And so we finished our climbing adventure in Sidi M’zal at the Cirque du Soleil sector of the Tizi Gzaouine Crag: where we had first started. My wish to multipitch being superseded by looking at and deciding to do something that was just going to be more fun. We had climbed for six days straight, my confidence needed a boost, both of us actually wanted to climb something harder technically rather than easy and long, and Steve and Clare were already on the one route I had pinned down early own as my ‘really want it’ which made the decision much easier. That and the fact that the Sidi M’zal crags are utterly beautiful, set amidst fields of grasses and wildflowers with the rising mountains behind.
It was the right call, we were enveloped in a light haze of Saharan dust for most of the day which whilst fine to climb in was eerie and would have freaked me out on multipitch as it created clouds I had no reference for. I have lived for to many years in London and grew up in the Brecon Beacons so have knowledge of a wide range of smog and weather conditions respectively – this odd dry wind however was completely unfamiliar.
We started with a fabulous MVS (harder than Very Severe but not as hard as Hard Very Severe?? I’m not convinced this is a real or necessary grade but your opinions would be very welcome!)
About which I knew there were going to be some interesting moves due to a considerable pause in proceedings.
A pause that is long enough to consider asking if your climber is okay, when you can’t see them and are relying on the movement of the ropes to tell, is in my experience around the 10minute mark for HVS. Any less than this and you are interrupting mid ‘ I’ve totally got this / not got this’ thought process. Much longer and they’re either too pumped to move and swearing, or they’re frozen on a rest just below a horrible or entirely unknown move and you’re probably going to freeze as well as they’re not going anywhere any time soon so you better have easy access to / are already wearing your belay jacket.
I hadn’t yelled and as the ropes moved up there was a whoop followed by giggling. It was definitely going to be a horrible move.
It was. You are inside the corner groove with a large flake of rock above coming into the centre of the groove which you have to surmount.There is a beautiful handhold at the back left of the flake deep into the groove, with your left hand firm place a very high right foot (nearly level with your left hand but 3 feet forwards) onto the outside edge of flake where there is a one inch triangular foot ‘ledge’. Get your right hand as high as possible, layback, left leg flagging out behind (or if you can Eygyptian it against the rock behind you), pull up, out and round (don’t forget to let go with your left hand) and move your right hand high up to the block that is 2-3ft higher than you can reach from your initial position.
I mucked up my footwork, lost my balance (barndooring out into space) and ended up swinging in my harness at the bottom of the flake.
Other than a bloody thumb, scraped rather than injured, I got to the top unharmed and happy that, although I fell I was safe and I knew exactly what I’d done wrong. Poor footwork due to sloppy focus, mostly due to being afraid of the move and not trusting my balance.
This actually put me in a better frame of mind to lead a rather daft Hard Severe which was about 12m of scrambling followed by 5m of climbing with gear followed by 3m of climbing a pretty blank wall – no gear but nice, solid, positive holds.
Kane led a further route – again a decent length, challenging and interesting – this one I got up cleanly if with a little bit of swearing. The main difficulty was having to stop so I didn’t get blown off the wall by the wind! It was time to go home.
Home for the night was the Kasbah and it was lovely to share stories with the climbing cadre who had thankfully been spared the dust storm. We listened to tales of Dragon Ridge and Sisters of Mercy and made plans for our return (I have a beautiful flake climb at Cirque that I’m dying to complete and then there are years worth of mountain routes to tackle.)
On Saturday we took the slow road back to Marrakesh, dawdling our way back across country via towns and interesting markets for olives, dates and jujuba berries, to drop the car at the airport and take a taxi to the Riad Sun of Kech. This was the beautiful home of Chiara and Hachim who, considering we were only staying for the night, could not have been more helpful or welcoming. We ended our day at Dar Zelj, our one expensive night out (and only beer of the fortnight) a beautiful Riad Restaurant with Orange trees growing in the courtyard and a lute quietly accompanying the French style dining with Moroccan cuisine – quite the most fabulous flavours I have tasted and worth every penny for the experience.
The next day we were to move to one last spot after a very lazy morning on Chiara and Hachims terrace being served Italian coffee and hunting for the tiny turtle Sun.
We were guided, after a quick inquiring phone call from Hachim – something else I have to thank him for, by Rachid to Riad Jawhar where we would spend the rest of the holiday with my family. Our only job for the day was to cater for their arrival in the evening; obtaining half our food through bartering in the veg souk supplemented by a quick supermarket trip. Kane prepared (with a bit of help in regards spices) our best attempt at a Veg Tagine with Berber Bread.
Kane was staying until Tuesday but I would be in Marrakesh, exploring Souks, discovering gardens, eating Tajine and Tajia until the following Saturday, with four generations; from 1.1yrs to 88yrs. But there I really must end of this particular tale for that is a different sort of adventure entirely….