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Taghia: Hi-Jinks in the High Atlas

Dave Pickford, Planet Fear  |  Редактирана на 15/02/2007

[b:5b3798bae4]Dave Pickford recounts a trip in October 2005 to the remote Taghia region of Morocco’s highest mountains. The verdict of ‘the finest multipitch routes in the world’ materialised from a team of five well-travelled UK climbers…[/b:5b3798bae4]


[i:5b3798bae4]A vertical world in the high Atlas. Jack Geldard on the 8th pitch (7a+) of Les Rivieres Pourpres - just one of many magnificent routes at Taghia[/i:5b3798bae4]

[b:5b3798bae4]PART 1[/b:5b3798bae4]

If asked that million-dollar question ‘where is the best place in the world to climb multi-pitch rock routes?’ what would you respond? You might answer with a list of Europe’s mega-crags: the arch-cliffs of France, Switzerland, and Italy might feature prominently, places like the Verdon Gorge, the Wendenstock, Sanetsch, the Marmolada and Cima Grande, Sardinia’s outrageous Gole di Goruppu (home to Hotel Supramonte), or the mighty west face of El Naranjo in northern Spain. Or perhaps you would think further afield, to the awesome granite walls of Yosemite, or to yet more impressive cliffs in Greenland, in Kyrgyzstan, and the Karakorum. The list, as they say, might be as long as that proverbial piece of string.


[i:5b3798bae4]The awesome 700 metre pillar of Taojidad looming through the cloud[/i:5b3798bae4]

It is the premise of this feature, however, that the title of ‘the best multi-pitch rock climbing in the world’ may be accorded to the limestone massif of the Taghia region, a spectacular arena of immense and charismatic verticality hidden in the Atlas mountains of Morocco. And this is not a title of a merely personal conjecture: it has been a matter of scrutiny and cross-examination by a number of Europe’s most experienced rock climbers, who have travelled here to establish new climbs on these mighty cliffs.


[i:5b3798bae4]The mountainous nature of the Taghia region seen on a detailed map[/i:5b3798bae4]

The Taghia massif is in fact an extremely complex topography of high escarpments, monoliths and canyon-walls based around a system of gorges scoured by the storm drainage from Jebel Lalaguen. This high plateau extends eastwards from Irhil Monte Goun (4071m) in the heart of the high Atlas, the second highest mountain in north Africa.

The village which gives the area its name lies at an altitude of 1800 metres, and provides salubrious base-camp facilities in the form of a couple of gites run by the locals. And the cliffs that surround it are perhaps the pre-eminent destination for European rock climbers in search of the ultimate big wall experience without the hassle of major expedition logistics and costs.


[i:5b3798bae4]The settlement of Zaoia is centred on the medieval Kasbah (fortified house) and is the last stop on the long journey from the UK to Taghia. The road ends here![/i:5b3798bae4]

It was from Catalan legend Toni Arbonez that I first heard about this place, one hot afternoon in south east Asia. My coffee, I recall, became distinctly lukewarm despite the tropical heat as he waxed lyrical about some remote village deep in north Africa’s greatest mountain range, surrounded by the best limestone walls he had ever climbed on. Now Toni is not a man prone to exaggeration, and he has probably climbed more routes than most people have had hot dinners. I therefore made a serious mental note of what he had to say.

The following summer, Jack Geldard rang to invite me on a trip to Morocco in October. When I heard that Twid Turner and Steve Mayers were involved, I thought of that conversation with Toni more than a year ago, and swiftly concluded by deductive argument that this unspecified ‘awesome place’ Jack was talking about must be Taghia. I was thrilled with the prospect of finding out just how good it really was, and despite other commitments at the time I booked the first flight I could find to Marrakech.


[i:5b3798bae4]Local children in colourful dress at Taghia[/i:5b3798bae4]

Taghia is relatively remote, by Moroccan standards, involving a few hours on a gravel road (most roads in the country are now well surfaced) and another few hours walking to get to. Nonetheless, it is easily accessible in comparison to other climbing destinations in the developing world of a similar nature and stature.

The journey from Marrakech to the village barely exceeds 200 kilometres, but takes the best part of a day. By far the easiest way to do it is to hire a ‘grande taxi’ (the ubiquitous old Mercedes, which for a group of four works out at a very reasonable rate) from the city all the way to the village of Zaoia, around 40 kilometres north of Azilal, from where horses or mules can be hired for the final trek of 8 kilometres or so up to Taghia itself.


[i:5b3798bae4]Delays on the road to Zaoia from Azilal[/i:5b3798bae4]

Turning the last corner out of a narrow valley, the river levels out in a series of gravel flats hemmed with small terraces supporting improbable quantities of thriving vegetables and staples. This is the land of the Berbers - the indigenous people of north Africa, whose distinct ethnicity predates the arrival of the first Mohammedans by at least two millennia - and as you would expect they are expert at growing whatever they can in the poor, infrequent soil and harsh climate of the high Atlas.


[i:5b3798bae4]Terraced fields near the river. Looking north from Taghia towards Zaoia[/i:5b3798bae4]

Cattle and goats graze freely, the latter often being shepherded through even the most inaccessible canyons by the local herdsmen. An idiosyncratic reminder of this fact is the presence of a multiplicity of extraordinary makeshift ‘bridges’ throughout the high Atlas region, constructed out of wood and the odd jammed boulder, and frequently poised above terrifyingly steep couloirs and giant boulder-chokes in the depths of the canyons. They seem to defy the laws of physics when weighted (!), and many of them appear to have been doing so for as long as the Berbers have lived here.


[i:5b3798bae4]A Berber bridge - but who’s doing the stress analysis?[/i:5b3798bae4]

After a while, walking south towards the village across the flood plains, it becomes apparent that most of the horizon from the south right through to the north west is dominated by cliffs of the dust-red and ochre coloured limestone typical of these mountains, varying in size from the quantifiable-by-eyesight to the incalculably huge. It was towards dusk when we arrived, and despite the cold wind blowing down off the higher slopes I stopped for a few minutes behind the rest of the team, taking in the awesome presence of these rocks that watched over the mud and stone-built houses of the village with a strange, shadowy serenity.


[i:5b3798bae4]’Electricity pylon’, Berber-style[/i:5b3798bae4]

All the information constituting a ‘guide’ to the climbs thus far established at Taghia is collated in a large and well-thumbed A3 scrapbook in the small gite run by Said Messaoudi and his family, which lies near to the new primary school on the very edge of the village. Taking some spare paper on which to transcribe your own topos from the originals in Said’s book will prove useful.

Having just a few days to pack in a whistle-stop itinerary, the two veterans of our party, Steve and Twid, made swift work of establishing which routes they should go for. Their combined experience of putting up new routes and making significant repeat ascents on big walls around the world produced a well-rewarded assessment of the first ascentionists’ comments in what is perhaps the world’s physically largest (!) climbing guide. The three major routes they chose to climb turned out, by the end of our longer stay, to be three of the very best routes in Taghia, produced by the ace duo of Arnaud Petit and Michel Piola. This consensus was also reached by a pair of French guides who had climbed the same routes the week before.


[i:5b3798bae4]Local goatherd Mohammed demonstrates his skill with the traditional slingshot, David-and-Goliath style, still in use today by Berber herders[/i:5b3798bae4]

The 350 metre classic Canyon Apache (6b+, 6a+, 6c, 6a, 6b, 6b+, 6c+, 6b+, 5c) is a fully bolted line on the towering canyon-side wall of Jebel Timrazine, and being only a 40 minute walk from the village provides the perfect introduction to the quality and style of climbing at Taghia. After a tricky initiation up a steep groove the angle kicks back for a few pitches on flawless rock before an intricate 4th pitch leads to easier ground and a good ledge system. This would be ideal for a quick tagine-stop, but unfortunately MSR have not yet perfected the manufacture of a lightweight version of the traditional two-piece earthenware pot, an essential item in every Moroccan kitchen


[i:5b3798bae4]Juha Saatsi enjoying perfect limestone at a more relaxed angle high on the classic Canyon Apache (350m, 6c+)[/i:5b3798bae4]

The last four pitches of the route are impeccable, following a beautiful, twisting line of weakness up a big headwall. The climbing on pitches 7 and 8 began to generate favourable comparisons with the arch-classics of the Verdon, routes like Surveiller et Punir or Frimes et Chatiments. Those who have done those routes will know this means the climbing is about as good as vertical limestone wall climbing can get.


[i:5b3798bae4]Late afternoon shadows chase the sun from the canyons swiftly in October![/i:5b3798bae4]

By mid-afternoon Steve and Twid zoomed down their ropes past us, with time for a few mutual exclamations on just how good the route was. Climbing at a more sedate pace our trio topped out a bit later, just as the early evening sun lit up the massive north west wall of Jebel Lalaguen towering over the head of the canyon to the south, and the shadowline crept higher up the wall. A pair of eagles circled a few hundred metres above us. Far below, the village was just visible beyond the summit of Ta Oujidad. It would be difficult to imagine a more impressive and atmospheric location for world-class rock climbing.


[i:5b3798bae4]Jack Geldard making light work of the crux of Les Rivieres Pourpres (500m, 7b+)[/i:5b3798bae4]

[b:5b3798bae4]PART 2[/b:5b3798bae4]

There was a tangible excitement in the air around Said’s courtyard that evening, as pot after pot of mint tea was drunk and replenished, and the five of us discussed plans for the next ‘big hit’. Twid and Steve’s next calling card was the route that had been a hot topic of conversation for serious sport climbers in France since its first ascent and its captivating reportage in the magazine Grimpeur.


[i:5b3798bae4]One of Morocco’s most famous exports are its spectacular woven rugs[/i:5b3798bae4]

The statuesque and serpentine creation of Les Rivieres Pourpres (500m, 6b+, 6c, 6c+, 7b, 7a+, 7a+, 6c, 7a, 7b, 7a+, 7b, 7b+), perhaps the most precociously brilliant brainchild of the Petit/Piola partnership, soars up the massive north wall of Ta Oujidad, and is a climb that elegantly prefigures its growing reputation as simply one of the very best long sport routes in the world.

Our first attempt at the route was foiled on the third belay by worsening weather, followed by an exciting retreat from the canyon with the normally dry river suddenly gaining spate at a rate which has to be seen to be believed. After a day sheltering from the unreliable conditions on some overhanging single pitch routes, which make up for in quality and lactic acid accumulation what they lack in quantity, the weather cleared up giving us the opportunity for a second chance.


[i:5b3798bae4]Saharan psychedelia - Jack Geldard in the groove of a classic 7b at sector Cascade, high above Taghia village[/i:5b3798bae4]

Climbing in a team of three gave us plenty of time to rest between leads, and certainly made our onsight flashed ascent a more reasonable proposition, and the fact that the previous day’s rain had washed off all Twid and Steve’s chalk made it all the more rewarding.

Getting past our previous high point at the end of pitch three before 8am, there was a lighthearted sense of confidence - probably due to the absence of even a whisker of cirrus in the sky - as we swung leads on the next 6 pitches that take the route bang into the middle of the headwall, one of the most perfect sheets of vertical limestone I’ve ever seen. By 3 o’clock we’d reached the terrace with just one pitch to go before we’d cracked it.


[i:5b3798bae4]Jack Geldard powering through the roof on pitch 8 (7b) of Les Rivieres Pourpres[/i:5b3798bae4]

Somehow, I found myself on the sharp end, and although the predictable katabatic evening wind had started to really take the edge off the temperature, I felt warm enough to get into a decent flow on the gently overhanging groove in the very last steep section of the face. The uncompromising angle of this pitch is compensated for by the reassuringly positive quartzitic pockets, which lead eventually to an impasse after about 25 metres. Shaking out on a jug below this section, the prospect of falling off here was evidently ludicrous in the face of all the consummate onsight climbing by Jack and Juha on the lower pitches.

[b:5b3798bae4]"my fingers sank into a perfect
second-joint edge"[/b:5b3798bae4]

I double-checked the exact whereabouts of what appeared to be a good pocket high to the right, launched up from the jug and after a quick foot-shuffle and cross through into a crimp, threw my right foot out to a high edge and eyeballed the hold. There are times in onsight climbing when you are sure you have blown it, and times when you know you’ve got it… suddenly relaxed, I made the stretch up for the hold the right, my fingers sinking into a perfect second-joint edge. The final moves up the groove floated by in a haze of endorphin release to the comfort of the belay.

[b:5b3798bae4]"we’d had an exceptional
day’s climbing"[/b:5b3798bae4]

As Jack and Juha followed, I considered the enormous effort by Petit and Piola in creating this stupendous climb, and the achievement of its result. After a celebratory round of the seemingly unlimited supply of power-gel sachets Jack had been propitiously storing about his person, we threw the ropes out into the wind and began the long, long slide back down to the canyon floor. There was unanimous agreement between the three of us over the rounds of mint tea that evening that we’d had an exceptional day’s climbing.


[i:5b3798bae4]Geldard and Saatsi in a good mood on the long abseil down Les Rivieres Pourpres[/i:5b3798bae4]

The thing about Taghia is that routes like Les Rivieres Pourpres are not one-offs: this quality of rock climbing is characteristic of a substantial collection of routes here. The other big line we managed to make a complete, free ascent of was Fantasia, a major new route established over 3 weeks of effort in May 2005 by top Polish climbers David Kaszilkovski and Eliza Kubauska. It is one of Taghia’s longest modern routes, and the roll-call of pitches is enough to make most climbers’ fingers sweat a little: 700m, 6b, 6a+, 6c, 6c+, 6c+, 7c+, 7b+, 7a, 7a+, 7b, 7c, 7b, 6c+, 6c, 5+, 5+, 5, 5.


[i:5b3798bae4]Dave Pickford on pitch 5 of Fantasia (700m, 7c+)[/i:5b3798bae4]

We spread our ascent over two days, which combined with the team-of-three approach seemed to work well, and meant we free climbed the entire route, onsighting every pitch except the crux 6th pitch, which I worked on at the end of the first day and redpointed the next morning, after jumaring up the lines we fixed up the first five pitches.

The big push to finish the route on the second day was largely down to Jack and Juha, who seemed to have treated the first day as a gentle warm-up for the challenge of the enormous headwall, swinging no-nonsense onsight leads with abandon, as if they were on a casual bolt-clipping jaunt somewhere on the Costa Blanca.


[i:5b3798bae4]Juha Saatsi reaches through steep rock on pitch 6 of Fantasia[/i:5b3798bae4]

Leading the 9th pitch, a 50 metre 7a+, I just managed to get the better of a serious onset of elbow cramp (probably brought on by a lack of salt), and gladly handed the sharp end over to Jack for the last hard pitches. As we watched the shadows enveloping the village over a thousand metres below from the sanctuary of a cosy niche on the 10th belay, Juha and I shouted a few words of encouragement as Jack cranked out the last of the difficulties on pitch 11, smoothly onsighting the intricate 7c climbing and completing the successful ascent of what we unanimously agreed had been one of the most satisfying long routes we had ever done.

[b:5b3798bae4]"The entire valley was swathed
in the ethereal light of
an autumnal moon"[/b:5b3798bae4]

On the long abseil back down to the gear on the ledge above the canyon, night swiftly replaced light and we were cocooned from the outrageous exposure by the limits of three headtorch beams. As we neared the top of the fixed lines, a huge full moon edged its way out from behind the shadowlit ridge of Jebel Timrazine to the south west. The entire Taghia valley was swathed in the ethereal light of that autumnal moon rising across one of the greatest ridge-lines in the high Atlas; a hunter’s moon, as our European ancestors called it. Staggering down the scree to the river late that evening, knackered but elated after the climb we’d just done, my thoughts were more concentrated by tagine and endless pots of mint tea than the prospects of nocturnal hunting.


[i:5b3798bae4]The cobra is a frequent feature of the Moroccan bazaar[/i:5b3798bae4]

Before we left Taghia that October we had to have a look at the immense west face of Ta’ Dararat, home to L’Axe du Mal, another Petit/Piola creation, and one of Taghia’s finest hard routes. At 500 metres it is of a similar stature to the other routes here, but the other thing about this wall is its utterly unforgiving verticality, which simply doesn’t let up from the end of the initial slabs to the very top of the wall, true El Capitan style. The pitch grades give some idea of how sustained the climbing is: 6c, 6b, 7a, 7a, 6c+, 7a+, 7a, 7b, 7b+, 7c+, 7a, 7a+, 6b+. This route is the epitome of that great French vision of ‘l’escalade libre’, an awesome and improbable line of weakness up a vast impending sheet of limestone.


[i:5b3798bae4]Dave Pickford crossing the roof on pitch 8 (7b) of L’Axe du Mal[/i:5b3798bae4]

Unfortunately, our attempt on L’Axe du Mal was foiled just below the crux pitches by the first big storm of the autumn blowing in off Jebel Lalaguen, forcing a swift abseil and even swifter retreat from the canyon, which would have become completely impassable in full spate. Thoughts of persevering were swiftly discounted as we considered the possibility of waiting out the first big winter storm in that tiny bivouac cave, waiting for the raging torrent to subside.


[i:5b3798bae4]Jack Geldard high above the shadows of the canyon on L’Axe du Mal[/i:5b3798bae4]

But it didn’t matter - we’d had an incredible trip, which included some of the best climbing any of the five of us had ever done, amid the sublime isolation of north Africa’s highest mountains. It is always a good sign when you begin planning your next visit before you leave a place, and in the case of Taghia, that second trip simply couldn’t come too soon.


[i:5b3798bae4]Campfire in the commodious bivouac cave below L’Axe du Mal[/i:5b3798bae4]

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Последни новини !!!

  • 11/09/2019

    Новите технологии в челниците на Black Diamond през 2019

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    Новите технологии в челниците на Black Diamond през 2019
    Челните лампи на Black Diamond са били винаги едни от водещите в индустрията с най-добрите технологии на пазара. През 2019 година Black Diamond добавиха някои нови екстри, промениха интерфейса и подобриха цялостно качеството на своята гама продукти.
  • 26/10/2018

    Как да се подготвим за задаващия се зимен сезон

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    Как да се подготвим за задаващия се зимен сезон
    SOHO представя един интересен и практично-полезен разговор за това как да се подготвим за по-сигурни и безпроблемни преходи през задаващия се сезон. Гост в третото издание от поредицата събития в SOHO - SoADVENTUROUS, свързани с приключения и пътешествия, е опитният планински ...
  • 07/09/2017

    Новата автобиографична книга на Алекс Хонълд "Сам на скалата"

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    Новата автобиографична книга на Алекс Хонълд
    Излезе от печат автобио-графията на безапе-лационния символ на съвременното катерене Алекс Хонълд. Защо го правиш? Не се ли страхуваш, че ще умреш? Два въпроса, с които Алекс Хонълд е обстрелван почти ежедневно. 32-годишният катерач е необяснима загадка – също като невъзможни ...
  • 05/09/2017

    Adam Ondra изкатери първото в света 9c във Flatanger, Норвегия

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    Adam Ondra изкатери първото в света 9c във Flatanger, Норвегия
    На 3 септември Adam Ondra направи първото свободно изкачване на своя проект наречен Project Hard. Маршрутът се намира в пещерата Flatanger, Норвегия и 24-годишният чешкият катерач оцени като 9c. Това разбира се трябва да бъде потвърдено и чак след това 45-метровата линия ще ...
  • 05/06/2017

    Алекс Хонълд изкачи свободно соло Ел Капитан

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    Алекс Хонълд изкачи свободно соло Ел Капитан
    В събота известният катерач Алекс Хонълд стана първият човек, който изкачва Ел Капитан без да използва въжета или други обезопасителни съоръжения и извърши вероятно най-великото постижение в историята на чистото скално катерене.
  • 23/05/2017

    Kilian Jornet постави нов рекорд за скоростно изкачване на връх Еверест

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    Kilian Jornet постави нов рекорд за скоростно изкачване на връх Еверест
    Ски алпинистът и ултрабегач Kilian Jornet постави един нов рекорд за скоростно изкачване на най-високият връх в света - Еверест в раните часове на 22 май, качвайки се на върха за 26 часа. 29-годишният испанец премина по маршрута през Северната стена в едно единично катерене б ...
  • 23/05/2017

    Представяне на La Sportiva G5 по време на ISPO 2017

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    Представяне на La Sportiva G5 по време на ISPO 2017
    La Sportiva G5 е ултра технична водозащитена обувка за височинен алпинизъм и работа навън в студени условия. Тя е лесна за обуване дори с ръкавици благодарение на новата системата от връзки Boa® в долната част на обувката и велкро лепенките в горната й част. Обувката е направ ...
  • 11/05/2017

    Представяне на новият челник Petzl Tikka Hybrid

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    Представяне на новият челник Petzl Tikka Hybrid
    Проста и компактна, новата TIKKA предлага 200 лумена яркост и широко разпръсване на светлината. С дълга продължителност на осветяването тя е практична за аутдор активности като къмпинг или трекинг, или за пътуване и също за ежедневни активности около дома или колата. Фосфорес ...
  • 10/05/2017

    Плащане с кредитни и дебитни карти

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    От днес вече ще можете бързо, лесно и сигурно да плащате своите онлайн поръчки с кредитни или дебитни карти през системата на Борика, без да заплащате излишни комисионни. Вече няма да е нужно да се регистрирате в различни разплащателни платформи и да преминавате през дълги процедури по оторизацията им. Магазин Вертикален свят изцяло покрива ра ...
  • 03/11/2016

    Представяне на La Sportiva Skwama

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    Представяне на La Sportiva Skwama
    В това ревю Neil Gresham, Adrian Baxter и Stu Littlefair говорят за най-новата катерачна иновация на La Sportiva, технологията "S-Heel", която е част от новите модели еспадрили Skwama и Otaki. Skwama са чувствителни, пасващи удобно, меки катерачни обувки идеални за топ постиж ...

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