Friday, 1 April 2016

Taghia Valley Marocko. Various Routes

TAGHIA: The limestone valley


Team on Zebda, 7b+.

The climbing

It is the world class multi pitch limestone climbing, from 7 to 20 pitches that make climbers travel all the way to Taghia. Some routes have no bolts, most are partly bolted, and some are fully or almost fully bolted. 

Some of the older routes follow ridges and are lower in the grades, but they are rarely repeated. To get most out of a one week stay, climbing the easy popular routes, you’d have to be at least a 6c climber, in the sense that seeing the 6c-grade (or 6b obligatory) on a big multi pitch route do not strike fear into you. There is nothing much harder than 8a/+ (or 7b obligatory) in the valley (One 8b and one 8c afaik).

The climbing is technical, steep and fingery throughout. The grades felt in line with Verdon, maybe a tad more generous. Bring good shoes. Unfortunately your good shoes will not last long as the rock is very abrasive.

There is also some single pitch climbing around Taghia, one crag with some 4s and 5s, one with 7s, and one rather nice looking tufa wall with some low eights. Kris Erickson, an american guide living in Zaouia Ahanesal, has bolted a number of sport routes around Zaouia Ahanesal with grades from the low sixes to mid eights.

Taghia Valley

When we went we were the only climbers in the valley, possibly due to the perceived terrorism threat after this summer’s spectacular strike in neighbouring Algeria. (Talking to the Taxi-driver in Marrakesh and to people in Taghia, the consequences for Moroccan tourism has been catastrophic) . There was in other words no hope of rescue if things went bad. Even if there are other climbers in the valley, who are likely to be competent, I would not count on timely rescues being possible—and how would you call on rescue in the first place? Yosemite or the Alps it isn’t.

The trekking

The hiking in the High Atlas in general, and around Zaouia Ahanesal in particular, is spectacular. There are donkey trails that criss cross the mountain range between the villages, but very few roads. Some valleys and canyons can be accessed by “Berber ferratas”, where a certain trust in goat-herder’s engineering skills is required.

Kris Erickson in Zaouia Ahanesal can arrange everything around a trekking trip.

On the path across ... Photo: Julia Sni

Gear

Depending on what you wish to do of course. We went for a sport climbing trip and brought 19 draws, of which 5 where tripled 60 cm draws, one set of wires and one set of camalots from #0.3 to #2. Those who want to do the longest and most serious sport routes probably wish to bring a #3 and doubles in #.75-2. To repeat the less bolted routes a normal mountain rack is necessary, and possibly a handfull of pitons as well.

If the bolts can be accessed by grade 3-4 scrambling, the Berber might find better use for the nuts and hangers than being protection for climbing tourists: thus there are reports of missing bolt hangers on the first belay of some routes on Parois de Cascade. Bring a hanger or two and some M10 nuts, or M10 nuts, washers and some wires to thread the bolts.

Two ropes, at least 50 m. Most teams probably wish to haul the pack on the harder pitches.


Guidebook

The only printed guidebook is Christian Revier’s beautiful 2009 book “Taghia, Montagnes Berbères” (French) available directly from the author, or through internet retailers. An update would be more than welcome, considering the amount of routes put up since the publication.

A print-out of the topos from Taghia on Luichys site is an almost complete Spanish language guidebook for the routes in the area (up to ≈ 2009 or so) http://lanochedelloro.com/monografs/taghia/index.htm (Spanish)

There are also topos for some of the popular routes on Remi Thivel’s site http://www.remi-thivel.com/topos/topos.html (French)

Parois de Legende, (Bodet & Petit) (french) also list a number of routes with topos and some useful info. 
A few of the new hard routes put up after the publication of Revier’s book have topos on planetmountain.com, (French and Italian) but generally speaking, for routes put up after 2009, the new route book and guest book in Said’s gite is the best bet.

Camptocamp.com (French) has some information of course.

Staying there

There are a number of gites in Taghia offering half pension. Said’s and Youssef’s Gite among them. Said was the first to cater to climbers, and his Gite has a new-route book and guest book full of impressive stories by climbers of all abilities, from 6c-punters to some of the biggest names in European multi-pitch climbing. Said's gite has consistently good reputation, and I have never heard of anyone having a bad experience.

Most French climbers stay at Said’s Gite. Said speaks French, his son Mohammed speaks good French and a bit of English, and should be able to help you out if you have no French. We paid 120 Dh per person per night at Said’s place (September 2015)

Chez Said Messaoudi, Douar Taghia, Zaouia Ahanesal 
22010 Azilal Maroc
Cellphone +212668246536 (intermittent coverage)
Fixed line +212523 459 290 (directly to the house)
e.mail: gitesaid@yahoo.fr (if you speak no french it is probably best to e-mail them in English. Mohammed will be able to reply)
Chez Youssef Rezki, Douar Taghia, Zaouia Ahanesal 
22010 Azilal Maroc. 
Tel : 00 212 668909843



Shopping

La Boutique Jamal is always open, or so they claim. Holler for them and they come. They had bottled water, Coke, threaded gas canisters (the smallest size), canned sardines, gigantic bags of couscous, some nuts, candy, soap, and internet access for sale (requires a subscription to Meditel). The woman who runs the shop has limited numeracy, so be prepared to do some addition.

There are two other shops in the village. But we only frequented this one.

La Boutique Jamal

Weather



Getting there

Book a gite in Taghia beforehand. Fly to Marrakesh—plenty of low cost carriers traffic Marrakesh—and let the gite arrange the transport from Marrakesh to Taghia. We took taxi all the way from Marrakesh to Zaouia Ahanesal, where the road ends (around 6-7 hours with a lunch break in Azilal) (1200 Dh, October 2015). From Zaouhia, hike in with donkey/mule (100-120 Dh per donkey). One donkey will bring up to 70 kg.

Another option is to get from Marrakesh to Azilal by public transport, than get to Zaouia with taxi.

Yet another option would be to rent a car and drive to Zaouia Ahanesal yourself.

On the donkey trail

Hygiene

More or less everyone who’s ever been has been reporting stomach bugs. We put aquatabs in all water or boiled it before drinking, including the water used for brushing the teeth. We also washed the hands and used  antiseptic spray like a couple of OCDs. Still both of us got diarrhoea. 

Season

Mid-april to end of October. July and August likely too hot (and travelling in and out of Marrakesh would be a nightmare at that time of year). May and October being the most popular months, with up to 40-50 climbers in the village. In the autumn of 2015 the gites are reporting very few bookings, and we were by ourselves in mid September, having very good conditions for climbing in the shade with daytime temperatures in the low 20s. In May it reportedly rains quite a bit.


Modern life is rubbish?

Since 2013 there is electricity in the village Taghia. There is also cell phone coverage, but only through Meditel,: no other Moroccan provider will work. There’s also intermittent 3G coverage, but even though our French sim cards could access Meditel for SMS & MMS, we could not get data roaming (which was probably for the better since they ask 3€/Mb for traffic…). We bought a code good for 800 Mb (200 Dh) in the store in Taghia and Mohammed, Said’s son, set up his phone as a wifi-router for us.

The upshot is that it is possible to get up-to-date weather forecasts. We found the one-day forecasts from meteoblue.com to be reliable.


Vaccines

Hepatitis A. Two shots, separated by six months, some protection after the first shot.
Diphtheria. A single shot protects for three years
Lockjaw/tetanus. (This is included in the vaccine program for children in most EU countries)

What to bring

Climbing gear
Two pair of shoes. The approach/decent shoes will get wet, so it is nice to change to dry shoes after returning to the village
Toilet paper
Head scarf (for women who want to pay respect to local customs)
Aquatabs
Possibly a small gas stove for tea
A small medical kit including diarea tabs, penicillin, antiseptic cream, antiseptic spray and painkillers.

PERSONAL NOTES ON ROUTES

À boire ou je tue le chien ** (A drink or I kill the dog) 280m 6c (6b+ obligatory)

Julia on À boire ou je tue le chien

Nice climbing on excellent rock. A bit engaged in places. Has been onsight soloed (Alex Honnhold). Possible to combine with Au nom de la reform for a great day out, if you rap after pitch six. The sun hits the wall around noon beginning of September. 

Gear: 12 quick draws, a few wires (Wallnuts #2-#7). Four cams if continuing to the top after pitch 7.

Approach: From Taghia to Taojdad. Go up in the channel between Taoujdad & Oujdad. 30 min after the village, pass a big block on the left. Continue up until a path (cairns) left lead to the two obvious ramps that mark the start of Au nom de la réforme and À boire respectively.

P1 5c. Climb the crack (4) protected by wires or small friends. Then a mixture of wires and bolts to the belay. A bit engaged. Many teams report that this is at least 6a, but if you’re used to climb low-angle cracks 5c is probably fair.
P2 6c. Really good climbing, morpho.
P3 6c. I did something wrong on the start of this pitch. Did a 7a-sequence straight up between the first and second bolt, where a fall would have been unpleasant. My second told me it was easier more to the right rather than straight up, probably 6c.
P4. 6a+ Nice face climbing.
P5. 6b+ Steep and awkward dihedral. Don’t worry, a bolt will appear when needed.
P6. 5c. Reasonably well bolted face climbing. This is the last steep pitch and the last independent pitch as well.

To climb to the top of Taoujdad, change to your approach shoes and climb the top pitches of La Reform:
P7. 4+ Trekking along the ridge. Then some face climbing past a bolt (4+), then some trekking again past a big tree to the last steep face. (75 m or so)
P8. 5a. Two or three bolts. Two-three finger sized cams useful (40 m)

Decent from Taoujdad: From the top, head south-east on a path (plenty of cairns), diagonally skier’s right. Find a tree with slings and rap 40 m to a col, or 55 m down skiers right. Walk diagonally left and cross the ridge, then follow cairns down and right. Aim for the white water streak in the intermittent creek. Close to this, carefully follow the switchbacks on the right side of the couloir. About 1 hour down to the point where you took off towards the start of the routes and 2 hours down to the village.
Taoujdad


Belle et Berbère *** (The Beauty and The Berber) 300 m, 6b+ (6a+ obligatory)

Very good climbing on a contrived line. Extraordinarily sustained 6b climbing, with most pitches around vertical on good to excellent rock. Very fingery throughout. Probably the most frequently climbed route in Taghia beside La Réforme. The sun hit the face around 12.30 in September.

13 draws. (And possibly a finger sized friend to protect grade 3 scrambling if necessary)

Approach on the left side of the creek to Parois des Sources. Two ledges on top of each other, climb up to the lower ledge further to the right with cairns on top of it (3+). There is a route (bolt) starting on the right side of the ledge, Belle et Berber start further right, just around the corner. 15 min from the village if you find the route straight away…
Me on Belle et Berbère

P1. 6b Traverse right (three bolts) into a right-facing overhanging dihedral with tufas-in-the-process of growth. 
P2. 6b Follow the bolts. Hard slab boulder in the start, then easier. Mind the rope drag.
P3. 6b Sustained low-angle face climbing
P4. 6b+ Sustained 6b climbing with a boulder move in the middle. 
P5 6a+  Short easy pitch, very contrived line where the bolts are placed to force you away from the natural line.
P6. 6b+  Long pitch. Vertical climbing, just when you think it is over, there is a slab crux, then face climbing to the top.
P7 6b  Walk across the ledge and then climb a bolted face. The careful climber move the belay to under the face, or just don’t fall. Belay with one bolt and a tree.
P8. 3. One bolt, then hiking diagonally right and scramble up (3b, unprotected or bring a finger sized friend) right to a red big face. Belay in one bolt or stretch up and clip the first bolt on the next pitch as well.
P9. 6b+ A crux on slopers off the first bolt, then easier climbing diagonally right to a steep finish.
P10. 6b+ Hard sequence across the fin, the rest is easier.

Decent from Parois des Sources. Scramble diagonally up left until you see the cairns on the ledge system to the left of the top. Follow the well marked path on the ledges for a few hundred meters, and then track back towards the village along the path. (45 min). Sticks or  stones might be useful to fend off aggressive dogs on this side of the village.

Zebda *****, 260 m, 7b+ (6c obligatory)

Second of the top the line. Better than The holy War in Wadi Rum, and slightly worse than Alix, punk of the Vergons in Verdon. Steep climbing on immaculate rock for 280 sustained meters. One of the most popular and recommended routes in Wadi Rum. Deservedly so.

The sun hit the route at around 13:00.

14 draws + belays.

Approach: Walk to Parois des Sources, past the sources and cross the river and track back. The name of the route is written in big letters at the base. 20 min from the village.
Julia on Zebda

P1. 7b+ Tough warm up. Well bolted face climbing (7a) with decent rests up to a short boulder crux at the tufa.
P2. 6a+ for the tall. Morpho. Worst pitch on the route.
P3. 6c+ A fantastic pitch. Steep face climbing.
P4. 7b Sustained climbing straight off the belay. Then a bit easier to the roof. The mantel shelf move above the roof is OK. The belay is hanging and in the middle of a non-trivial sequence. Strong climbers with good ethics are advised to bring plenty of quick draws and a 70 m rope and link it with the next pitch.
P5. 7a+ Another mind blowing pitch. Steep crimpy face climbing. Engaged and not trivial (6c-ish) near the belay.
P6 6c. Face climbing straight from the belay, and than a tricky traverse on good holds but mediocre feet.
P7 6c+ Steep climbing. At least a grade easier than previous pitch.
P8 6b (50m). Major pitch. Steep stemming up the corner. Belay on a single bolt + a tree.
Scramble 5-10 min to the top and descend as for The beauty and the Berbere

Approach to Canyon Apache/North face of Taojdad

Walk past Parois des Sources, and access the canyon to the left by scrambling up on its right side. A bolt around the corner is used to make the passage 4/A0 (expo). Keep walking up-river with a short passage of scrambling. 

After a while you come to a narrow passage where there are two options: either an exposed slab traverse to the left (5, one bolt) supposedly leads to a Berber bridge at a delicate river crossing (this bridge was either under water or gone when we where there) or three bolts on a bulge can be aided and then a short passage of 4+ climbing (one bolt) lead to a glue-in bolt (belay). From this traverse left and up and scramble along ledges until the river can be accessed again-

Further upstream there are some gigantic boulders blocking the canyon. If the water level is very low it is apparently possible to walk up to these and climb up and under them (very exposed) to approach the north face of Taojdad. Again we had to high water for this to be possible, instead we did the more common approach by way of the first pitch of Canyon Apache. Climb up three bolts on the left side of the canyon (the third was really loose) then traverse right 30 m to a delicate passage (6a) leads to a ledge. On the right side of the ledge the second pitch of Canyon Apache can be found.

To approach the north face of Taojdad downclimb from the start of the second pitch of Canyon Apache to the riverbed.

To get from the north face of Taojdad back to the village it is supposedly possible to rap down the passage with the gigantic boulders mentioned above. The water was to high for us and we had to reverse the first pitch of Canyon Apache.

The Canyon, not accessible from the village side without one and a half pitch of climbing

Classe Montagne Épinal **, 185 m, 6c+ (6b obligatory)

Approach: Scramble up the ledge system from right. The route follows a big pillar system.

P1 6b+. A very good vertical pitch
P2 6b.  Another good pitch
P3 5+
P4 6c+ Good vertical face climbing with a hard sequence straight up from the belay.
P5 6a+ dihedral. Not so good. A shoulder length sling can be used around a tree at the top of the pitch
P6 6b Straight up to a ledge, then traverse far right on the ledge then straight up. Two ropes useful
P7 6a+ Many bolts. Finish on the ledge with belay on one bolt + tree.
Untie and scramble up diagonally to the left to the ledge system that traverse the mountain on the south east side. Follow the cairns.
Julia on Classe Montagne 

Fat guides ***** 250 m, 7b+ (7a obligatory)

Start to the left of Zebda

For the grade it does not get much better. Dead vertical wall of perfect limestone. Will only improve as a few more ascents clean it up further.

P1 7b+ Hard start for the first few bolts, then steady climbing until a physical traverse out left. Finish up a very thin slab. This pitch probably sees some seepage as it was quite dirty. Felt like 7c/+ in the conditions we had.
P2 6c+ Nice short pitch.
P3 6c The same. The 3rd bolt is quite tricky to clip for short climbers (bring a stiff draw or a medium sized climbing partner).
P4 7a+. Magnificent pitch, not alway totally obvious to find the best sequence. Semi-hanging belay. Felt like 7b/+ to me.
P5 7b? Easy climbing up to a short two-bolt crux to a good hold, then some pumpy climbing lead to a comfortable belay. Either I missed something, or this is more like 7b+/c. A bail biner on the bolt before the hardest part told me I’m not alone finding this difficult.
P6. 6c. Another very nice, short pitch to a good belay.
P7. 7a+  An absolutely superb pitch. The first bolt is put in a bit too high, then there are 18(!) bolts in 50 m. It’s possible to shuffle draws in a few places, in which case 15 draws should be enough
P8. 4. 15 m. No bolts. Climb a bit to the right, than back to the left to a two-bolt belay, Two shoulder length slings can be used for protection, tying off some shrubs.
P9 3+ Traverse straight left on the sloping ledge. A rope can be nice for the first 15-20 m. 

Continue to traverse the ledge and exit like Classe Montagne Épinal, or why not finish with the last two beautiful pitches of Belle et Berbère (6b+ and 6b+), if you haven’t climbed that before.

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