Approaching the Multiple Pillars of Pleasure

October 2015 saw the first Alpine Club meet in the Moroccan Anti-Atlas. The group was based at the Kasbah Tizourgane. Climbing took place in the region north of Jebel el Kest near Ida Ougnidif and in the Afantinzar and Samazar Valleys.  This is a stupendous area, with huge potential for adventurous climbing and numerous well documented climbs on a variety of crags.

The area was first ‘discovered’ by Trevor Jones and Les Brown in the early 90s, and has now been developed considerably, thanks to both the original Cicerone guidebook, an excellent new guide by Emma Alsford & Paul Donnithorne, and several volumes from the Oxford Alpine Club.

Kasbah Tizourgane

The group was based at the Kasbah Tizourgane, where Jamal and Malika proved to be excellent hosts. Some members had been before, others were new to the area and knowledge was shared with climbing taking place in the region north of Jebel el Kest near Ida Ougnidif and in the Afantinzar and Samazar Valleys.

A local annual festival gave us a glimpse of the local people in full throng. Friendly and keen to communicate, they were always helpful and curious about what were up to. Refreshingly for those with experience of the larger Moroccan cities there was no hassling of tourists. The first challenge of the day involved some 'interesting' driving, then some members went for long mountain routes, often with quite a walk in, whereas others opted for crags closer to the road in less remote surroundings..

As for the climbing itself, the magnificent (and magnificently named) Multiple Pillars of Pleasure was particularly enjoyed by Max, Nick and Alison, recognizing the quality of a vintage Bonington mountaineering route. The final groove pitch was fierce and brilliantly led by Max, providing a fine finish. The walk down from this route was a highlight.

Nigel and Pamela had some fun struggling with rope drag caused by a ‘chicken heads’ on the otherwise enjoyable Alabama buttress. Nigel also recounts how he practised his down-climbing skills when his gear ran out. They found Southern Star exhilarating on the well-named Orange Wall when their rope got caught after an abseil.

Pink Lady conquered. Nicholas Hurndall Smith and Alison Stockwell. Ksar Rock behind.

The Pink Lady at Lower Eagle succumbed to several ascents, offering her secrets up in spite of fearsome words of warning in the Kasbah’s feedback booklet. Crazy Mushrooms Ridge and Ruby Groove are other well-starred routes, which didn’t disappoint. Auld Lang Syne was also a favourite with some welcome shade, which most parties tackled, though none seemed tempted to break into song - perhaps the lyrics had been forgot. Sue and Lindsay tackled an array of routes from the excellent Wild Country and Isis/Osiris at Adrar Asmit to the Dragon Ridge. Their eyes were always drawn to the next crag with dreams of potential exploration on future meets. Climbing prolifically too, John and Maggie were drawn in particular by the Dwawj Slabs. They teamed up with Alison for the enjoyable Tiptoe to Heaven, and at the slabs for an attempt on Tales of a Serpent, but found it to be distinctly lacking in gear and, eventually, after trying numerous approaches, abseiled off. John also particularly enjoyed the Wizards Sleeve in the Tagzene gorge.

Max Streeton on Auld Lang Syne

The group’s ambitions may have been tempered by the remoteness of the area, there are no helicopters. Any rescue scenario would best be dealt with within the group. Fortunately only one dramatic leader fall was recorded.

Ksar Rock was a favoured venue for most of us, with a short approach. It has a friendly feel and a plethora of mid-grade routes starting from terraces just above the village of Anammer. Lady X, Sahara and Paladin all proved to be routes worth their three stars.

The group took a day off on the South side of Jebel el Kest, in Tafraout, enjoying some shopping in the market, a ridge scramble with fabulous views, and then some relaxation in the swimming pool, not to mention a rare beer at the Hotel des Amandiers. It was here that the pioneers first came to stay.

Most evenings the group enjoyed a hearty tagine and mused on the day’s activities. It was comforting to think we were enjoying cloudless skies whilst back home autumn was beginning to set in although it did try to rain on one occasion.

All agreed that this is a stupendous area, with huge potential for adventurous climbing, but also numerous well documented climbs on a variety of crags. The orange quartzite is grippy and solid, on the whole, and with good protection. One really can climb for days here without a cloud in the sky, and there is plenty to go at in all grades. Hopefully the AC will be back soon… Insha'Allah!

The meet was proposed by Lindsay Griffin and coordinated by Nicholas Hurndall Smith with the help of Pamela Holt.

A full report will appear in the next newsletter.

Nicholas Hurndall Smith