Tafraout: Top Ten Mountain Routes
Have you ever enjoyed a proper British mountain day out? You know - the type II fun sort of thing; Grooved Arete on a drizzly day, when you can't see anything and your fingers freeze at each belay. The route may only be V.Diff but somehow the polished holds, big pack, drizzle (which has now become sleet), and the general unpleasantness of the scenario all add up to quite a challenge. There's something brilliantly rewarding about the whole experience - particularly that feeling you get when you get back to the pub in the evening.
A far cry from Morocco, I hear you say.
Well, not as far as you might think. Imagine your favourite British classics, remove the sleety drizzle, notch the temperature up by about 15 degrees or so, take away all the heather and grass from the route, and double the height of the cliff. Then add a backdrop of spectacular scenery, with the snow-capped Atlas mountains in the far distance. Welcome to the Anti-Atlas.
There's something brilliant about big mountain days. It's not just about the climbing, but rather the whole experience, and it's an experience that Morocco's Anti-Atlas (surprisingly to some people) does very well. In this article we describe our top ten 'big days out' in the hills around Tafraout, up to VS...
10. TOWER RIDGE, Afantztgult
The big flat-topped summit of Afantztgult towers over Tamza village, half way along the Samazar Valley. Running up its west face is the impressive Tower Ridge, a 500m VS climb that tackles the 'Great Tower' before an exciting abseil into the notch gains the easier-angled upper ridge.
This route gives a superb day out for climbers operating around the VS grade, with a 15 minute (mostly flat) walk-in and a straightforward descent off the other side of the mountain. And the best thing is, despite the short approach, it's in one of the remotest spots in the Anti-Atlas!
9. Sun Ribbon Arete, Robin Hood
The striking summit of the 'Bunny Ears' at Robin Hood Rocks is one of the most distinctive little peaks in the area, and the tempting ridge-line of Sun Ribbon Arete is a route not to be missed if you're a Severe leader looking for a proper summit experience. The ridge was originally gained in about 20 minutes from the road, via a steep scramble to a notch, but is better started much lower down via Centenary Buttress (Hard Severe), to give more than 500m of low-grade climbing to a magnificent finale and alpine summit ridge.
8. Wild Country, Adrar Asmit
Wild Country is probably the best 'Difficult' route in the Anti-Atlas, and although the climb itself is only 6 pitches long, its remote setting, tremendous mountain views, and the fact that it tops out on a fine little summit all add up to give a grand mountain day out - On a clear day it is possible to see all the way to Jebel Toubkal and the Atlas Mountains, almost 200km away. The highlight of the climb is the awesome Black Groove on pitch 5, which provides superb exposure for a route of this grade. Think of it as the 'Pinnacle Rib' of Anti-Atlas climbs!
7. The Great Ridge, Asgaour
Where to start? Asgaour's Great Ridge is one of the greatest and most infamous climbs in the Anti-Atlas. It's about VS at its hardest, but with almost a kilometre of involved ridge climbing it's hard to give it an accurate grade. The story of the first ascent was one of the great tales of early Anti-Atlas exploration, taking a determined Les Brown 4 attempts over 3 years to finally piece together the route. Not surprisingly this epic and frequently underestimated climb has seen more failures and benightments than any other route in Tafraout. Suffice to say that bivouac gear is advised.
With stats like this, it is perhaps surprising to see the Great Ridge at a lowly 7th position in this top ten... well, it's true that climbing this route is a unique, brilliant, and coveted achievement... but it's also true that loose rock, vegetation, and large amounts of frustrating scrambling do at times detract from the experience. This route is well into the 'adventure-climbing' category, and requires a certain commitment and motivation beyond the quality of the climbing. But then again... it's the Great Ridge - the biggest and most famous route in Tafraout!
6. Pink Lady, Lower Eagle Crag
Wonderful traditional stuff, and one of the best VS routes in Morocco. Although it's effectively a roadside crag, the Grand Wall of Lower Eagle Crag is an iconic piece of rock that just cries out to be climbed. Pink Lady forges an impressive line directly up the middle of the wall, with perfect rock, comfortable belay stances, and some surprisingly exposed climbing. Route finding can require some care, and many variations have been recorded (of varying quality and difficulty!)
5. scimitar ridge, Safinah
The impressive central buttress of Safinah gives 10 pitches of excellent VS climbing to a proper summit, with magnificent views across Samazar and the mighty Waterfall Walls. It's a fairly steady climb up an intimidating line, but one of the best things about this route is the fact that it's a 'full-on' Anti-Atlas experience... By the time you've got your hire car along the Samazar 'road', and made it along the rough track to the base of the mountain you already feel like you're in the middle of nowhere. The climb looks impossible, and all the scree at the base does little to inspire confidence... but once you get on the route the climbing just keeps on getting better and better. Thankfully the back side of Safinah provides an easy walk-off to a very pleasant ancient Berber trail, which takes you back to the car for the final challenge of the day... getting back to Tafraout!
4. The Angel's Crest, Jebel el Kest
A visit to the 2375m summit of Jebel el Kest is an experience not to be missed on a trip to the Anti-Atlas. It's a magical spot, and on a really clear day you can see the Sahara, the High Atlas, and the Atlantic Ocean all in the same unparalleled vista. There's no doubt, of course, that getting up there is going to require a fair amount of effort, and this is definitely not roadside cragging! Adventure companies guide clients to the summit from the Ameln Valley in two days, with an overnight stop in the high village of Tagdicht, from where the mountain presents its easiest means of ascent. An alternative is to walk up to the south col from Anergui, which is shorter but more difficult. For climbers, however, a third option exists, and it provides one of the biggest mountain days the range has to offer. Starting from the village of Anergui, the Southwest Ridge (Severe) of the Main Crag leads to a plateau below the Upper Crag. A pleasant walk then leads to the dome above the Upper Crag, from where the Angel's Crest (V.Diff) provides an exposed and bold ascent. Another walk through high mountain scenery then gains the South Col - the summit pyramid of Jebel el Kest apparently only a stone's-throw away. From here an ancient Berber route follows the vague South Ridge and southwest face, marked occasionally by cairns, topping out on the most incredible summit in the Anti-Atlas.
3. pinnacle ridge, Prophet Peak
The left-hand ridge of Prophet Peak is a major mountain itinerary, and probably the best long Severe in Tafraout. It involves a hefty approach, 600m of rock climbing, a proper summit experience, and long descent... What more could you ask for?
The initial ridge is mostly very easy, and many parties will move together up much of it. Things get interesting at a short V.Diff chimney - you know, one of those V.Diff chimneys that's only V.Diff because it's on a mountain route. Above that there's some excellent alpine terrain, culminating in a narrow ridge to a final notch (don't descent to early on the left or you miss all the fun). From the notch, late in the day, comes the crux... an airy step off a pinnacle that provides more than its fair share of nervous moments.
As you might expect, the view from the summit (assuming you make it that far) is nothing short of spectacular, and it's tempting to hang around and enjoy it before the involved descent down Great Gully... (don't bury the rope in the bottom of your pack just yet!)
2. Central Buttress, Aylim
A day out on the East Face of Aylim is almost guaranteed to be an adventure, and the magnificent Central Buttress is no exception. This 475m mega-route has variation pitches that allow it to be climbed either at E1 or VS, but be under no illusions - if you climb it at VS then you have found the easiest way up the buttress, so there's no chickening out if things prove too much! There's typically about 12 pitches, all of them featuring interesting climbing with superb exposure (check out the photo above!).
The route tops out on the summit of Knight's Peak, which is a fine little viewpoint that feels satisfyingly high above the Samazar valley. Overall, this might just be out favourite route in the range... but somehow just not quite as epic as...
1. Labyrinth Ridge, Aylim
The mighty Labyrinth Ridge is one of the biggest and most sought-after climbs in Tafraout - 800m and 23 pitches of climbing, starting just yards from the Samazar Road, with nothing harder than VS (and a little bit of aid!). Comparable in some ways to Asgaour's Great Ridge, Labyrinth Ridge is actually a shorter day thanks to the remarkably simple approach and descent. It's also a better line, on better rock, with much less vegetation. Of course, there is the odd area of loose rock, and moss in places, but on this route it really is all about the climbing... which goes on for ever and ever! By the time you reach the upper headwall, some 18 pitches up the face, you'll be lost in a labyrinth of towers and pinnacles, running out of daylight, patience, and stamina. If you're lucky (really?) then you'll find yourself on top of the Priest, where a ludicrous lean across the void is required to gain an overhanging crack - the only way out from an otherwise epic destiny. Most people employ some cheeky aid here, but it can be climbed free at 5b if you're keen. A few more easy pitches and a final tricky chimney eventually gain the summit plateau of Aylim - the Great Rock of Samazar, where the views of the setting sun to the west are an emotional experience... specially if you've forgotten your headtorch! Good luck.
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