Quartzite is a unique climbing medium, producing extremely satisfying low to mid grade routes with excellent holds, good protection, large stances and steep pitches. Many of the buttresses appear either difficult or unattractive from the road, but on closer inspection reveal solid rock with some surprisingly easy routes. Having said that, the Anti-Atlas is not a suitable place for groups of novice climbers.
Most of the routes here do not require a high level of skill, strength, or fitness ? instead they advocate careful movement, thoughtful protection, and plenty of big-route experience. This is adventure trad-climbing at its very best, where skilful route-finding, prudence, yet a confident approach will be rewarded with some incredible climbing.
Less experienced parties are advised to choose their initial routes with care, as the comfortable atmosphere of Quartzite climbing can often mask the seriousness of many of the longer routes. The quality of the quartzite varies from immaculate to dangerous, and unless care is taken it is possible to stray quickly onto worryingly unstable ground. On the majority of faces, however, the rock is amazingly sound, and almost always better than it looks from below. In general, it is only the very pale-orange rock that crumbles, but care should always be taken with large blocks, which could be loose in any situation. Much of the climbing is up steep pitches on excellent positive jugs ? how they remain attached is a mystery, but the Quartzite always seems to be stronger and more solid than you?d expect.
As well as a tendency to form such positive hand holds, one of the most surprising features of Quartzite is its excellent friction, which is as counter intuitive as it is helpful. As ever, the Quartzite will reward trust and confidence.
Protection is usually good, but can be rather well-spaced. The rock seems particularly suited to camming devices, and a good selection throughout the size range is advised, including plenty of smaller sizes. A set of nuts, a few medium to large hexes, and plenty of slings will complete a suitable Quartzite rack.
The Main Quartzite Climbing Areas
The Ameln Valley
Otherwise referred to as 'the South Side' of Jebel el Kest, the tremendous sweep of south-facing crags overlooking the Ameln Valley was the first rock in the Anti-Atlas to see any attention from western climbers. It was described for the first time in the Cicerone guide Climbing in the Moroccan Anti-Atlas by Claude Davies, and remains a popular climbing area, easily accessible from Tafraout.
There has been a steady stream of visitors to the valley since the Cicerone guidebook was published, but whilst new routes have continued to be reported, this area did not see anywhere near the explosion in exploration that occured on the north-side during the last 5 years. Up to date route information has, until now, been difficult to come by, but the new Tafraout Guide (due for publication in 2013) will describe almost 700 routes here, including Tafraout classics such as The White Tower and Tizgut Crack - at long last giving them the attention they deserve.
The Eastern escarpment of the Jebel el Kest Massif forms the west side of a significant fault-line running from Tizi N'Tarakatine in the South all the way to Ait Baha in the North. This fault marks the eastern extent of the surface Quartzite, being overlaid to the west by strata of horribly crumbly Limestone, which whilst being of interest to ancient civilisation (a number of cave dwellings are evident) it has nothing to offer the climber. Unfortunately the Quartzite along this fault also suffers from increased shattering and loose rock is evident on many of the outcrops. Despite this fact, however, Sidi M'Zal is overlooked by some very impressive crags and the whole escarpment provides a tremendous vista when bathed in the early-morning sun.
The thriving settlement of Idaougnidif (or correctly El Khemis Ida Ougnidif) sits quietly off the main Agadir to Tafraoute road between Tizourgane and Madao (or Madaw), where a sporadic stream flows into the lowlands from the Amzkhssan Gorge. This picturesque village is at its best in the winter and early spring, when the run-off from the gorge provides for a colourful selection of grasses, flowers, and blossoms. Perhaps more importantly for the climber, Idaougnidif lies at the start of the newly constructed Afantinzar Road which runs westward from here to Tanalt, providing access to most of the climbing in this book.
Several short roadside crags provide passing interest to the climber, but the area's speciality is the concentration of superb rocky summits to the south of Amzkhssan, where those willing to endure some stiff walk-ins are treated to delightful multi-pitch climbs topping out on mountain summits. The rock is clean and solid, and the remote setting amongst the high pastures is nothing short of idyllic, with high-quality routes spanning the full spectrum of grades.
The beautiful high valley of Afantinzar provides the main east to west access route between Idaougnidif and Tanalt, and is a rock-climbing paradise. There is everything here from single pitch crag routes on immaculate rock, to big full-day adventures in a remote setting. Most of the walk-ins are short, and there's a good mixture of north and south-facing crags to suit most tastes and conditions. Afantinzar is particularly suited to lower-grade climbers, who will find plenty to go at both on the big north-facing walls and particularly on the superb south-facing crags at Anammer. The area is reached in about 1:15hrs from Tafraoute via Idaougnidif.
To the north of Afantinzar, and running parallel to it, is the even more important valley of Samazar, with its awe-inspiring north-facing walls and superb summits. This is the place to head for the longest and most adventurous routes in the range, all of which are accessed by amazingly short walk-ins. There is also a large amount of multi-pitch cragging on good quality rock, though the atmosphere here is always one of seriousness and commitment, and there is little to offer the novice climber. The valley is reached in about 1:15hrs - 1:30hrs from Tafraoute, either via Idaougnidif or Tanalt.
Tanalt & Tagzene
Up above Afantinzar, the hanging Tagzene valley is the highest in the range, and amongst large amounts of unattractive rock are a handful of isolated crags that are well-worth a visit. To the west, the western flank of the massif drops steeply down past the ancient town of Tanalt to the ever-flowing waters of the Amaghouz Gorge. The sun-drenched outcrops here tend to see the best of the weather, making it a good place to head when conditions on higher crags are not favourable. Above Tagmout a number of huge, crumbling crags tower high above the well-populated slopes, but these are reported to be both unpleasantly loose, and unpleasantly far from the road! Instead, this rather esoteric region has now become a popular cragging destination, with the development of the Dwawj Slabs and more recently the roadside Robin Hood Rocks.
Tizi N'Takoucht and Jebel Taskra
To the north of Jebel el Kest lies the extensive massif of Jebel Taskra, with the Takoucht Escarpment running along its north-eastern front. This climbing area is best accessed from Tizourgane or Ait Baha, and climbing here is still very much in its infancy. The highlight of this otherwise under-developed region is the mighty buttress of Assledrar, which was one of the first to be climbed, and holds some of thebiggest and most difficult trad routes of the Anti-Atlas.