Rock and The Kasbah

The Kasbah Tizourgane is beautiful and clearly addictive. We were the only first timers staying and most of the company we met had been staying there for years. It is more expensive than other local options, but the comfort, beauty, food and convenience more than make up the difference.
We paid for half board which meant that as well as a cooked breakfast we were arriving home to a three course dinner every night. The meal was whatever our hostess Malika happened to be cooking; no good for the foolish fussy but no problem for those with dietary requirements as she happily catered for vegetarian and gluten free – one of our dining companions being baked her own fresh bread loaf every morning. My descriptions won’t do it justice and will take to long if I try and meander you verbally through the Kasbah – so here are some pictures for a taster instead.

The dining room and terrace on the roof of the Kasbah are one of the more recent parts of the build / restoration of the fortified village. It has spectacular views and is also where we met a cadre of climbers – the first we had met in the week. It is perhaps the nature of this group that gives the best indication of the nature of the climbing in the Anti-Atlas. Ladies from the Pinnacle club (; a foursome who had met as outdoor instructors from Windemere (now retired) who sat by us for our first dinner and filled us in with loads of top tips (tip one: that massive dish of couscous is actually your starter); a group from the CC (The Climbers Club) and two professional climbers Tony and Sarah, in their sixties.
At 30 and 34 we were the youngest by around 20 years and by far the least experienced although not by as much. Climbing really does seem to be the great leveler, male to female, young to old. There is regular commentary amongst my peer group that ‘not starting earlier’, ‘not recovering fast enough any more’ etc. are limits to ability; something disputed by the entourage at large. A beautiful lady – announcing that she was in her early 50’s said she started at 36, was climbing E2 and intended on hitting E3 later this year. John conceded that, now in his 70’s his recovery rates had reduced and he couldn’t train like he used to, but lowering his average (note – average…) to VS/HVS hadn’t made his climbing any less enjoyable (VS is currently the very hardest I have led)… The general consensus seemed to be that whilst there were more things to think about and less things you could ‘get away with’ there was nothing that could actually stop you. I’ll be damn proud if I’m still climbing VS multipitch in Morocco in my seventies.
The dining cadre were the climbing dignitary, trad to the core. Many used climbing gyms and some were 6b+/7a on sport outdoors, but these were seen as training ground for the real stuff.
Evenings were a delight, listening to old tales, tall tales and new advise about routes, food, walks and adventures. Breakfasts were early, planning for the day and ensuring unlikely competition for routes was avoided whilst making last minute suggestions based on the weather. Car sharing, food and plans were expertly organised and nearly all were on the road by 8.30/9am which, considering breakfast is served at 8am is at least one skill I and my friends still have to achieve!
By nature climbers seem to be easy company, there is an outdoor mentality that brings people together and the community is not very large, so if you’ve been around long enough you will have friends in common. And if you didn’t you will by the next trip. As the enthusiastic listener I was regaled by Tony’s tales of climbers past and present, life as a full time adventurer, information in regards the comparative nature of the more serious of climbing locations and the skill of his wife Sarah (@tonyandsarah). It is an odd conversation when the walls and people discussed are those you’ve read about in magazines. More fascinating for me was the advice and guidance from our 4 dining companions (Steve, John, Sharon and Clare) and the ladies from the Pinnacle club. Not because of a lack of interest in the climbing glitterati (gritterati? – sorry to far?) But because here were real people, like us, with families and jobs and stuff, who climbed because it was a way of life and they loved it.
Listening to John and Sharon talk about their daughter Tilly, how she will jump on a plane to disrupt / join their climbing exploits, sharing tales about teaching, comparing training activties – Steve piping up that he really ought to have a go at this training lark…
And their response to my fall.
Terrifying; so easy; isn’t it odd how some easier climbing is often more dangerous than the harder climbing; so what’s the plan for tomorrow?
Yes it is dangerous, of course it is, but so is crossing a road, and so you carry on.

I had longed to do one of the more accessible multipitch routes in Samazar valley and we had thought about Thursday as a good day for it, but I needed to be confident I could lead HS (which I can) so Kane wouldn’t be leading the whole route (which he would have been perfectly fine doing and probably enjoyed). So another single pitch crag day was planned with a possible multipitch on Friday.
It was a glorious day and the Col Crags were beautiful; four ridges high up the pass, one behind the other, on which climbs are long and meandering. I looked up at the beautiful, compact quartzite and I crumpled. Kane led a 55m warm up route, a severe with easy but interesting climbing. When I reached the top he asked me about the strange crystal features in the rock, gear placements, the ridiculously noisy donkey: I couldn’t recall any of it. I was completely blinkered. At no point was there a move I struggled with or an uncomfortable position, but I had seen and heard nothing beyond my two hands and the rock in front of me, testing every piece of rock, every handhold to see if the rock would come loose. I could have wept.
I didn’t. Kane waited as I took a break, running and scrambling back down to our bags so we could move straight on to the next climb, a VS called ‘just like that’ on the ‘Tommy Cooper’ Crag (seriously?!)
Avoiding the Prickley Pears and drops behind boulders, finding paths between the Euphorbia and the hot smell of thyme and lavender, I was able to relax, recognise the delayed shock for what it was and enjoy the next climb. Which was delightful except for having to split it into two pitches due to a corner and the ropes getting wedged (some interesting ropework and belaying involved to get us out of that one).

Oh and the ‘step left’ in the guidebook which we suspect is how the route got its name. I can just imagine the conversation – it goes along the lines of:
“How the hell do I do this?!” The ‘oh god I’m on the edge yell of every terrified leader or second unclear of how the hell they are meant to get any higher.
“Just step left!” The totally unhelpful remark of belayer – either having previously led it and being a git or belaying from below and looking at the ledge from entirely the wrong angle
“What the hell?! Whadoyou mean ‘step left’?! Oh god! Aaargh!” Pulls oneself out, underneath a ledge, clinging on in a layback undercling kind of way with both hands whilst trying to throw a leg out sideways in what you couldn’t give a damn whether or not it looks graceful is basically a desperate leap left.
“Just like that!” Aforesaid belayer
” I hate you” appropriate response

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