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.
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!
Photo Gallery: Taghia Trip:
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.