By Tom Newberry
Isolated in the High Atlas Mountains, the tiny Moroccan village of Taghia hosts probably the best climbing you’ve never heard of. The remoteness, committing approaches, and traditional Moroccan way of life give this multi-pitch sport destination a very adventurous expedition feel, but with a budget price tag.
Three major canyons: n’Tazart Akka, Akka and n’Taghia Akka n’Tafrawt offer walls varying in height from 200 to 800 meters with some peaks topping out around 3000 metres above sea level. What makes this such a world class venue is the huge vertical limestone walls, unlike most big mountain routes, are often free of ledges and vegetation meaning routes are sustained and pitches of the highest quality from top to bottom. Both the rock quality and style would be comparably to that found in Verdon, only here the routes can be twice the length! This does mean most routes are generally in the mid to higher grade range, (French 6c upwards). Surprisingly though, despite being popular with Spanish, French and Americans it seems to have slipped under the radar of all but the more adventurous British climbers.
How to get there
Fly into Marrakesh. From there you’ll need to get to Zaouia Ahanesal. This is possible via two public buses (changing in Azilal). The journey takes around 9-10 hours and costs around 15 Euro. If you have less time and are willing to pay extra, you can travel directly with a 4X4 booked through your accommodation in Taghia. This takes 5-6hours and costs 120 Euro/taxi (up to 6 people). Be warned, there are stories of cowboy taxi drivers hired in Marrakesh ditching climbers in the middle of nowhere once they realise their cars are unfit for the High Atlas roads! To get from Zaouia Ahanesal to Taghia is roughly 2 hours walk along old Berber trails made of rocks and dead trees clinging to the rock faces. Donkeys are usually hired for 10 euro to help carry gear (one donkey between 2-3 people).
When to go
Scanning through the guestbook and it seems most teams visit in April to May or September to October, with spring being the more favourable season. Being at around 2000-2900m altitude, the area remains comparatively cool relative to lower lying places. Anecdotally, it seems the worst periods of storms come at the beginning and end of the summer. The storms are quite predictable usually coming in late afternoon/evening and even the north facing walls dried quickly, so plenty of climbing was still possible. However, take note of the risk of flash flooding when in the gorges, in very heavy rain it can be a matter of minutes before narrow sections become impassable. In addition run-off from the plateau can bring down rock fall. We were there in the last week of October (the very end of the season) and had stable weather but it was very cold. On our penultimate day it dumped 4 inches of snow which marked the end of climbing for that year.
What gear to take
Either a pair of 60m double ropes or a 70m single and tag line. We took one 60m half rope and one 70m single sport rope which gave us more options. Take 16 draws and a couple of alpine style draws, which are also useful for the odd stray bolt. I’d a recommend using a stiff but comfortable pair of shoes. A small haul bag such as the Black Diamond Stubby or, my preferred choice, a low profile 18L rucksack such as DMM Zenith. A headtorch is essential and will almost definitely get used on both early approaches and late descents. A couple of spare Maillons for abseils. I’d also recommended taking out hand-warmers, water purification tablets, medicine for upset stomachs, a decent first aid kit, a good supply of energy bars and a good book. Although not essential, a few Cams (sized .5, .75, 1 and 2) may also come in handy on some routes.
Where to Stay
There are two established Gites in Taghia. Expect basic facilities but there is hot water and electricity. Breakfast is the same everyday bread and crepes with jam or cheese. Dinners are a rotation of Chicken Tagine, Lamb Tagine and Pasta, always proceeded by Cumin soup and followed by fruit. Before departing Marrakesh (find the big Carrefour) it is recommended that you buy extra food (treats to supplement the local dishes), plenty of energy bars, alcohol, toilet paper and basic medicine.
Said’s place: climbingtaghia.com
- 12 euros/ night which includes breakfast and dinner.
Youssef’s place: gite-aoujdad-taghia.com
- 14 Euro/night including breakfast and dinner.
Guides and Topos
Said’s Gite is home to several folders containing handwritten sketches and reports of all the routes. Rest days are usually entertained by exploring these fascinating journals of past climbers. There is also a great guidebook in the form of “Taghia Montagnes Berbères” by Christian Ravier (2008) which can only be bought direct from the author email@example.com The book, despite being in French and ten years old, is still useful. I would recommend photocopying the topos of routes you intend to try prior to travelling out.
General Morocco Beta
Foreigners to Morocco often suffer from varying degrees of stomach problems caused by bad food or water. It's really worth being extra cautious: “boil it, peel it or leave it”. Sterilise all tap water, even “drinkable” water from springs unless you are sponsored by Imodium. If you're planning on spending a while in Morocco it is worth bringing multivitamins as the diet can be rather repetitive.
Expect hassle in cities. People will try to sell you stuff you don't need for ridiculous prices. Keep a relaxed, friendly attitude and politely decline. Be sure to haggle on any purchase you do make, except food. People will try to rip you off at every opportunity. Although frustrating, they aren't necessarily being rude, it just seems to be the way things are. Always double check bills for miss calculations and extra items. Morocco is a cheap country - if you’re paying UK prices then it's probably too much.
- Belle et Berber 6b+ (300m): the warm up and close to the Gite.
- A boire ou je tu la chien 6c (250m): the long and gruelling approach is worth it, which says a lot.
- Canyon Apache 6c+ (280m) - Princess Msmrir 7a (150m): linked together makes for a quality full days climbing.
- Baraka7b/ 6c A0 (800m): Big approach, big route, big descent. Sustained climbing in the 6s with just the one hard pitch. Very popular.
- Zebda 7b+, Fat Guides 7b+, Sussro Berber 7b+ (300m): the trio of neighbouring shorter classics all start with an intense first pitch which is followed by superb sustained climbing on great rock.
- Rivieres Poupres 7b+ (600m): every pitch is world class. The Taghia must do. The route Alex Honnold Soloed as part of his training in Free Solo.
- Axe du Mal 7c+ (600m): the stunning face is by far the finest looking wall in Taghia. A superb challenge for those up to the task.