Text and pictures © 2012-2013 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2012/12/13
"In the morning, we carry the world like Atlas; At noon, we stoop and bend beneath it; And at night, it crushes us flat to the ground." — Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887).
Left: Ismael getting the donkey ready for the trip from Zaouia to Taghia.
So, after getting ever closer to Africa by going first to Madagascar and then to Jordan, finally I set foot on my 7th continent, starting from the north. After landing in Marrakesh we take off for Taghia without so much as a visit and after a long and dusty bus ride we make it to Zaouia Ahansal, the end of the road. The rest of the trip is assured by regular donkey services and then we won't move for the next 3 weeks.
Right: Leaving Zaouia in the morning in the direction of the mountains.
Left: About 2 hours later we are in view of Oujdad (left), one of the main climbing area.
Right: Taoujdad dominating the village of Taghia.
Taghia is a tiny village in the High Atlas, reachable with a 2 hours walk from the village of Zaouiat. The altitude of the village is about 2000m, so when we arrive a cold wind freezes us to the bones and snow is visible on all the ledges and many of the northern slopes. Apparently only 10 days before it snowed a good 15cm. The first week is difficult as we haven't brought enough warm clothing and I manage to catch a cold. I should get a T-shirt "Went to Africa, froze my ass off".
Left: Crossing the river to get to our first route: 'l'âne sale' (dirty donkey, also a play of words on the name of Zaouia's founder), only 4 pitches, but already at 7a. None of the routes at Taghia are 'easy', unless you count the rare chossy ridges that hardly anybody ever repeats.
Right: Wet feet and cold wind in the gully of 'L'Ane Sale', about half an hour before the village of Taghia.
Left: Rappelling off 'L'Ane Sale'.
The first route we climb is in a narrow gully that amplifies the wind, but the choices we'll make the next few days won't be any warmer due to the higher altitude.
Right: A good view of Oujdad from a distance.
Left: The springs at the base of Oujdad, which must be crossed to access the routes on Taoujdad (center) or Timghazine (left).
Right: Trying to keep the feet dry while crossing the springs leading to the climbs.
Left: Jenny in the upper dihedral of 'Le Rève d'Aicha', one of the easiest routes, right above the springs.
Right: Layback on Aicha, with the springs below.
The rock is a very solid limestone, very carved by the elements and the classic lines are well bolted, which is a welcome change after Wadi Rum. I didn't scare myself even once while climbing in Taghia, now that's a vacation. Even though there are some rare accidents: a german climber died a month before when a rock fell on his rope while he was putting up a new route. And a guide and his client which we saw put up a portaledge on the first pitch of some free-climbing classic was seen the next day limping back to Zaouia... Wondering what the story is.
Left: Upper part of Aicha, finally in the sun after a cold day.
The springs at the base of Oujdad are impressive. Outside of that area there are only a few dried up thorn bushes and juniper trees, but the springs dump their water into channels carved into the slopes by the berbers to irrigate their fields.
Right: Wheat fields above the village, with Oujdad and Tagoujimt.
Left: Slaby moves on 'Belle et Berbère', one of the classic routes above the springs. Of all the routes we did, it's the only one I found worn.
Right: Jenny on 'Belle et Berbère', a route where I found that the cruxes where all mean boulder moves.
An additional problem in getting organized in Morocco, is that for the 1st time this year they use daylight savings. And the change happened the night we arrived. Apparently they forgot to notify the population. So some services are one hour early, others one hour late. And this in addition to the usual 'southern timing' which is already pretty lax.
Left: The ledge on the summit of 'Belle et Berbère', with Oujdad on the other side of the canyon.
Right: Poppy in a wheat field below Oujdad.
Right: Early morning light on Tagoujimt. Al-Andaluz is on the left of the rightmost pillar. Several much longer and much harder routes are on the rest of the cliff.
We haven't brought any pitons and only a couple of friends with us, so I have to borrow some gear (including a #4) to go do this excellent trad line.
Left: Walking shrubbery ?!? The feet under those 3 bushes reveal the presence of women taking them to the village on the unstable trail.
Right: Ledge of the 2nd pitch of Al Andaluz, one of the best trad lines in Taghia: no pitons necessary here, unlike many others.
Left: Jenny trying to find the flaw in the roof of the 3rd pitch of Al Andaluz (6b+).
Right: The sustained 6a+ dihedral on the 5th pitch of Al Andaluz. Mostly layback, unlike the previous pitch which was mostly hand jamming.
Left: Hardy or mostly dead junipers.
Right: Ancient juniper tree on the Atlas slopes.
Left: Donkey off work.
Right: Donkey below Taoujdad and Oujdad.
Left: The pillars of Tagoujimt, with Al Andaluz on the left of the central pillar.
Right: Under the dry waterfall at the start of 'Haben Oder Sein' (Having or being). The huge roof on the left of the waterfall has two grade 8 routes.
Left: Very very gritty rock. If you slap it hard, you can't take your hand off.
Left: Ledge on the upper pitches of 'Haben Oder Sein'. Some of the belay bolts are missing: anything that can be accessed from a ledge and unscrewed is simply taken by the berbers. What they do with it, we have no idea, but it's a good idea to carry a few 10 and 12mm hangers.
Right: The village of Taghia as well as Oujdad visible from the waterfall cliff (Tinik Fsin). Some pitches on the route are a bit runout, like the first bolt 10m above a belay with a dead tree forming a big wooden stake right below...
Left: Descent of a 'berber bridge', more stable than it looks but still you thread lightly on those things.
Right: The ingenious corkscrew bridge used to come down from the Tinik Fsin.
Left: A view on the waterfall cliff from our minimalist but comfortable room at Said's place.
Depending on coming and going, there's about 60 climbers in this village of 150 berbers, split between the 3 hostels: Said's (where we are staying), Yousef and the new one being built by Mohammed. This climbing rush is causing other locals to convert their houses into shelters for climbers and causing some local frictions. There's a lot of construction activity in the village. Said's place is clean and comfortable, with hot showers, permanent tea and the braying of donkeys for alarm clocks.
Right: The dry waterfall down Tinik Fsin. The excellent 'Haben Oder Sein' is the 2nd route on the right, and don't do like we did and start on the 1st one denoted by a piton and an arrow at the base: it's harder, much sharper and runout.
Right: Taoujdad and Oujdad.
Left: Going up the white rock gully between Taoujdad and Oujdad, in order to access the two classics of 'Le Chien' and 'La Reforme'.
Right: The access ramp to 'Le chien'.
Left: The crux 6c move right at the start of the 2nd pitch of 'A boire ou je tue le chien' (gimme a drink or I kill the dog). Hard to hold on those small crimps with the freezing temperature.
Right: A long pitch of steep, sustained and delicate climbing on limestone pocket slabs.
Left: Back on Taoujdad, next to 'Le Chien', the slightly easier 'Au nom de la Réforme'. The white dike in the back is the steep descent gully. It's common to climb both those routes on the same day.
Right: Dead (?) juniper tree.
Left: The main wall of Taoujdad, with the two access ramps for 'A boire ou je tue le chien' and 'Au nom de la Réforme' clearly visible at the base.
Right: The rock all around looks reddish, but it's only the surface patina. Underneath it's all black but little of it is visible on the routes, that's how good it is.
After 2 weeks my cold is getting better but I'm now fair game for the fleas. Apparently I'm the only one of the roumi with this problem and I swear I haven't approached any sheep or donkey ! Still, it's better than being downed by a turista. Or maybe the fleas came from the dogs guarding the houses. Some of them are mean and bite you without hesitation if you approach. I have the mark to prove it.
Left: Two sheep coated in spices going in the fire pit for the Méchoui.
At Said's place, the food is good and in adequate quantity. The only problem is that it's not very varied: the same cumin soup every evening, the same bread morning noon and night, and only 3 dishes: a chicken tajin, a sheep couscous and a pasta dish, all with the same vegetables and spices. And 'Vache Qui Rit' soft cheese at any time. So one day we pool up with other climbers and pay extra to slaughter a sheep and get a BBQ. And of course, no beer or wine. Although a donkey 'driver' offered us some unlabeled 'berber whisky' out of a plastic bottle which proved to be a potent fig distillate. Not bad at all.
Right: Said and his team built a BBQ/oven from scratch in the morning from stones and mud. After running a fire in it, they seal the sheep inside and let it cook for an hour. A berbercue ?!?
Left: Getting the sheep out of the oven.
Right: Said's extended family at the table with us. For the occasion there's coke, juices and fries on the table as well. And Alex's nose on the left.
The berber people (or rather the Amazigh since berber has the same root as barbarian) don't look so different from the arab to our eyes, but the two populations don't seem to like each others too much. The arabs consider the berbers as ignorant and poor while the berbers consider the arabs as invaders. They make fun of the local mullah and tell tales of boar hunting... More important to us, most of them speak some french in addition to berber and arab. English is uncommon.
Right: Traverse pitch at the base of 'Canyon Apache', the old berber bridge having been washed out by a flood and not yet rebuilt.
Left: Jenny at the end of the 2nd and sustained pitch of 'Canyon Apache'.
Left: Sustained climbing higher up 'Canyon Apache'.
The first routes up the Taghia walls were opened in the 70s, but the site has become really popular only in the last decade with the setting of plenty of excellent bolted lines (and quite a few trad lines as well) and the edition of a guidebook in 2010. There are now as many as 200 climbers at a time, overloading the local population. Considering the small quantity of classic routes, it's quite a crowd. It's mostly popular with french climbers, but there were plenty of belgians, swiss, english, italian, croats, etc... Even legendary soloist Alex Honnold was there running up walls as fast as I can fall off them.
Right: Next to 'Canyon Apache', the more recent and easier 'Allumeur de Rêve Berbère'.
Left: Yet another mostly dried out juniper tree.
Right: Rappelling into the Pikor dihedral with a group of french climbers. This route is farther inside the canyon than 'Apache' but the bottom pitches are rather worthless.
Left: Antoine on the 2nd pitch of the Pikor dihedral. Of all the routes I've done in Taghia, this is the least impressive, with only two good pitches, the others being forgettable.
Right: Beware when you pick up rocks to make a cairn: there are plenty of fat scorpions under the stones. This one is a good 5cm long.
Left: Said on the terrace of hit home.
Right: Mohammed climbing 6a+ in soft plastic shoes without any difficulty.
Above: 360° view of Taghia: Ifrig, Taoujdad, Oujdad, Tagoujimt, Tinik Fsin and some unnamed hill above the wheat fields.
Right: Berber scales going around the base of Oujdad, with an added chain for protection.
Left: The biggest berber staircase, arriving right at the start of Baraka, one of the most classic route of Taghia: 16 pitches mostly around 6b.
Left: The crimpy 6b+ crux on the 1st pitch of Baraka: a tough nut to crack first thing in the morning when you want to keep your skin for the next 15 pitches. There's chalk several meters to the left and right of the bolts, just to show that everybody is looking for a better way up.
Right: One of the lower pitch of Baraka. Don't let the grass mistake you: it's dead vertical and stays that way for the 1st 9 pitches.
Left: Technical climbing on Baraka.
Right: End of the sustained 6c pitch.
Left: Higher up but still in the shade. It was a hot day but the sun caught up with us only on the last 4 pitches. This place seems to have only 2 seasons: winter and summer, with only 2 days of spring in between.
Right: Upper pitch of Baraka, facing the impressive east ridge of Tagoujimt.
Left: A view farther up the canyon on Tadrararte: some good routes up there as well.
Right: Summit of Baraka with a view on Tadrararte and Tagoujimt. The summit of Oujdad is only a 5 minutes walk away...
Right: ...but the descent will take quite a few extra hours, here above Taoujdad, tiredly traversing exposed ledges.
Left: A single rappel bring us to the pass behind Oujdad, at the rest spot of a berber goat herder. After that a loose diagonal descent take us to the usual white dike in the canyon of Taoujdad.
Right: The belgian team resting on the terrace of Said's place.
Left: Zigzagging bolts on the lower pitches of 'Los Ratones Coloraos'. The rock is smoother on this route than on other routes in Taghia and the 4 pitches of 6c+ are stiff for me. As is the 7b boulder move right above the belay.
Right: Romain on the final pitch of 'Los Ratones Coloraos' and view on Tagoujimt.
Left: As we walk off Ratones, we see the impressive profile of Baraka, with a barely visible climber on it. Looking at the time, it's going to be bivouac tonight...
Ratones is the hardest route I climb in Taghia. And on the same day as we walk down. Jenny wants a rest day, so I head off with the newly arrived Romain for his first taste of Taghia. For me 4 pitches of 6c+ and one 7b are the top of what I've done here. For him it's just an introduction: to each his own. I must say that of all the climbers in Taghia we were most likely the weakest. But we had just as much fun.
Right: The mosque and old wheat storage silos in Zaouiat, currently being restored by a team from the university of Montana.
Left: Zaouiat at night, end of the trip: tomorrow we'll be back in Marrakesh and spend the same money in a day as we did in 3 weeks in Taghia... We'll miss the hospitality of the berbers.