Tafraout: Climbing in Morocco's Anti-Atlas
Nestled amongst the strangely beautiful granite tors on the south side of Morocco's Anti-Atlas mountains, the oasis town of Tafraoute is fast becoming a mecca for trad-climbers in search of easily accessible adventure-climbing. Since the major low-cost airlines opened up scheduled services to Agadir, and the Moroccan authorities conveniently constructed a road through the great climbing valley of Afantinzar, this place has become a unique trad destination, where climbers from as far afield as Russia, the US and across Europe have been flocking in increasing numbers.
The individual attributes that add to Tafraoute's appeal may not be unique: the adventurous climbing, a wide variety of routes and grades, the short walk-ins, the spectacular scenery, an enchanting culture, the endless rock walls, and the perfect weather. But what makes the Anti-Atlas so special is the combination of these things, and the fact that unlike most other winter sun destinations, Jebel el Kest is all about the trad. In fact, in terms of the style of climbing, the quartzite of Jebel el Kest is about as close as you can get typical British multi-pitching, but on much bigger walls, and with warm sunshine throughout the winter. It's no wonder that British climbing legends Joe Brown, Derek Walker, Chris Bonington, and others, have made this place their regular haunt throughout the last twenty years. Their legacy is evident across the range: head to Tizgut Gorge, in the Ameln Valley, and you'll find a route that is in every way comparable to Cenotaph Corner, but on Joe Brown's Tizgut Crack (E1/2 5b) there's no polish, no other climbers, and you can probably count the number of wet days each year on the fingers of one hand.
There are routes like this throughout the massif, characterised by short approaches and superb steep climbing up cracks and walls. Ksar Rock, on the north side of the range, was unclimbed in 2007, but today holds more than 75 climbs of superb quality, right above a remote little Berber village. This is the kind of place where villagers, fascinated by this recent influx of western climbers, will bring a picnic of couscous up to the crag or invite you in to their homes for dinner at the end of the day. Towering above their ancient houses, four-star routes abound. If you like wide cracks then Kingpin (HVS) and Cannon Crack (E1) are unmissable struggles, as good as anything similar back home, or anywhere else for that matter. VS climbers will be in their element, ticking off a selection of unlikely-looking climbs on delightful solid quartzite, with big holds and solid gear to reassure. Sahara (VS), Jedi Groove (HVS), Paladin (VS), The Colour of Money (VS); the list goes on, and you'll probably find yourself climbing well into the evening, soaking up Saharan sunshine as the frequent calls to prayer echo around the rocky valley: the only thing to mark the passage of time in this place of timeless beauty. Just up the road, at neighbouring Anammer Crags, more than 100 single-pitch climbs offer a perfect rest-day from bigger things, and at least 70 of them are Hard Severe or below. Rest days here frequently turn into unplanned marathon days on the rock.
There's so much good cragging here, right by the roadside, that it can be hard to tear yourself away. But that you must, because the bigger multi-pitch climbs are what this place does best; and there are plenty of them to go at. Adrar Asmit is Tafraout's answer to Tryfan, though if you're looking for a mountain route in the rain then you've come to the wrong place. The handful of V.Diff and Severe routes up the northwest face are nothing short of delightful, set in stunning mountain solitude and topping out on a summit at 2000m above sea-level, from where the views are breathtaking: on a clear day you can see all the way across the brown rolling landscape to the Atlas mountains and Jebel Toubkal, 200km to the east. Climbing high-quality easy routes like this, under a sapphire blue sky, is a privilege reserved for only a handful of climbing destinations, and very few of those are as easily accessible as Tafraout's Anti-Atlas.
The climbing here tends to involve jagged cracks and big holds. Faces are often clean and exposed, but good rest ledges abound so even the steeper routes don't feel too much like hard work. It's the kind of rock that both encourages and rewards a positive approach, and grade-pushing is not uncommon. Climbers who are operating at VS or HVS on British crags will find it hard not to be inspired to tackle some of the longer classics of the range, despite the apparent commitment: routes such as the roadside 800m Labyrinth Ridge (AD VS 5a A0), which at 23 pitches is always going to give you a long day out (even if most of it is fairly easy). The same can be said of Aylim's Central Buttress, the 475m, 12 pitch mega-route that fires straight up the east face of one of the region's biggest crags. Variations allow the route to be climbed at VS or E1, but such is the nature of quartzite that you'll be tempted to strike off up the E1 crux crack, with 1500ft of air beneath your feet, even if that's the limit of your grade.
In total about 2200 routes have been recorded on Jebel el Kest over the last 20 years, with the majority of them spread between Severe and E2. There are climbs here to suit most tastes and abilities, with everything from 8m roadside crag routes to 800m ridge lines, which provides for a pleasantly varied climbing holiday. Tafraoute itself is a wonderful little market town, full of character, and unlike many similar destinations the place has a very simple, relaxed feel to it. The local Berbers are very welcoming towards climbers, and there are no access restrictions to any of the climbing areas. That said, most of the landscape is cultivated and wild-camping opportunities are limited. Given the lack of surface water anyway, however, most climbers opt for hotel or riad accommodation in Tafraoute or Tizourgane, of which there is sufficient variety to suit most budgets.
So before you hang up your trad rack this winter why not delve a little deeper into this unique winter-sun trad paradise on the doorstep of Europe? On these pages you'll find everything you need to put together a memorable climbing holiday, including the online new-route book and useful pdf downloads to help you get around in Morocco.