A Return to the Anti-Atlas - April 2007
"Long, dark drives through African back-country, shimmering orange walls sweltering in the Saharan sun, and memories of Berber children gazing up at our unfamiliar antics were still fresh in my mind. Indeed, I was as surprised as anyone when I promptly agreed to cancel my annual pilgrimage to Skye in favour of another week in the Moroccan Anti-Atlas.
The Quartzite was calling, and this time we knew what we were doing... or so we thought."
Keen to avoid another overnight drive and 8am arrival, we planned our journey to arrive in Tafraoute on Friday evening, ready for an un-interrupted week of climbing. Moroccan ways, however, were to play their part, so we phoned the hotel to inform them that our arrival would be delayed until after their closing time.
After one very small 'crash' and anticipated credit card refusal, we made it to the Hotel Les Amandiers in Tafraoute with only slightly less sterling notes than we had started with. The dark mountain roads felt very familiar.
We awoke to sunlight, streaming in to the bare hotel room. The day was warming up, and we were eager to return to the wonderful cragging at Anammer. Feeling rather out-of-practise at climbing, we set our sights quite low, but by lunch time we were back into it. Reassuring protection, perfect friction, and glorious positive holds took us up line after line, and we returned to the hotel with twelve new pitches under our belts.
After that, days came and days went. We cancelled our scheduled 'rest-day' because there was simply too much climbing to be done. 11 hour climbing days left little time for much else, but rounding off each with a few beers in the Amandiers bar gave us chance to get to know some of the local staff, and pick up some basic words of Berber.
Katja warming up on 'Jingle Ridge' (Diff)
This four pitch scramble was the first route of the trip, helping us to get used to Quartzite climbing again, and also setting our eyes to the nearby Ksar Rock.
Seconding the first ascent of 'Isuzu' (E1 5a)
There's always a danger of things being a little bit harder than you expect when setting off unclimbed rock. Fortunately the wall of 'Isuzu' was short enough not to be a deterrent on day one! We named the route after an amusing van that spent about 2 hours trying to run us off the road the previous day.
Getting steep on 'Radcliffe Corner' (E1 5c)
The big obvious corner in the middle of Anammer Crags just had to be climbed, but our first look in February revealed the need for big cams... and lots of them! This time we went armed with the appropriate gear, and made the ascent above the curious gaze of two local boys.
Katja on the first ascent of the brilliant 'Iziki' (HS 4b)
Despite all the cragging we'd done at Anammer, it wasn't surprising that we'd find whole new walls to have a go at. 'Iziki' was named after one of the staff in the Amandiers Hotel who we spent many evenings chatting with in English, French, and Berber!
The huge wall of 'Lower Eagle Crag', Afantinzar
This thousand-foot vertical rockface captured our imagination when we first set eyes on it two months ago. At the time it was unnamed and unclimbed, but we ran out of time and courage to tackle it. By the time we returned in April, teams led by Ben Winteringham and Chris Bonington had put up several routes. We added the 8-pitch 'Way of the Carpet Seller' (Severe) up the nose at the left, though we suspect it may share ground with the Bonington Route.
Morning light on the 'Douwalous Towers'
Despite their position on the main Agadir to Tafraoute road, these three towers were all unclimbed and unnamed. With only a hand-painted arabic signpost for reference, we named the summits the 'Douwalous Towers' after what we believe the nearby village to be called. Although this was only supposed to be a recce day, we couldn't resist carrying the climbing gear up the slopes to the foot of the towers... just in case! By mid-afternoon we had topped out from the first ascent of the 7 pitch 'North Tower Original' (VS 4c), following the left arete of the right hand tower.
The wonderful 'Ksar Rock', Anammer.
It was this view of Ksar Rock that had first drawn us to the cragging at Anammer in February. However, we didn't actually get round to climbing on the Rock's amazing South Face until the final two days of this trip, when we realized what we had been missing. We subsequently named the crag Ksar Rock (meaning Castle Rock) after our favourite Moroccan wine, as well as the tower's appearance of course!
First ascent of 'Desert Man' (HS 4a)
After picking out our first assualt line of the South Face, we simply couldn't resist the amazing line of holds leading out up the steep wall to our left. So we abandoned our chosen line and headed off into the unknown, creating the incredible low-grade gem of 'Desert Man' - named after a Touareg carpet-seller in the hotel, who informed that he was "Desert Man!" Amazingly it actually rained during our ascent, and was cold enough to warrant thermal underwear.
First ascent of 'Marmalade Crack' (MVS 4b)
You don't find many jamming cracks on Quartzite, so when we came across this one four pitches up Ksar Rock, we headed straight for it. To our surprise, however, it turned out not to be a jam crack after all, and had some lovely bridging moves.
First ascent of 'Castles in the Sky' (E2 5c)
After spotting a tempting narrow chimney from the road we set off with the intention to climb it. Five pitches up the face, however, we realised that the brutal smooth offwidth chimney was far too strenuous and bold for mortals like ourselves, and headed instead for deceptive cracks and flakes up the right wall. Overhanging all the way, this wild pitch was by far the hardest of the trip, leaving us both bruised, drained, and bleeding!
'Cannon Buttress Direct' (E1 5b)
Descending from our first route up the awesome Cannon Tower on Ksar Rock we spied a commanding crack-line running directly up the front face. The following day we battled our way up the 120ft wall as our final addition to the crag for this trip.