Rifle fire is quite loud, especially when it can echo around a punchbowl valley. Whilst cowboy camping our way around the Anti-Atlas Mountains in Morocco we had enjoyed the complete silence you can find in amongst the huge desert mountains which rise from the Atlantic to the west. So shots ringing out in the night was definitely enough to startle us.
I say us, I slept through the entire thing. Earlier in the day we had seen a group of men, armed with rifles and wearing camouflage as we drove up the windy road to find a place to sleep in the dirt. We also passed a boar who, unfortunately, already had quite a bit of the red stuff coming out of his side. Throughout the night (apparently) we heard gunfire and my three mates lay there, hoping that we didn’t look too boar like in our sleeping bags.
From the tiny glimpse of Morocco we enjoyed on our trip, it is a country of warm sun, hot rock and friendly people. Landing in Agadir, we jumped in our hire car which was pretty much going to be our home for the next 9 days and drove on the ‘exciting’ roads towards the huge range in the distance. Smooth asphalt turned to not-so-smooth asphalt turned to gravel. Once we reached the foothills the roads were no longer straight and we wound our way up, down and around cols and valleys.
The rock in the Anti-Atlas is an interesting mix of granite and quartzite, and was always warm to the touch. The stars were overhead throughout the night and, even with a waning moon, there were more than we could possibly count. We would spend our days climbing from sunrise to sunset, enjoying the acres of rock that hung above our heads as we slept. The people of the Anti-Atlas would ply us with ‘Moroccan whisky’ which, disappointingly, is actually a sweet tea. Pouring this tea, we learnt, was a skill in itself. You must pour the tea from a great height, over and over again for it to build up a froth, something which I don’t think we ever managed to do without spilling a fair amount.
Couscous. You probably don’t care but I want you to know that we ate couscous. All of the time. Without fail. Non-stop. When we took a rest day in Tafraoute we had couscous with our goats spine tagine (which was lovely until I realised that most of the meat on a goats spine is INSIDE the spine and is also mainly marrow). As my friends lay beside me in the dirt scared that they might get shot (or worse, I might wake up and start talking my normal nonsense). I dreamt of any food other than couscous. When I return to the Anti-Atlas again I will try and limit my couscous consumption to only two meals a day.
One of our goals in travelling to the Anti-Atlas was to send some new routes which we managed to do on our final day of climbing. At the Boar Walls crag me and my partner, Ollie, added ‘Sky High Pig Sty’ (VS 4c) which was in keeping with the pig-themed puns for the names of the other routes. Why pig sty? Because Ollie, who took lead, realised almost immediately that our route, a crack which lead to a break, was entirely full of shit. No wonder no one else had climbed it. Henry and Michael, the other two climbers, sent two. ‘This Little Piggy Went Home’ (VS 5a) and Funnybone Gully (HS 4b), as well as mine and Ollie’s route still sit above the tiny village of Ikholan, so if anyone wants to go see whether they’re any good then be sure to tell us what you think. Unless it’s bad.
I will definitely come back to the Anti-Atlas whether it be for the acres of unclimbed rock, the (almost always) perfect weather or maybe the chance to get shot again (it would make a good story down the pub). If you’re looking for somewhere more adventurous than Spain for some good weather climbing, then Morocco is the place to go.
George Budd is the relatively small brain behind Featherweight Films, an adventure and outdoor film company based in London.