Last year, Looking For Wild, a brand specializing in climbing pants, brought together some of its ambassadors for an expedition to Morocco. On the program, climbing of course, but especially a few days rich in emotions far from our usual life at 200 per hour. A story by Théo Arnaud, with superb images by Mathis Dumas.
Going to Morocco is first of all choosing an expedition that starts as soon as you get off the plane. The Moroccan way of life imposes itself, with a simple rule: Inch'allah.
Direction a small Berber village perched at an altitude of 2000m in the Moroccan high atlas for a team of three young climbers : Marion Thomas, Laurent Thevenot and Théo Arnaud, former climbing competitors who are now passionate about long routes.
A 2h30 walk from the nearest road, Taghia is located at the confluence of two vertiginous canyons, offering huge walls of orange-red limestone where horizontality is no longer necessary. Two weeks on site to cover exceptional routes such as the 550 metres of perfect pebbles of the "Crimson Rivers", the aerial pillar of "In the Name of Reform" or the beautiful compact wall of "Everything for the Club". What could be better? Getting up, climbing, drinking tea, starting all over again.
Our trip could have come down to that, but Taghia is much more than that! It's a wonder of every moment for anyone who is willing to open their eyes. A nature as beautiful as it is austere, offering the village the only essential things. Inhabitants with a simple life and a sincere and warm welcome. Taghia is above all that, a return to our roots, a breath of fresh air in our lives at 200 per hour.
It has only been a few months since we returned home and yet the memory of Taghia already seems distant. A sensation similar to the exit of a dream, did all this really happen? Proposing this little story of our adventure is, for us, like giving a second breath to our trip. Sharing this magnificent experience by plunging back into what the skin of our fingers has already relegated to the rank of a bad memory.
As with many expeditions, everything starts with a simple phone call. In our case, at the end of the phone was François Victor Moreau, the creator of Looking For Wilda new brand of technical clothing for climbing with an urban style. It's December 2016: "I'd like to go on an expedition to test the pants, something a little off the beaten track, would you like to do that? ». No need to say more, the idea resonates in our heads, bringing out buried projects, saved for future hypothetical holidays. "We're planning to do that at the beginning of April? ». April... no need to do a thesis in mathematics to understand that we only have three short months to organize all this. Finding a destination, a team, a photographer, drawing up a budget, setting objectives, defining needs, we won't have to drag our feet...
Taghia quickly revealed itself as the ideal destination, meeting criteria that would make Yosemite pale in comparison. Two canyons, cut with a stroke of a blade in the high plateaus of the atlas, offering compact and sculpted cliffs reaching 800m for the highest of them, in an environment out of the most beautiful movie sets. However, apart from the film retracing the opening of Babel, few professional images have been made on the spot. There's a shot to play, let's go!
Knowing where you're going is good, but knowing who you're going with is even better! After a few twists and turns and one knee less for one of the protagonists, the team will finally be made up of five people (at this point in history, to make the organisation of the expedition a little simpler, none of them are in the same country). So we find : François Victor Moreau, the head of the brand, a photographer, an aspiring multi-purpose mountain guide, sharpened by the trigger (and the jumar) Mathis Dumas and three climbers: Marion Thomas, member of the French ice climbing team, Laurent Thevenot ex-member of the French climbing team and Théo Arnaud ex-competitor, all three passionate about Grande voie.
The project is coming to fruition. Two weeks are now blocked to see what these pants have in their legs! Bad play on words aside, it's off to the bludgeoning of equipment on one of the most abrasive limestones in the world. On the program, the course of the great classics of Taghia with an onboard photographer. One objective, the realization of two short films as well as a photo report with the possible use of a drone, which would be a first in Taghia. Possible" because the importation of a drone in Morocco seems almost impossible for military reasons. It was without counting on the multifunctional aspect of our photographer, who after a missed plane, one hour of negotiation with the whole of the Moroccan customs and the deposit of a guarantee, succeeded in the exploit of taking the drone out of the cupboard in which it had been sealed. The images promise an incredible result, but the same cannot be said of the deposit....
From Marrakesh, it's due east towards the High Atlas. After seven hours of travel and the passage of a pass at 3000m, the road stops at Zaouia. Last point accessible by car to get to Taghia. Then it is on foot, and on mules for the luggage that it happens. We would like to pay tribute to the knees of the white mule (she will recognize herself) which have almost bent in the wrong direction more than once under the load!
Two and a half hours of walking on the riverside later, we end up in a vast green circus where a striking tranquility reigns, breaking with the noisy tumult of the canyon. In its center, the purple earthen houses of the village of Taghia stand modestly. At the bottom of the circus, the two huge canyons reveal what will be our playground for the next two weeks. The peaceful life reigning in this small village offers a marked contrast to the hostility emanating from these large faces. At the confluence of the canyons, stands the Oujdad, an almost perfect pyramid, a veritable watchtower of the valley. The overwhelming presence of these walls forces one to be humble. The discovery of this unique place leaves us speechless and quickly brings us to the realization that 15 days here, it will not be enough, it would be for a whole life !
For the greatest happiness of the mules, we unload all our things in front of one of the houses of the village, made of the same purple earth as its neighbours. This house is the house of Mohamed and his family. The development ofclimbing in Taghia has led to the emergence of a small economy around this "tourism". There are currently three gîtes in the village, where the welcome is simple and friendly, offering half board based on mint tea, couscous and tagine. A simple rhythm of life settles very quickly, "always gently" as the Berber tradition wants it. We live to the rhythm of the sun and leave laptops, computers and the internet in silence. Our neighbour on the landing, a rooster very inclined to morning crowing, acts as a wake-up call as soon as the sun points to the horizon. In spite of a few attempts at explanations that quickly turn to stone throwing, the bugger still hasn't grasped the concept of days of rest. Too bad, we're not here to do the matte grace!
And what about climbing in all this? We're getting there! The first days are devoted to setting up the best shooting method with our onboard photographer. For that, no pressure, it's at the source wall that it happens. First face at fifteen minutes from the village, offering routes of about ten pitches on top class rock and an easy return by the path. Three superb routes, already elevated to the rank of classic, allow us to make our ranges for future projects: Zebda 7b+, class Epinal 6c+ and beautiful and Berber 6b+. At each relay, same method, same equipment, we have to set up an efficient and safe routine! The team is divided into two ropes. The leader of the first one sets a static rope for Mathis, who takes off the length by going up to the jumar, while shooting the rope from underneath. An incredible job with an average of 1500 photos per day and more than a kilometre of rope climbing in total! Hats off to the artist!
Little by little we gain in efficiency as well as in confidence and decide to go for a harder one. But in Taghia, gaining confidence only lasts a while. We choose to get out of the classics and we find ourselves after a good two hours of bartasse in the canyon at the foot of Libiti Bito and its first pitch in 7a+ somewhat ... earthy. Marion puts a big scare in her head with a definite engagement and two big holes in the air. On the belay side, a team work is put in place to dynamize as much as possible and try to avoid triple fractures of the ankles and fibula in case of a fall at the wrong time. After the first three points protecting the return to the ground, it's time for 30 meters of climbing to reach R1, with only 4 small spits. A quick climb up to the first point of the second pitch, (already much too high) makes us realize that it doesn't look good and that it's not getting any better. Unanimously, it will be an abseiling descent and capitalisation of life points for the rest of the trip.
This little experience lets us think that there is enough to do with the classic routes and that we will come back another time to scare ourselves (there is also something to do in this matter). The days follow one another and we start to melt little by little into the Berber daily life, " Climbing it's ok ", punctuating each of our crossings of the village, "it's ok, it's ok". How else to answer, a simple life, in an incredible place, made of climbing, meetings and mint tea. The team then walks towards the aerial pillar of "In the name of reform", 6c. Clearly visible from the village, it joins the summit of Taoujdad by its south-west face. The very steep approach in a canyon allows the attack of the route at mid-wall, proposing a relatively short route (300m) in beautifully sculpted limestone and escape lines leading straight back into the valley, several hundred meters below. At the summit, the view is breathtaking, the breathtaking emptiness of the 600 meters of the north face is palpable. It's all set for a few days from now! Before, direction the ultra-compact walls of "Everything for the club", 7c, on the South face of the Oujdad with the discovery of the famous Berber passages: a real pile of branches and stones defying the laws of gravity, allowing access to the west canyon of Taghia.
A well deserved rest day gently brings us to our biggest day on this Trip: the 600m of the north face of the Taoujdad by the grandiose route of the "Crimson Rivers", a Piolat/Petitet/Robert route of 15 pitches 7c max. Legend has it that according to Michel Piolat, this is the most beautiful big route he opened in limestone. Considering the man's opening book, it must be worth the detour ! Departure from the village at the first light of day, under the encouragement of our buddy the rooster. The spotting of the approach the previous days makes us save a lot of time in the artificial passages, on the completely smooth rock at the bottom of the canyon. In two short hours, we are at the foot of this impressive face, ready to fight. We adopt the usual technique of "advance shooting", but this time, it's fifteen pitches with a big majority in the 7 that await us, we'll have to be efficient. The first length in 6b+ sets the tone: Ok, even in 6 it's climbing, and well friends, we're not at the top! The verticality of the face quickly causes a feeling of vertiginous emptiness, and in only a few pitches the bottom of the canyon seems already far away. Theclimbing proposed is varied and technical. The rock presents marked changes in grain, going from very abrasive rulers to more receding flat areas. This alternation forces a constant reflection, accentuated by the absolute verticality of the face and the spacing of the points. To the delight of our thighs, even in the relay it is full throttle! Verdict: this way definitely deserves its reputation! The rock is irreproachable, the atmosphere incredible and the climbing insane! (Too bad for the rhyme in -able) We reach the summit at sunset and make the difficult descent of the canyon at night for an arrival in the village at 10pm. A small general tiredness points the tip of his nose, but we are right on time for the Tajine!
Practical info :
For those who would like to go to Taghia, just one piece of advice: don't hesitate. Christian Ravier's topo includes everything you need to know, with a new edition planned for next year. The gites offer a "turnkey" trip by organizing the journey from the airport to Taghia. It is however useful to stop and do some shopping for water and food for lunch. Also provide spare skin for your fingers. Favourable period: spring and autumn.
Photo Credit: Mathis Dumas