Finding out about climbing in Morocco was a bit tricky. With no available published guides to the area, I was surprised I find out there was climbing there at all. I posted a request for any information on climbing in Spain and Morocco to see if any info came back. I was astounded to find that someone had actually been climbing there. He gave us lots of useful information. Here is a summary of some of the beta that helped us decide to actually go for it:
- Todra Gorge and Tafaroute are the climbing areas
- Limestone cliffs up to 1000 ft
- Moderate 1 pitch sport routes at the opening of the gorge
- Bigger routes are at least 5.9/5.10
- Hotel Mansour ("cheaper") or Yasmina ("nicer")
- The Mansour tends to attract the climbers
Rock & Ice #83 contains a fluffy article on climbing at Todra, but no topos. We enhanced some of the info from the article:
- You can see the hotels in the background of the climbs and it looks exotic!
- only a few hours of direct sunlight per day and is cool and breezy at the base.
- Rock looks like Vegas Redrock (feels like it, too).
- Mint tea is a big deal.
- Visit March-April or September - early November (up to 120 degrees F in the summer)
- Bath house and massage in town at the Hamamam (chack for times for men and for women).
- All hotels in the area have info on the climbs from European magazines. (we only saw this at Mansour)
From our experience:
- Larbi (owner) and his friends at Hotel Mansour speak excellent English (and French, Arabic, Berber, and some Spanish, etc.)
- A person from the hotel walked out to the cliffs with us to get us started on some easy climbs and pointed out the Pillar Couchant. (Don't tip this guy, he is just nice).
- If they invite you in for mint tea at the hotel, please do. This is important here.
- Not sure if they only cooked for us at the Mansour or if they cook regularly, but their food is better than Yasmina.
- Camping on the roof of the Mansour is the least expensive, but it is a 'typical European toilet' i.e. foot pedestals and a hole.
- You can buy food in the market/souk in Tinghir (need a taxi to get there). Food in the market is fixed price.
- The world's slowest Internet connection is in Tinghir.
- Hotel Yasmina has some rooms with a private shower and others use the public washroom (nice).
- Sitting at Hotel Mansour with our new friends playing the drums all night long is my best memory.
Easy Sport Climbs
We wanted to start out with the easiest climbs possible. We walked with a person from Hotel Mansour over to the river and across it, hopping from stone to stone. The first climbs he showed us started in the water so we figured there must be a dryer season. As we walked downstream, there were more and more bolts and dryer land. (image of climb with bolts marked in green) He pointed us to a climb, and said 'You do not even need ropes for that one'. BINGO. We had a place to start.
Of course a climb that is too easy for ropes for the normal person, deserves our set of doubles and all of the gear one could possibly carry. Just in case.
The climb was actually really easy. I would say the move off of the ground was maybe a 5.7 (if you go by Gunks ratings - Swain's, not William's), but the rest was easier. (Lightner's book rates it a 5.10.) The climbing was similar to Magic Bus Wall and Cat in the Hat at Red Rocks. There were several climbs next to this climb that are also well bolted, but if you are lazy, you can lead the easy one and traverse/downclimb to another anchor to top rope another climb if your rope is long enough. Our 60' rope was barely enough for a single rope rappel from the easy climb we describe here (picture on the right).
We really enjoyed climbing here, though there was a slight disadvantage and that is visibility. We had someone come and talk to us for about an hour and a half in Spanish/English/Arabic and as soon as he left, the children came to 'give us gifts' (which you have to pay for. They take no money at first, then follow you and ask for money later. We were told not to encourage this). Then another guy came and asked if he could climb with us the next day. Bring an extra harness if you wish to take a local climbing. There is a lot of interest but no money.
Pillar Couchant - Chibana (5.10 a/b)
Beta from my buddy on gunks.com
- Right side of canyon at its narrowest point (between Mansour and Yasmina).
- Visible from sport wall across from Mansour as the huge pillar in the middle of the wall.
- Right leaning gully/ramp (easy fifth class) to actual climbs.
- 6 pitch 5.10 starts 200 ft up the ramp at a bolt anchor.
- Second pitch is like Le Teton at the Gunks.
- Gear: TCU, wires, #1 Friend.
- There is a pitch with a wide crack supplemented by bolts. #3 Camalot is good here.
- The crack is similar to JTree crack.
- Continue up the right facing corner on the right side (down canyon) of the pillar.
- Descent: Walk off the back and down a canyon that leads to a road about 50 yards downhill from the Hotel Mansour.
When we got to the Gorge, the people at Hotel Mansour pointed this climb out to us. Everyone seems to pick this as a favorite. The view of the valley from the top is spectacular.
There are several other climbs on this section of the cliff. The folder at Hotel Mansour has several articles with topos of this climb.
Escalade au Maroc Todra By: Guy Abert
No idea how to get it. It is in French, though the artwork is beautiful. Not sure if it was a lot of help for us, but the presentation of the book captures the flavor of the area.
Exotic Rock - The Travel Guide for Climbers By: Sam Lightner, Jr.
Published by D& K Publishing Boulder, CO ISBN 0-9655634-0-5
This was actually a good source of information. It is too bad we forgot that we had the book until after we came home. It gives travel advice on getting to the area as well as some photos with route lines on them. Not meant to be an encompassing guide to all of the routes, but what is there is valuable. We bought our copy at Rock and Snow in New Paltz, NY.
Where to Stay
There were two places in the Gorge that we went to: Yasmina and Mansour. There was another one next to Yasmina called Roches. If you wish to climb you should stay on one of these hotels and not in Tinghir. That is just our opinion.
The Yasmina is the fancier of the two; a little more commercial. It has a nice bathroom for most of the guests and some of the rooms have a private shower. Having the shower was a luxury, even if the water was not consistently warm. The phone number for the Yasmina might be phone - 212-44-834207 and fax - 212-44-833611
Yasmina is one of the few hotels outside of the US that we have been two that has a bed larger than a twin.
To get to the Yasmina, you drive a few minutes past the Hotel Mansour and it is on the right. You have to cross a stream (we had to by foot) to get to the hotel.
This hotel is the place where tour buses stop, so that is a disadvantage. Advantages include breakfast (bread) and a outdoor cafe for dinner which had nice atmosphere and the food is OK.
There is also a telephone (telebotique) on the patio so you can call home. The bartender (here is no alcohol, but the guy behind the bar) helped us with the country code. He spoke a small bit of English. Not many people here did. You need French, Berber, or Arabic.
We knew about the Hotel Mansour from a nice guy who helped us out with some climbing beta. He had stayed at the Mansour before and asked us to stop by and bring some gifts to Said (the owner) and his family. When we went over there in the morning, we met Said's brother. We were so heartbroken to find out that Said had passed away the month before.
Said's brother Larbi invited us for mint tea, so we sat for an hour or two with him and talked about everything. Some of Larbi's friends joined us and we had a nice morning together among friends. They brought out a notebook with plastic sleeves that contained articles from European magazines with topos for the climbs. After tea, one of the gentlemen brought us over to the cliffs to show us some of the climbs.
We returned in the evening to hang out with Larbi and friends and two other climbers from Belgium (Peter and Isme or Yasmine - we can not agree what we remember her name as!). I wish so much that we had asked for their email addresses! You can see their green tent on the roof of the hotel in the picture on the right.
The Mansour offers dormitory styled rooms, camping on the roof and no hot water. It is a great place to stay if you are used to camping or want to save your money (Yasmina is about $20/night)
This is a tough one. Many people come from Marrakech, though you can also fly to Ouarzazate and then you have only a few hours to drive instead of all day. Fez is a long haul from the other direction.
- You can rent a car (not wicked cheap), but
be prepared to stop a few times at the inspection spots along the road. The police stand
next to a stop sign (pronounced qef with a guttural q) written in Arabic. The shape and color
should look familiar. Be prepared to speak French or Arabic. We do not know if they
speak English. All of the roads (or actually "the road") to get to Todra
(follow signs to Tinghir first) are well paved. A dirt road leads into the Gorge.
- You can take a Grand Taxi. A Grand Taxi is a taxi that goes between distant locations.
A Petit Taxi is a taxi that drives within a town or city. You may end up sharing the ride
in the Grand Taxi.
- Take the bus. Bus stations seemed pretty easy out there. Signs with names of
destination cities are clearly marked in the bays or parking spots for the buses.
Signs use our alphabet (remember they all speak French).
- Go to the Sarah Tours web site and have them arrange a private driver and a private van to pick you up and drop you off. They will stop where and when you want and can speak enough English to have conversation the whole way if you wish. We did this because we were, well, too scared to get off of a plane and try to figure out how to get a bus, etc. Now we know it is not so bad, but we are glad to have used this method because one of our drivers helped us with our Arabic and gave us little lessons to improve our grammar and vocabulary. WahHa?
Please note: Whatever Lonely Planet says about tipping, forget it. Tip the driver what you would tip a driver here. The value of money is not much different in the cities there than in the cities here. Tip bellhops as you would here. Tip about 10% for meals. If you take someone's photo, 5 Dirham seems to be enough. Five Dirham is like a nickel.
Other info on the web:
- Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides do a trip out to Todra as well as treking in the Atlas. They are REALLY nice folks. I also know someone who went on this trip with them and loved it.