Words by : Susi Süßmeier
Photos : Susi Süßmeier & Babsi Vigl
A rooster crows in the distance, whilst a donkey’s bray carries over the wind, no cars as far as I can see and my mobile phone has been quiet since we landed in Marrakesh. Right at this moment I am standing on the clay roof of ‘Gite Aoujdad’, owned by Youssef, and I am thinking about the climbing options that today may bring.
We’re in Taghia, a small and remote Berber village near Zaouiat Ahnsal (Morocco). All around the village there are impressive red limestone walls. Compared to the Dolomites, this limestone is not as chossy and the climbing offered is varied in range. There are 6 to 20 pitches, the style ranges from well protected to trad.
After much deliberation we decide to go to ‘Paroi de Sources’ – the walls opposite the springs. This is one of the smaller walls – the routes have six to eight pitches and the approach is done within a 15 minutes’ walk from the village. Since you can repel the routes, it is an option for unstable weather conditions.
Next to some easier routes like ‘Rêve d’Aicha, 6a’ and ‘Belle et Berber, 6b+’ there are 3 superb routes with difficulties up to 7b+. This is exactly where we want to climb.
Unfortunately, the hardest pitch is the first one (7b+) on each route, some 7b and 7a pitches follow higher up on the route.
Since the classic route ‘Zebda’ is wet we go for ‘Fat Guide’. The climbing is technical and demanding but well secured with bolts. A traverse prevents us from getting pumped too early and we enjoy the climbing until the rain is starts after the 5th pitch.
Yellow soup, Cous Cous with Veggies or Tagine and Fruit Dessert
The next village is reached within 2 hours of walking, no streets are visible yet. The Berbers are currently working on building a new street and the excavators are already standing by in Tamdarote, another small village currently accessible by one hour on foot. I don’t think they’ll finish within the next couple of years.
Yesterday, a thunderstorm destroyed big parts of the road again – even the donkey’s couldn’t pass anymore…
Anything that the village cannot produce themselves has to be brought in from neighbouring towns and cities; as consequence everything is valuable here.
Every evening the menu is yellow soup followed by either Tagine – a traditional vegetable stew pot with goat or chicken, or couscous with vegetables and meat. For dessert, they have great tasting vegetables.
For the other meals, the locals eat flatbread with olive oil, pancakes or scrambled eggs with tomato and onion.
For us climbers, breakfast is always flatbread, jam, chocolate spread, honey and ‘la vache qui rit’, a French cream cheese.
Honestly, the food is really good; but you’ve to be lucky not a stomach bug while on the road. Babsi wasn’t lucky and had to stay in bed for two days, so I went for a walk on one day and rope-solo climbing on the other.
Back in The Game
The extraordinary thing about the climbing in Taghia are the solid, steep red limestone walls, that couldn’t be climbed without the hundreds of bolts. You find yourself climbing on jugs through overhangs, which eventually transition to technical slabs.
Often the rock looks too hard to climb from below, but once the rhythm kicks in, the moves all make sense, and you always find something to hold on to – it’s like the rock has been made for climbing.
One of those routes is ‘La Dernière Liberté’ (7b+), Oujdad, on the South West Face.
Some other ‘easier’ must-do’s are:
- ‘Canyon Appache’ (6c) & ‘Allumeur du rêve Berber’ (6b+) in Timrazine Canyon, 350m
- ‘Au nom de la réforme’ (6c) & ‘A boire ou je tue le chien’ (6c) at Taoujdad, 300m
For harder routes, above 7b+, the list of dream lines is endless – but 7b should be able to be climbed solidly. For those who climb even harder, you will be spoilt for choice…
- Timghazine, Paroi des Sources (~ 8 pitches):
- ‘Fat Guides’ – 7b
- ‘La Zebda’ – 7b
- ‘Susurro Berber’ – 7b
- ‘Rivières Pourpres’ – 7b+, 550m: steep climbing, sustained difficult – a real dream line from the chief Michel Piola.
Oujdad, South and South West Face:
- ‘Barakka’ – one length 7b, the rest 6a-6c, great climbing and the best: it’s a line to the summit!
- ‘La dernière Liberté’ – 7b+, varied steep climbing. Definitely a highlight! Sometimes you’ve to climb a bit far of the last bolt.
Tadrarate and Tagoujimt n’Tsouiant, both ca. 800m. Here there are some great routes, especially 7c and harder. For trad climbing lovers, ‘Rouge berber’ – a crack, chimney and corner climb up on Tadrarate, 7b, 650m, not protected apart from the belays.
Do It Yourself
With the drill, 40 bolts and many pegs from “Stubai” in our luggage, we dreamed of putting up a new route ourselves. Unfortunately our trip was only short and since Babsi got ill for two days, we settled with a little climbing and helping out the locals. They wished for a south-facing sport climbing area with easy routes for the children, and for tourist use. We had a great day with Youssef, Ahmend, Mohamed and Anne bolting the little spot they named “Asfal Naugni”. Its located 20 minutes uphill in a north western direction from the village.
How to Get There and Where to Stay
Take a flight to Marrakesh. From there, take a taxi; you can pre-book and either have it pick you up directly from the airport, or from your hotel, if you are staying in Marrakesh. The drive from Marrakesh, via Azilal to Zaouiat Ahnsal, takes roughly 5 hours, followed by 2 hours of walking with the donkeys (you walk, they carry the luggage) to Taghia.
There are several “gites” to stay in Taghia. I have been at the two larger ones over the last few years, there is little difference between the two, and I can recommend both. You can contact them via WhatsApp, Facebook or email and they organise the whole travel from the Airport to the village for you!
www.climbingtaghia.com : A bit further down the village (closer to the rocks), very good food, the only one who has ALL the climbing Topos, and no annoying flies.
http://www.gite-aoujdad-taghia.com/ : A bit higher up in the village with perfect views of the walls, more cosy places to sit together. Youssef and a few other family members can speak French.
Prices 2018 : 14€ Sleep and Eat per night, 30€ for the donkey (carries your luggage to the village and 220 € for the Taxi transfer (includes both ways Marrakesh <-> Zaouiat Ahnsal).
There is a guide book from Christian Ravier, 2019 and you can contact him via email : http://www.christian-ravier.com/topotaghia.html
Each of the Gites provide a lot of Topos copied from the guide books, as well as information about the new routes that were put up. For the full overview of routes see the folders at Said’s place.
What to Take
A lot of quick draws (~18, also some “runners”) and depending on your plans also trad gear.
We also brought a few cams, depending on how much above the given grade we were comfortable to climb. A Haulbag or a solid backpack to pull behind you works good due to the often steep rock!
For ropes we brought a pair of half ropes, 60m (some routes have pitches of up to 55m!) and a Kevlar rope for the little haulbag. We also brought, as spare rope, a thin single rope.
Best Time to Visit
Spring and autumn. Climbers come from mid-september to the end of October. During the first period it can be too warm for the south faces, but that’s not predictable. For the shade, a primaloft jacket may be good at the same time. The village is located at 1900m, the walls reach close to 3000m…
Spring, mid/end of April until the end of May is the time to go. When I’ve been there, there were mostly just short periods of rain and the walls dried quickly enough that in most cases you could carry on climbing after a short while.
- The locals are ‘Berbers’ and they have their own language. Besides Arabic, they speak little French and some English words.
- The water which doesn’t come from a direct source should always be purified.
- There is no WiFi or network coverage in the local area. Some locals do use social media so there is the possibility of limited coverage. At Youssef’s, family members checked the weather forecast if we asked.
- Shopping: There is a little kiosk in the village that supplies some snacks, so it’s best to ask the taxi driver when coming from the airport to stop by a supermarket in Marrakesh. We recommend you also buy some toilet paper and soap.
- The people in the village do not have a lot of luxuries or the possibility to buy foreign things; they are always happy to receive old climbing gear.
Bahia Women’s Vest
A close fitting crop top for total freedom of movement on all-out, on-sight attempts.
Cala Women’s Legging
Soft and stretchy leggings for total mobility and comfort during long training sessions.