A climbing, food and music trip in Morocco 2018
Not many climbers frequent Morocco in the Summer months. There is a reason for this, the 40 degree heat of the desert and mountain region that surround the key climbing village of Tafraoute don’t give ideal conditions. Tafraoute is notably famous for its painted rocks, it is a small typical Moroccan village apart from the fact that it is surrounded by granite domes and quartzite faces. The granite adds only limited climbing interest, it is flaky and sharp and the lack of bolting leaves many unprotectable walls unclimbable. The large multi pitch quartzite routes however are why climbers visit and why my two companions, Mark,Felix and myself had made the trip.
Flying in on the 13th June to Rabat in the north of the country during the time of Ramadan, renting a car we travelled the 700 miles down the country. Sleeping under benches in service stations, on beaches and by the road to save a few pounds. The country seemed empty with the fast occurring, food was difficult to find during the day and rations of yogurt, jam and tinned fish sandwiches (yes, all in the same sandwich) was imposed; a combination which became a staple of the trip due to the limited choice and our lack of refrigeration.
Mark had picked up a speeding ticket and misread the SatNav multiple times, much to my annoyance but we had arrived in Tafraoute.
We were camped out at the painted rocks, as we had heard it had a spring. It did, and we slept here in hammocks throughout the day deciding what objectives to climb. After talking to locals who warned us not to climb, due to the prominence of snakes in summer we set off bashing the vegetation and shouting to warn the snakes of our presence.
We had decided to begin the walk in to the climb at 4am so we could be back down before the main heat of the day. This wasn’t early enough, by 10 am we had completed the climb “Braveheart” a 210m HVS and it was scorching. The next night we moved further in the mountains.
We arrived at the base of the next climb later that evening. Upon hearing apparent shouting lights and screams from the mountain we departed upon a rescue mission.
Coming down from the base we were asked by a local what we were up to, it would have been a funny sight; three young white boys running about a rural hamlet in the middle of the Sahara with head torches, completely out place. After explaining our predicament he told us in broken English/ Arabic that the noise was “electronic goats” or that’s what we grasped from it anyhow. He offered us tea and Arabic delicacies and threw us pillows to give us more comfort as we slept on the concrete floor of his garden.
Waking up 3am we raced up to the base of the climb a 90m E1, got up it, couldn’t find a descent, ran out of water, not learning from our previous endeavours. It was 49 degrees (as the car said) and we were hiding from the sun when the Moroccan man from the previous evening offered to hose us down with water from his well, which we graciously accepted.
A couple more climbs were done and we moved further into the hills, constantly decking out the rented Fiat Panda on roads that really should be only used by 4×4’s. After going for miles off road in the Panda myself and Mark were stressed. We had both almost burnt out the clutch miles from anywhere in the desert. We decided to camp. Upon opening the door of the car a large black scorpion greeted us. We had read about the creatures of the desert in our climbing guide. The description of this one being “a very rare large black scorpion, which is never seen but can kill 100 men with a single sting” ah, that wasn’t good. I decided to sleep in the car, Felix on the road and mark put up a hammock right above the scorpion.
Climbing the next day, not running out of water and descending before it got too hot we slept during the day and moved onto Imlil that evening. In Imlil we allowed ourselves a hostel for the night, where we we conned of our money after our passports had been taken and we were woken by a hand coming through our window on the hunt for any valuables. From Imlil we climbed Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa and ran down it, much to the horror of the many tourists. After organising ourselves it was decided to go to Oukaimeden.
Oukaimeden is a small ski village in the winter, and empty in the summer. We met few locals who offered us cheap Tagine as we were surely looking worse for wear at this point. The café was called “Imik Simik” that we later learned was the Arabic slang for bouldering, a direct translation being “slowly slowly”. After sneaking into a French mountain retreat to bum showers we decided to go Imik Simik ourselves. The bouldering around Oukaimeden is pretty poor, and I wouldn’t recommend it, being mainly poor quality granite. This was the end of our climbing in Morocco; the rest of the trip involved many adventures but as this article is getting on I will summarise:
At the start of the trip in Tafrout we had heard of a music festival in Essouria, on the coast. We headed there picking up a Moroccan hitchhiker, Mohammed, en route to the festival. Mohammed end up showing us around Essouria, bartering on our behalf for food and cooking “Gamilla” for us; a Moroccan stew that took hours to simmer. We went to the festival with a particular favourite of ours being “Gnawa diffusion” an Algerian Reggae band. The crowd was far removed from any british festival; Moroccan crusties, African mummas, no alcohol but a strong smell of hash. After camping in a car park just outside the city and running into the police, a situation which Mohammed somehow managed to resolved with his gift of the tongue we were off again. Mohammed took us inland to see his friends and family.
After being treated like kings, being given beds and showers for the last days of the trip we started North. The last night we stayed in a small hut in the slums of Casablanca offered to us by a Moroccan man we had met in the festival. We were offered plum and beef tagine, once again given a place to stay and felt like royals as all his extended family were sent over to meet us in is small living room for our final feast! We stayed on the sofa in his lounge and were escorted back to our car the next day by a group of Moroccan lads, feeling very content.After driving the length and width of Morocco, visiting places tourists don’t go to, discovering lost desert cities and being invited into homes and meeting the families. Morocco is a fantastic place, the people being by far the most hospitable and generous I have met. Bartering is part of the culture and you must be careful not to be ripped off being an outsider. The climbing is incredible but I would only recommend it in winter, when the temperature suits it.
So all in all, go to Morocco: it is cheap, friendly and a new culture in which to explore.