This story starts on the beautiful road from Tafraout, through Tagmout, up into the Anti-Atlas via the Dwaj hairpins to the Afantizar valley. We had packed up and left the Auberge Djebel Rose and spent the morning in Tafraout, ‘haggling’ for carpets with Mohammed and Lochran. After our tourist/town experience, which was a lot of fun albeit a little stressful, neither of us really havingthe ‘haggle’ gene, we headed for the hills.
The roads are breathtaking and even journeying through Tagmout a second time you cannot help but stop and exclaim as you climb the mountains and look back over the Ameln valley, driving along the ridge edge roadway. At first it feels as if you cannot gain further height, but the road to Tagzene, once you have descended from the ridge rises again, up through the villages of Dwaj and Amzkhsane and over the mountain pass to the Afantizar. Here you are on single track, the edges rough and the gravel a short distance from an all too steep descent back to the valley base. As you go over the mountain ridge the crag edges rise up around you and the valley edges become gentler, green and lush, lined with steep terraced banks of herbs and grasses.
The named ‘parking’ sites on the guidebook map were unsurprisingly iffy, slight curves in the road where the gravel was a little deeper, but where it would be unlikely that the tyres of our hard worked Punto would survive. To be fair it is clear that considerable building has taken place recently – photographs in the guidebook show houses that were barely built, now finished with walls and extensions.
We did find a grassy bank near the Anamer Crage where we stopped for lunch and then an afternoon climb. I was feeling tired and a little nauseous from to much sun, so should have said no from the outset to the suggestions of leading a long but easy route. However I felt the need to push myself so racked up with all of the gear (50m is a long way up) and set up the base of Mitranan, a scraggy looking HVD corner.
This is a grade easier than I normally climb and the climbing was easy. As expected there was little gear; I was able to place 10 or 11 pieces of protection, most of it in pairs, over the 50m climb, which gives you an indication of the gaps – I normally like enough to have something in around every 2 or 3 meters. Unfortunately I was not in a good head space and didn’t really trust the rock, the subsequent rather panicked rope work meant I had ropes jammed in cracks and dragging round corners. At 47m of rope drag with runouts (distances over which I had no protection) of 6-7m I was relieved to have nearly reached the top. The corner had decreased to the point where the two sides met creating small ledges above the drop and I was moving across to the right. I paused to place a cam in a rather dubious crack purely as I was changing direction and my previous piece of gear was well below my feet. I had both hands on good holds and I must have pushed down to step across, when the rock collapsed beneath me.
Kane says that the ropes did not go taught as the football sized rock made its descent towards him. This suggests that I did actually lock off on both arms rather than fall on the one rather unpleasant piece of gear I had in front of me – which is probably a good thing. I have no idea if I shrieked, Kane couldn’t hear me over the sound of the descending lump which terrifyingly on a direct collision course at first, struck the side of the corner and shot past remarkably and thankfully missing both him and the ropes.
I had to set up belay and haul up 50m of rope drag so I was just exhausted when Kane made it up behind me. I don’t really remember the descent down to the car but the drive onwards was punctuated by a hitchhiker we met as we packed up, the Amzkhasen hairpins, the Ida Ougnidif waterfall and the arrival at the Kasbah Tizourgane – the beautiful medival fortified village that was to be our home for the next three days. All these things kept my focus on the present and the shock didn’t really become evident until the next day.
Later in the week I had an interesting conversation with another climber at the Kasbah, one of the rock ‘dignitary’ I shall introduce later. He asked what we were climbing and I described some of the routes and said it was our first time in Morocco so we were enjoying ourselves on the less serious crags. He shook his head and said ‘don’t believe it, everything here is serious – whether you are on a 6 pitch route, an E1 or an HVD’. The terrain, the environment, the climbs and the rock. If you fall it doesn’t matter whether you fall off a Diff or an E3, the result is the same and you’re looking at your rescue team – they’re on the other end of the rope.’
I have always been lucky with my climbing partners, they are the most wonderful of people for whom I have the greatest respect. Even then; climbing outdoors, trad climbing and climbing somewhere like Morocco? I can in fact name three people who I would have been happy and able to have made this trip with, I am here with one of them, that is why I am still climbing.