Trip Report
Morocco--strong odors, weak beer, laughing cows, "some" climbing.
Friday May 13, 2011 3:41am
A tale of failing to get up 5.5s, succeeding in buying bizarre, fake saffron, eating camel steaks. Morocco is not for the faint hearted. We found a climbing guidebook, claiming that there were routes up to 2000 feet long on impeccable quartzite. We flew via London, for what threatened to be our last chance to drink alcohol for some time.

Credit: crunch

In Marrakech, we had arranged for the rental car company to meet us--with a sign--at the airport. But no one was there. We waited, waited, wandered around (of course this local company had no desk at the airport), finally, in the dark, took a taxi to the hotel. The taxi driver, smelling fresh tourist meat, quoted an outrageous price. We got our own back when, after several miles of near misses with assorted hazards both human and animal on unlighted streets, the hotel turned out not to exist; or did it? Our driver, undeterred, began knocking on doors and driving around in circles on vague dirt roads for maybe 45 minutes before finally finding something that might be our hotel.

quite pleasant.
quite pleasant.
Credit: crunch

Which was fantastic, except that we seemed to be sharing the room with a family of cockroach-like creatures "the size of mice." Yikes. They were polite, and kept their distance. They never tried to sell us an jewelry. We had to wonder how they located the hotel. Next day we discovered the rental car folks had the days mixed up; they apologized and they drove our car out to us at the hotel. Except they didn't because they couldn't find the damn hotel either....

Eventually we head into Marrakech, me at the wheel. Traffic was fine, somewhat like Mexico driving, and I congratulated myself on mastering the traffic--until we rashly entered the city walls, and were ambushed by a crazy deluge of donkeys, scooters, pedestrians, taxis, hand carts, all flowing around us as if we were a mere rock in a river, the traffic a couple of nonchalant inches from imminent disaster. I turned around, fled back out and found parking outside.

mild bedlam
mild bedlam
Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch

The souks (markets) are a bustling world unto themselves. Endless, winding, everyone trying to grab your attention, noises of yelling, dogs, bartering; smells of saffron, harissa, argan oil, used motor-oil, exotic soaps, fresh-tanned leather, vaguely-sewer-related odors, fried chicken, all gloriously mingled, fighting for your nostrils' attention.

Credit: crunch
There's not much you can't buy in Morocco.
There's not much you can't buy in Morocco.
Credit: crunch

Southward, the souks dump one out into the big square, Djemma el Fna.

Credit: crunch
snake charmers
snake charmers
Credit: crunch

Djemma el Fna is a writhing mass of humanity, people watching people, people pulling teeth, people playing with snakes, telling fortunes, selling more spices and fresh-squeezed orange juice. French tourists march around as if they still own the place.
Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch
As it gets dark, the musicians come out, desert dwellers from south and east, Mali and Mauritania, darker skinned than the locals, wary but relaxed; chanting their ancient blues songs, accompanied by ouds, drums and curious crowds. Surreal, sublime.
The funny thing is there's no alcohol, both a drawback (because a drink or two can be nice) and an advantage (the huge nightly crowds are volatile enough already).

To make up for the alcohol lack there's damn good coffee:

Credit: crunch

From Marrakech we drove south over the Atlas Mountains via the main road:

main road
main road
Credit: crunch
Atlas Mountains
Atlas Mountains
Credit: crunch

Some roadsigns look like this:

roadsign
roadsign
Credit: crunch

but most look like this:
Credit: crunch

Two days later we arrive after our "7 hour" drive, in Tafraoute (we stayed at the excitingly-named Hotel Rehab, in Agadir, where the creature the size of a mouse in our room was, in fact, a mouse....

It's amazing how, if one stops for more than, say, thirty-five seconds, anywhere on the roadside, a very, very friendly person will emerge from nowhere, brandishing necklaces or jewelry and a big smile--he wants to be your friend. There is a commendable entrepreneurial spirit--a single glance at an item counts as the official start to the bargaining. Away from the main tourist areas the people are more laid back and genuine.

the pass leading to tafraoute
the pass leading to tafraoute
Credit: crunch

Credit: crunch
panorama of Tafraoute
panorama of Tafraoute
Credit: crunch

First few days it was in the 90s. We roasted, first day, on a low crag where the climbing was good; not exactly great, and the supposed multi-star VS turned out to be desperate. (Hmmmmm, I thought I understood these English ratings). So next day we headed to a higher elevation cliff, Adrar Asmit, to try a really easy (5.5/6) 6-pitch climb. Stimulatingly warm hike in the 90-some-degree sun, but a fun climb on perfect quartzite to a nice summit.
God, the heat, Carruthers...
God, the heat, Carruthers...
Credit: crunch
Wild Country
Wild Country
Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch

Next day, a "rest day" activity was hiking miles in the sun all day to the bizarre Painted Rocks, painted in 1984 by Belgian artist Jean Verame.
Credit: crunch


Credit: crunch
unpainted goats
unpainted goats
Credit: crunch

Next we tried a shady spot, the Dwawj slabs, and a 3-star classic Very Difficult (5.4?) called Serepent's Tale, or something. This climb has one of the nicest approaches I've ever seen:
wild flowers
wild flowers
Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch

But the climb was a different story. It started out okay, but three pitches up we were stuck between either dangerously runout friction slab face of indeterminate difficulty or, just right, almost off the slab itself, a hand-crack-feature filled with spiky plants and dry dirt that, if excavated, would instantly render the quartite unclimbable. Tails between legs, we rappelled three pitches. Failing to get up a 5.4--the shame of it.

Around the corner we found a 350-foot slab, rated Severe or Mild-to-Middling Very Severe or something, with no stars and warnings about runouts but which turned out to be superb, with pitch 2 a full-ropelength pitch of intricate 5.7 with occasional excellent gear placements.
Credit: crunch

Next day, we took a 4x4 tour to some petroglyphs, via this spectacular ghost town:
Credit: crunch

Apparently, about five families still live here, existing on checks from relatives in the cities.

At one point the drive slammed on the brakes, and leaped out. What the hell? He found this:
Credit: crunch

The mountains seem alive, with crazily tilted strata:
Credit: crunch

A good thing, because little else is alive, this close to the Sahara.
Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch


After this, the weather, mercifully plummeted 30 degrees and became showery, much more pleasant for climbing.
Credit: crunch

What was next?

Wait for part 2.
































  Trip Report Views: 3,213
crunch
About the Author
crunch is a social climber from CO.

Comments
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Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  May 13, 2011 - 04:31am PT
Cool adventures! Thanks for sharing.
Tan Slacks

climber
Joshua Tree
  May 13, 2011 - 04:51am PT
Can't wait for part 2. I lived in Morocco for three years working in the peace corps from 80 to 83

here was my village

Credit: Tan Slacks

I had very little gear, a rope, ice axe, crampons, hexes. it was the best climbing time of my life. Everything was an unknown to me. No guide books, on occasion I would find a piton. i did mostly all alpine routes in the atlas. Wonderful place.

Let's see part 2

Locals
Locals
Credit: Tan Slacks
Representing my home state!
Representing my home state!
Credit: Tan Slacks
telemon01

Trad climber
Montana
  May 13, 2011 - 08:25am PT

really great TR- looking forward to part 2!
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Maestro, Ecosystem Ministry, Fatcrackistan
  May 13, 2011 - 08:25am PT
Beautiful!

DMT
Captain...or Skully

climber
in the oil patch...Fricken Bakken, that's where
  May 13, 2011 - 08:44am PT
I can dig it, Steve. Awesome stuff, man.
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
  May 13, 2011 - 10:44am PT
nice. some of my bros are there right now on a film job. The tiagha Gorge has some fantastic Limestone big wall where the swiss and other euro's have put up some pretty nice routes.
I trust you missed the bombing in Marakesh?

edit: there's booze there all right! we were buying it by the case full out of fully stocked (but low vis) stores. You just need to enquire a bit.
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  May 13, 2011 - 11:28am PT
AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME


A cabbie drove us around in circles for 45 min in the Phillippines too. He knew where he was all along. It was a well practiced scam to get a waaay bigger fee.

Great TR man!!!
Gunkswest

climber
  May 13, 2011 - 10:01am PT
Great trip report!!!

We spent several weeks climbing and exploring in Maroc in 2000. It's the Star Wars cantina for real. Did the highest point in the Atlas Mts (and all of N Africa)
Pillar Couchant at the Todra Gorge. We did a 5.10 route up the pillar ...
Pillar Couchant at the Todra Gorge. We did a 5.10 route up the pillar that ascends the sunlit corner system just to the right of the arete.
Credit: Gunkswest
and climbed at the Todra Gorge. Combined that with climbing in the south of Spain. One of the best trips we have ever done.
The view from the summit of the highest mountain in the High Atlas &#4...
The view from the summit of the highest mountain in the High Atlas (Jebel Toubkal).
Credit: Gunkswest
On the second or third pitch of Pillar Couchant (5.10) in the ...
On the second or third pitch of Pillar Couchant (5.10) in the Todra Gorge. The canyon at this point is about 1,000 deep and roughly 100 yards wide. You can see two people standing in the sunlight in the upper left corner of the picture for scale.
Credit: Gunkswest
Park Rat

Social climber
CA, UT,CT,FL
  May 13, 2011 - 10:01am PT
Very nice report, looking forward to more.

Who knew that the Geico gecko lived in Morocco?
Jingy

climber
Somewhere out there
  May 13, 2011 - 10:28am PT
Awesome TR!!!!



Now I feel that I've seen a little bit of Morocco
Tony Bird

climber
Northridge, CA
  May 13, 2011 - 10:30am PT
thanks for the report--looking forward to more. thanks for related posts too.

a friend of mine toured morocco after touring portugal. night and day. dull versus vibrant. guess which one was which. must be the influence of coffee.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  May 13, 2011 - 11:26am PT
What a Trip! In so many ways...

I was there as a lad back in 1970 before the scene began to make my parents a bit nervous and we headed back to the rest of an eight month trip through Europe. Very exotic and mysterious place as I recall!

I remember bugging my parents to buy me a burnoose! I thought those things were beyond cool...

Thanks for the report! I am looking forward to the next installment.

Did you sell any copies of Desert Towers to your mates?

Cheers...once you could get served again! LOL
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  May 13, 2011 - 11:35am PT
Ok, this time I had more time to look and read.

"Unpainted goat" BWA HA HA HA hahahahaaaaaa!!!!

Bring on part two!!!!
Rockin' Gal

Trad climber
Boulder
  May 13, 2011 - 11:38am PT
Great trip! Looking forward to the show at Neptune!
Denise Umstot

climber
Princess of the El Cap Bridge!
  May 13, 2011 - 11:39am PT
Loved it! Brings back memories of my travels there many years ago :)
Looking forward to part 2!!
Phil_B

Social climber
CHC, en zed
  May 13, 2011 - 12:06pm PT
Very nice!!

Thanks for posting this up. Love it.
bringmedeath

climber
la la land
  May 13, 2011 - 12:26pm PT
Looks a lot like a Common Chameleon, which would make sense considering your location. Awesome animals!
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  May 13, 2011 - 12:59pm PT
Dear lord, save us from wow really?
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  May 13, 2011 - 01:08pm PT
nice
Gilwad

climber
Frozen In Somewhere
  May 13, 2011 - 01:18pm PT
Cool. Spent some time there, nice to see.
goatboy smellz

climber
लघिमा
  May 13, 2011 - 01:22pm PT
Thanks for the share Crusher & Fran, looks like a high quality adventure trip!
phylp

Trad climber
Millbrae, CA
  May 13, 2011 - 01:23pm PT
Wow, what a fantastic adventure. I loved reading it. BIG THANKS for sharing.
Barcus

Social climber
San Luis Obispo, Ca.
  May 13, 2011 - 01:23pm PT
Thank you so much for sharing the world!

Marcus
Evil Too!
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  May 13, 2011 - 01:40pm PT
Fantastic! Bring on round two!
neversummer

climber
30 mins. from suicide USA
  May 13, 2011 - 03:55pm PT
bump
MH2

climber
  May 13, 2011 - 04:18pm PT
Captivating pictures and wonderful British-inflected humor in the account.


Melissa

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
  May 13, 2011 - 04:20pm PT
Like!
zeta

Trad climber
Portland, OR
  May 13, 2011 - 04:34pm PT
great TR and looking forward to part 2...always wondered what it was like in the Atlas mountains...
tonesfrommars

Trad climber
California
  May 13, 2011 - 04:46pm PT
awe3some bump
Ghost

climber
A long way from where I started
  May 13, 2011 - 09:42pm PT
Kind of the opposite of my memories of climbing in Scotland where the sheep are painted and the rocks are unpainted.

Now get working on part 2
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  May 15, 2011 - 11:31am PT
Nice TR, Morocco is a fascinating place!
crunch

Social climber
CO
Author's Reply  May 15, 2011 - 08:32pm PT
Okay, part 2.


The showers, clinging especially to the higher mountains, stopped us attempting long routes, but now we could enjoy the shorter, crag climbs. Also, without worrying about pesky early starts, we could relax and enjoy the coffee and breakfast at the hotel in Tafraoute. Standard Moroccan breakfast is fresh-squeezed orange juice, great coffee, bread with various jams and, ah yes, foil-wrapped triangles of Laughing Cow. In a hot, poor country, the shelf-life of Laughing Cow, which is what?---probably several years, and no fridge needed---make it a staple.
What? No headscarf?
What? No headscarf?
Credit: crunch

Of the lower crags, Robins Hood Rocks comes highly recommended in the Steve Broadbent guidebook, Morocco Anti-Atlas North, so we headed there.
Robin Hood Rocks
Robin Hood Rocks
Credit: crunch

Yes! In the cool weather, the quartzite face climbs, protected by wires and small cams, came into their own. This was what we came for!

There’s no bolts on any of the quartzite climbs in the Tafraoute area, the climbs are all trad climbing; slabby to vertical, thought-provoking, a puzzle of hard-to-see holds, hard-to-resist gravity and hard-to-place gear. I began to wonder if the guidebook author must have used some kind of random number generator when assigning stars to climbs. A humble, two-star Severe, Sheriff’s Wall, labeled “bold” turned out to have oodles of gear and high-quality face climbing on heucos and ironstone flakes. Another two-star “bold” route, Down and Out, nearby, proved to be not only excellent and well-protected but surprisingly easy for the given E1 (~5.10a) feeling more like 5.8/5.9.
Down and Out
Down and Out
Credit: crunch
Down and Out, 5.8/5.9, near the top
Down and Out, 5.8/5.9, near the top
Credit: crunch

The one-star E1 Call To Prayer (no pics, sorry) was the best of them all; a thought-provoking lead up a vertical wall of diamond-hard, shiny flakes. After each little flurry of moves, one reaches an impasse, a dead end at a half-decent hold; then, bit by bit, one surveys the terrain above and unravels the next sequence of moves and the upcoming protection possibilities. If this route were on the Bastille, in Eldorado Canyon, or in Joshua Tree, it would be among the best. But here in Morocco, there was no chalk on the holds, no other climbers, little trace of anyone having climbed the route before us. Fabulous.
Credit: crunch

As Fran followed, the rain began in earnest, but as we rushed down the descent gully we eyed up a supposed 4-star route, Owl Crack--a revolting-looking, zigzagging offwidth with jagged edges and “occasional rodents.” Four stars? Yikes.

Since there were plenty of one-star routes we had not done, we resolved to return next day. But alas, next day the rain was heavy and my ankle strangely sore, so we drove around in the rain then enjoyed mint tea for lunch at the walled citadel of Tizourgane.
Tizourgane
Tizourgane
Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch

Tizourgane dates from around 1300, and was continually occupied until just 20-30 years ago. The woman who served us tea explained that her husband was from the last family to live there. Not so much a military-style castle, it was a secure, shared place for locals to store and protect valuable items, contracts, jewelry, food stores. Recently it has been somewhat restored and rebuilt to its former glory, and hopefully might draw a few tourists to the area. Unemployment is high, and money scarce. In many of the local villages, many of the young adults are gone, earning money in the big cities and sending back occasional checks to the remaining families. Later, the rain eased off and we went for a hike:

Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch

Next day, it was time to leave. We headed for the coast, Mirleft:
Mirleft
Mirleft
Credit: crunch

And Legzira Plage

Legzira Plage--classic sandy beach
Legzira Plage--classic sandy beach
Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch

This was just about the best beach I've ever seen in my life. There were acres of that perfect sand that, had I been the right age, could have occupied me all day, sculpting dreamy sandcastles and digging deep, mysterious holes.

Us adults had to retain some dignity, so we hiked the beach to check out several magnificent arches:

Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch

All too soon, it was time to head back to Marrakech. We had time for one last wander through Marrakech:
Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch
Credit: crunch

It was only when we were waiting in line, before checking in for our flight back to London, that fellow passengers told us that earlier that day a bomb had gone off in the big square, killing over a dozen people. From the timing, we apparently wandered by just a couple of hours after the explosion, yet noticed nothing, such is the level of noise and crowding.

The bar that was was blown up was the Argana, on the right in the last picture above (this picture was taken a week earlier). It says much for the stupidity of the bombers that they picked the day before the British Royal Wedding between William and Kate, so as to get minimal publicity. Sadly, the effect can only be to further depress the local tourist industry, already hard hit this spring by the unrest in so many neighboring countries.

Marock'n'Roll
Marock'n'Roll
Credit: crunch

Morocco is not an easy, convenient place to visit, nor is it really very cheap to stay. The two climbing guidebooks for where we went have their shortcomings. But every minute spent in Morocco is an adventure; and what does a climber crave if not adventure?















Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  May 15, 2011 - 07:10pm PT
Perhaps only a libation in celebration of such a grand adventure!

Thanks again for the share!
crunch

Social climber
CO
Author's Reply  May 16, 2011 - 12:00am PT
One last photo. Make of what you will.....

The Titan!
The Titan!
Credit: crunch


MH2

climber
  May 16, 2011 - 04:04am PT
I make quite a lot out of your report and your photos. Thanks.
Rhodo-Router

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  May 27, 2011 - 05:35am PT
Nice Crunch!

My wife and I sojourned in Tafroute for a couple weeks after we got married. Thanks for the revisit. It was all as you describe.

rob
Gunkie

Trad climber
East Coast US
  May 27, 2011 - 07:58am PT
Great trip report! You could have gone surfing, too.

Denise Umstot

climber
Princess of the El Cap Bridge!
  May 27, 2011 - 11:50am PT
Great second half TR! Love the photos! Glad you had a good time!
Morocco rocks:)
Steve@OAC

Trad climber
UK
  Jun 27, 2011 - 11:43am PT
Great report, thanks for sharing it! You weren't far off with the random number generator though - As of May 2011 many routes there have seen less than 2 or 3 ascents, and as such there are not yet many opinions to canvass, and throw-away comments are all we have to go on!
We'd really appreciate grade and star suggestions on our website so that we can continue to develop accurate topos to the area.
If anyone else out there fancies the adventure then there's more info online at www.climb-tafraoute.com
Rhodo-Router

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  Nov 12, 2013 - 01:39pm PT
This old man invited us in for tea and a look at the olive-oil process.
Ever wonder how olive oil is made?
Ever wonder how olive oil is made?
Credit: Rhodo-Router

But this is a climbing site, so here ya go:

Euphorbia: not what it sounds like
Euphorbia: not what it sounds like
Credit: Rhodo-Router

Morning commute:

Shepherd's trails are everywhere.
Shepherd's trails are everywhere.
Credit: Rhodo-Router
tioga

Mountain climber
pac northwest
  Nov 12, 2013 - 01:25pm PT
That Titan bar photo is pretty sick...could win some social topics photo contest, I think. The lie of "liberation" by Westernization, while putting people in the worst kind of mind slavery.
tioga

Mountain climber
pac northwest
  Nov 12, 2013 - 01:32pm PT
And just look at those cat skins...I bet they're Servals?!
philo

Trad climber
Is that the light at the end of the tunnel or a tr
  Nov 12, 2013 - 03:27pm PT
Awesome! Makes me homesick for my crazy time there. I will have to visit this TR multiple times to absorb it all. TFPU Crunchmeister.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Nov 12, 2013 - 03:53pm PT
That Titan bar photo is pretty sick...could win some social topics photo contest, I think. The lie of "liberation" by Westernization, while putting people in the worst kind of mind slavery.

Yeah, my thoughts exactly - surely that ice cream drove some poor sod
to buy that Fiat! Quelle horreur!


Crunch, a most worthy and entertaining thread!
Marlow

Sport climber
OSLO
  Nov 12, 2013 - 04:01pm PT
A great multi-faceted share...
Brandon-

climber
The Granite State.
  Nov 12, 2013 - 04:04pm PT
I was SO close to visiting the Todra Gorge a few years ago.

Sweet TR, thanks. Now I for sure have to go there.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Nov 12, 2013 - 04:10pm PT
Glad you had a great time
Thanks for the report!!!!!!!!
labrat

Trad climber
Auburn, CA
  Nov 12, 2013 - 04:13pm PT
Thanks for the report and the bump!
Le Luik

Mountain climber
Aquarius!
  Nov 15, 2013 - 02:32pm PT
Great trip report. Sitting in Marrakech writing this. Staying at a fantastic riad, no cockroaches,
Blakey

Trad climber
Sierra Vista
  Nov 20, 2013 - 10:49am PT
BBST

Steve
smith curry

climber
nashville,TN
  Nov 20, 2013 - 11:41am PT
Great stuff! Goes to show how sometimes climbing is the least memorable part of a climbing trip.
SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
  Nov 20, 2013 - 04:17pm PT

How about the hash, Stevo?
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