Trip Report - Taghia Gorge, Morocco

by Virgil Scott Jul/2009
This article has been read 7,196 times

In September 2008 a team of five Imperial College London students travelled to Morocco and climbed a new route in the stunning Taghia area of the Atlas mountains. Here Virgil Scott recounts his tale of epic new routing on huge, blank limestone walls.


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+The bivi near the top of the pinnacle, pitch 10., 175 kb
The bivi near the top of the pinnacle, pitch 10.
© Hal Watts

+The top 13 pitches of Storm O'Clock, 7a 620m, 19 pitches, near Taghia., 133 kb
The top 13 pitches of Storm O'Clock, 7a 620m, 19 pitches, near Taghia.
© Virgil Scott, Aug 2008
We went to Taghia having heard it had "the finest multipitch routes in the world" with "ten kilometres of virgin cliffs and pillars." It sounded too good to be true; great weather, massive expanses of unclimbed 600m limestone cliffs. But it was all true, except the bit about the weather.

From Taghia we spent a day hiking around looking for good sections of cliff that didn't have routes already. We found a nice looking wall on the north facing side of the gorge in the Agoudal N'llamchane area - the only other route up the face was a long trad/aid route climbed in the 1980s by a Spanish team.

After a six hour hike, with the help of some donkeys, we arrived at the start of the gorge with our gear. Over the next couple of days we checked out the walls of the gorge and looked for a place to set our camp. While walking along the top of the plateau on the south side of the gorge a storm started brewing and Hal had a close call with some lightning - the air suddenly felt charged and his walking pole started making electric crackling noises, we threw down our poles and ran away to lower ground.

Progress was slow scrambling down the gorge; we stopped often, jaws agape at every corner, greeted by massive unbelievably cool-looking walls. Each stretch was more inspiring than the last, by the time we reached the bottom of the main face we were so psyched we were pretty much involuntarily clambering up the bottom.

Every afternoon at exactly 5 o'clock it rained or hailed heavily, we called it storm o'clock. Having spoken to other teams we expected at worst two or three stormy days in September and brought no waterproof clothing. The first storm caught us with our pants down - washing ourselves in the stream at the start of the gorge. Meanwhile our crucial 140m static rope, which we had left on the riverbed further down the gorge, was being washed away.

+Traversing back from the headwall to the pinnacle., 225 kb
Traversing back from the headwall to the pinnacle.
© Hal Watts, Sep 2008
It took around 3 weeks to equip the route, ground up - climbing free where possible and aiding where necessary. After a sequence of skyhook moves on the first pitch, Juha took a 9m fall - stopped by a skyhook. Our morale suffered a hit when it took an entire day to tackle that aid section, but thankfully things got faster afterwards. By the end of the second week we had fixed all 400m of our static line - so we packed 5 days of food and water for the final push. Hauling took longer than expected and storm o'clock arrived half way through hauling a pitch, we descended to the nearest ledge and the five of us spent an uncomfortable night huddled under a portaledge fly.

On the afternoon before we reached the top storm o'clock hit harder than usual rivers were running down the wall, and on the opposite side of the gorge an enormous waterfall appeared. The next day when we reached the top we were greeted by Youssef, the owner of the Gite in Zaouiat which we had stayed at for a night, "cinq personnes?" he asked. A body had turned up in the river in the village so he had come with his son as a rescue party.

A lucky let-up in the storm routine meant we had a beautiful sunny day to free the route - superb climbing in a stunning location. We named the route Storm O'clock. It has 19 pitches, totalling around 620m in length, with the hardest pitch being roughly 7a. A small miscalculation meant we didn't bring quite enough food and over the course of the 4 weeks we each lost between 5-8kgs I'm not sure whether this made the climbing easier or harder!

+Taking a break on the high ledges of Storm O'Clock., 100 kb
Taking a break on the high ledges of Storm O'Clock.
© Virgil Scott, Sep 2008

Photo Gallery: Taghia Trip:

+Relaxing on big ledges near the top., 182 kb
Relaxing on big ledges near the top.
Virgil Scott, Jun 2009
© Hal Watts, Kunal Masania
+The team, left to right; Virgil Scott, Juha Kauppilla, Luke Bennett, Kunal Masania, Hal Watts, 231 kb
The team, left to right; Virgil Scott, Juha Kauppilla, Luke Bennett, Kunal Masania, Hal Watts
Virgil Scott, Jun 2009
© Hal Watts, Kunal Masania
+Caught in a storm whilst having a wash in the stream., 174 kb
Caught in a storm whilst having a wash in the stream.
Virgil Scott, Jun 2009
© Hal Watts, Kunal Masania
+140m of static rope washing away down the river, luckily it got stuck here and was retrieved., 132 kb
140m of static rope washing away down the river, luckily it got stuck here and was retrieved.
Virgil Scott, Jun 2009
© Hal Watts, Kunal Masania
+Trying to fill our appetite with tea. Fresh (dirty) mint picked from the riverbed - sweetened with white chocolate., 95 kb
Trying to fill our appetite with tea. Fresh (dirty) mint picked from the riverbed - sweetened with white chocolate.
Virgil Scott, Jun 2009
© Hal Watts, Kunal Masania
+Whilst scrambling up the riverbed to base camp Hal fell down this hole; luckily he only got a few bruises. , 168 kb
Whilst scrambling up the riverbed to base camp Hal fell down this hole; luckily he only got a few bruises.
Virgil Scott, Jun 2009
© Hal Watts, Kunal Masania


The team would like to thank; the Imperial College Exploration Board, Sir Richard Sykes, Hilti, Lyon Equipment, First Ascent, and the University of London Dunsheath Expedition Award for making the trip possible.

For more information visit More info, topo, and short video here
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