing in places.

Alex Honnold moving fast on Fantasia

Awesome exposure on Fantasia

Tired and happy at top of Fantasia looking down on Taghia village - thanks Alex for photo

The longest day out I had in Taghia (and probably one the best) was climbing L'Axe du Mal. This is a long route on a remote wall with a long approach and descent. Teaming up with Sophie and South Africans Clinton and Gosia we left the gite at 6am after a standard quick breakfast of bread and Jam. After a tough day of amazing climbing, and lots of hauling we topped out at about 8pm getting back to the gite well after dinner at about 11pm. It was a fun day going a team ascent (two independent teams) with the South African crew, nice social belays :-)

Alex also joined us close by, having a day out 'scrambling' by himself. It was very impressive and slightly scary watching him make the first on-sight solo ascent of Rouge Berbere a 500m 7b hand jamming crack on the wall adjacent to L'Axe du Mal. Alex cruised the route in 2.5hrs stopping only a couple of times to sit down, take off his shoes and wave to us.

Epic line of Rouge Berbere crack - spot the Alex

Alex Honnold onsight soloing Rouge Berbere

12th May: L'Axe du Mal 7c+ 500m, - Tadrararte. Fantastic route up a stunning big remote wall, felt like a good adventure. The climbing was all good and quiet varied, generally face climbing with a number of (hard) slab pitches and one roof pitch. I found the 7b+ slab to the the crux and I aided through the 7c+ three bolt bolder problem up high since we were pretty tired by this point. Total 16-17hr day gite to gite! 11hrs on the route from base to summit. We were a little slow in the upper sections since there are lots of hard pitches.

Clinton running it out

Goisa cursing lower pitch of

Clinton tackling 7b+ slab just as the hot sun hit us

Clinton feeling effect of hot su on 7b+ slab pitch! I suffered the same effect few moments earlier

Success! Team topout - thanks to Goisa for photo

In the couple of weeks I was in Taghia I added up the total vertical climbing we did was 2510m. No wonder my climbing shoes which were new at the start of the trip are now rather worn and my feet ached walking around Marakesh on the journey home!

Thanks to Sophie, the South African Crew (Clinton and Gosia,),  Alex (Honnold), the tough boys from Netherlands ( Ka, and Hja), the French crew with Anaud Petit and everyone else for an amazing unforgettable trip.  

Team lunch in Marakesh

Sophie and I about to board plane home in Marrakesh with first beer for two weeks in hand!

Morocco Taghia - Part 1: Travel, People and Landscape

I've just returned from a trip to Taghia in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains. This was a trip I had been looking forward to for a long time. Not just because I'd heard stories of a stunning 800m big wall limestone climbing oasis but also for the experience of travelling to Morocco. This has been the first time I've travelled outside of Europe, and even though Morocco is only a short hop from Spain the experience is very different.

We started the trip by flying into Marrakesh. Our first point of call was the market in the central square to purchase supplies of dried fruit and nuts to take with us to Taghia. 'Hectic chaos' I think are the words that best describe the market in the central square. There was no shortage of stalls selling all sorts of food and drink items from meat to snails, freshly squeezed orange juice, spicy tea as well as many crafts items. Luckily the price of food items seemed to be the only thing that you don't have to barter for. Everything thing else, including taxis, requires some stressful bartering, having some idea of how much something is really worth and what the exchange rate is (1 GBP = 13.7 MAD) helps a lot as the initial price offered is no indicator as to what should be paid. Walking around Marrakesh you can't help but notice the reality of being a wealthy tourist in a much poorer country.

Plenty of choice of olives, and all very much cheaper than in the UK

Epic fruit and nut selection! 

The further we travelled from Marrakesh up into the mountains the slower the pace of life around us became. 

Village we passed on route to Zaouiat which is the last village at the end of the mountain dirt road

We soon learnt that nothing happens quickly, a bus or taxi will leave when it's full, this takes as long as it takes. Sweet mint tea, Berber whiskey as it's nicknamed, is drank often and regularly at any time of day, always poured from a slender spouted metal teapot held at height into an espresso sized glass cup.

'Berber Whiskey' Sweet Moroccan mint tea

It took us two days to get from Marrakesh to Taghia, on the first day we got a shared taxi to Azilal then a local bus (over loaded minivan) up the mountain dirt road to Zaouiat Ahansal. This is as far as the road goes, since we left Marrakesh late we stayed a night in a gite in Zaouiat then walked up to Taghia with a donkey helping to carry our bags the next day. It would easily be possible to do the journey in one day if we had left Marrakesh sooner or took a shared taxi all the way to Zaouiat.

Zaouiat Ahansal

I took pity on the donkeys and carried a heavy sack on my back, however this donkey who was carrying the bags of another party was no so lucky

Walking up to Taghia with our 'taxis of the mountains'

For the two weeks we were in Taghia we stayed in Gite Said with about 20 other climbers. The gite is simple and comfortable with electricity and a warm shower. Said and his family are local Berber Taghia inhabitants and are very welcoming. The gite cost 120 MAD per night including a breakfast of bread, jam and occasionally crepe pancakes and a tasty evening meal of cous-cous, tagine or pasta  with some vegetables, olives and various types of meat served in a big communal bowl; quite amazing considering most food is brought up on the back of a donkey!

Gite Said in Taghia

Rest day team omelet!

Taghia village is beautiful, it's a real little oasis blessed with plentiful fresh spring water which spurts out from the bottom of the mountain. The water is fed by an ingenious network of irrigation troughs to water the crops which are grown all around the village. Last year Sophie and Luke put the effort into translate the Taghia guidebook introduction from French, so here is Christian Ravier's excellent description of Taghia:  

 Christian Ravier's excellent description of Taghia transalted from the guidebook

Berber are the indigenous mountain folk in Morocco, they speak Berber which sounds very different (more soft tones) than the Arabic which is spoken in Marrakesh. The younger generations are also able to speak a little bit of French and Arabic. 

Village Children - Thanks to Goisa for the photo

Village donkey doing some light work for a change - thanks Goisa for the photo

Village Children - Thanks to Goisa for the photo

The Berbers in Taghia farm the land and look after herds of goats, sheep and cows. All over the mountains 'Berber bridges' can be found, built to to aid the movement of people and livestock over tricky sections. Some are very impressive indeed:

Very impressive 'Berber Bridge' walkway!

We found the local Berbers to be unbelievably friendly and welcoming. Once when we were stumbling down through the small remote village of Tamdarote below Taghia we accidentally ended up wandering through the back yard of one of the houses. We were greeted by a friendly woman who offered us some tea, even though we could not speak a world of Berber and she could not speak a word of French let alone English we managed to understand each other. We sat next to her two kittens and pet kid (baby goat) as she made us some super tasty fresh mint sweet tea and some brown flat bread straight from a wood fired mud oven served with a little bowl of olive oil to dip. 

Village of Tamdarote, between Zaouiat and Taghia

Living room

We must have timed our visit perfectly as she was just in the process of making a large quantity (probably a weeks worth) of bread. This was the best bread we had all trip, wholemeal and as fresh at it gets! It was fascinating to watch her stoke the fire and skilfully bake the bread in her clay oven sheltered under a sheet of corrugated Iron (actually a tail-board from an old Toyota pickup!).

Bread baking
Many routes in Taghia start from impressively deep water worn gorges 

Green oasis of Taghia

Panorama from a ridge looking down on Taghia and across to the mountains