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Summer Climbing and Adventure in Morocco

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.

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El Chorro Adventure – 1

2 weeks were spent in El chorro. Climbing, sleeping and eating and not much else.

After arriving in El Chorro I was met by Mark, Jake, Felix and Andy. The flight was cheap £28 return and a very easy train took me straight from the station to walking distance of the main crags and wild camping spots.

Hanging Out

Andy had picked me up from the station in his much cherished van. Picking up the shopping for the week I knew this was going to good.  Our first stop was climbing at Momia, time to see how the training had been going, 7b second go, not too shabby. Unfortunately for climbing it was getting to hot , it was making us tired and our skin wet.

Andys Van

So off we set in Andys van for the more shady crags of Desplomilandia, according to Mark, who from living in spain for the past 6 months had aquired some spanish – the English translation of Desplomilandia is “overhang land”, a fitting name. We setup camp on the roof of an abandoned house, with views of the lake and nearby mountains. Dinner was cooked in the van and some lovely Spanish rum was tasted into the evening.

Felix Looking Strong on Eye of the Storm

Waking up damp from the low cloud we immediately set up trying to dry our kit before heading out for the next days climbing.

Poema de Roca cave

The crag of Desplomilandia allowed steep climbing with long pitches on brilliant tufa and pockets. A team ascent of a 7b along with other routes and some brilliant attempts on a beaslty 7c allowed the first use of the rubber knee pad (it truly is cheating).

Using the Kneepad

With the weather cooling we made our way back to the main crags of frontales, enroute we stopped at the bar in El Chorro. El Chorro is a tiny village with all the activity centred around this small climbers hangout bar. Its full of dirtbags and the local spanish climbers. Serving €1 cervesa along with cheap burgers, its hard not to linger.

El Chorro Bar

We had found an ideal camping spot based just in the woods at the base of the crags. A firespot, chairs and walls already had been created for our comfort. Here we spent the majority of the time. We climbed around frontales, taking down a multitude of classic routes and simulclimbing classics such as Amphtrax on our rest days.

Camping in El Chorro

As the week passed more of our friends from Manchester arrived, combining of a grounp of 10 climbers from Manchester, including one girl (poor her, we were all very smelly by this point).

As the days became cloudy it was time to head to Makinodromo. Makinodromo is situated away from the main climbing areas, and a hike along the train tracks is needed to access it (of course we didn’t do this). Maki, it’s nickname denoted by Jake, allowed all sorts of climbing with the main appeal of the crag dominated by a huge tufa encrusted wall. The bivi spot was found – a perfect cave, that kept us dry in the rain and offered a multitude of comforts.

Bivi spot

The first day at Makinodromo was awesome, are the grades soft or was all this climbing paying off?! 6b+, 7a+, 2 7b and a 7c all onsight in a day can’t be too bad. After exhausting ourselves the cave welcomed us back.

The next day we awoke to rain, there was only one thing for it… Lourdes. This route dominates the crag and is not wet in the rain. It is the classic 8a, 40m of steep tufa. Although not sent it did give great entertainment throughout the day.

Andy in Desplomilandia

Heading back, we finished the trip climbing around the village. Meeting a couple of rouge american climbers. One of which had come to El Chorro to boulder, a funny proposition, but he did have a bag that looked like a scrotum made from one of the several deer he had killed.

On the way back to Manchester we stopped off at Malaga for some much needed rest and slept well on the plane after two weeks of continuous climbing, I will be back!

A Strange Trip to the Moors

On a small trip down to devon we learnt what strange things happen in dark car parks in the middle of Dartmoor…

        The week started well, our first climb of the apparent three pitch classic HVS ‘moonraker’ at berry head. Abseiling down a 70m rope to find you’ve descended in the wrong location and are forced to either prussic back up or gain enough momentum on a swing so you can grasp the rock at the bottom of the cliff and build an anchor. We decided for the latter, something that the people queuing up to get on the route didn’t look too kindly on. After this had been managed, I abseiled down, clipped into his anchor all ready to belay him… then I dropped my  belay plateinto the sea. This being my first sea cliff didn’t help the confidence. However, through the use of munter hitches of which I now realise why they are named so, I was able to be belayed up. Getting up the climb early in the day and after a days deep water soloing by Torquay and fannying about, it was decided to head inland to Dartmoor.

After a couple of days climbing around devon we decided to look at that E1 we had failed at. Looking at UKC a crucial flake had come off and pushed up the grade. It wasn’t just our lack of abilities, it was the rock. We wanted another go at it, now knowing the grade. We decide to return to Haytor that evening, camp in the car park and attempt it the next day. This we later realised to be a mistake.

        There are three carparks at Haytor. We had decided to camp at the very edge of one of these on the grass, under a tarp tied to the boot of the car, a very lovely bright red Ford Ka.

As it grew darker people came, seemingly at first to feed the foxes, annoying but relatively normal. However verging on midnight more and more cars appeared in this car park. This was in the middle of nowhere in Dartmoor. Surely they couldn’t all be here to feed the foxes? Cars would drive slowly up the road and some would turn into our car park, flash their lights and flicker the brake indicators towards our car. After about 20 cars (not an exaggeration) and some strange goings on we were curious about what all the activity was about. The decision was made to google “Haytor car park” and see what came back…

        We had decided to go to Haytor, a small outcrop of rock from the moorland. An ice cream van, a national trust café, picnicing and parents taking their children to play on the rocks. First attempting a simple looking E1 ‘Letterbox wall’, Felix ending up upside down a couple of feet from the floor and myself backing off the crux we were doubting our abilities, unable to do it. So we tried another E1, this one being more successful, but not without one of us ending up upside down a couple of feet from the floor again and an unenjoyably layback just above an anchor.

Haytor on Dartmoor. Three car parks, always action after dark and boy it’s dark.”

        This wasn’t what we had hoped to find, and I’m sure you can figure out what was going on. After being approached, having torches shined at us and hiding under the car to save embarrassment we realised we had unintentionally camped in ‘’one of the top dogging spots in the south west” (swingingheaven.co.uk, 2016).  At this point I was questioning why Felix had decided to camp here, especially after he spontaneously decided to put his lycra wetsuit on in the middle of the night and “have a look around”. (this didn’t actually happen)

        At about 3am and 40 cars (once again not an exaggeration) they began to leave and we were left together, alone once more. Eating breakfast, watching children play on the Tor, and having learnt to never camp in a rural car park on a Friday night we decided to give the climb a miss. ‘Letter box wall’ had somehow developed a more sinister undertone to its name, and neither of us wanted to put our hands in ‘the letterbox’.