Planning a climbing trip in Morocco? It sounds a bit eccentric in a country more famous for its medinas, souqs, couscous and Sahara desert, but appealing too since we are definitely getting off the beaten tracks while enjoying stunning scenery.
This idea came out a couple of month before, by discussing and getting some positive feedback from Ambers who went there before. Morocco is also an open country to Western travelers, the access is easy from Europe (direct flights from the Netherlands to Marrakech), and the well spoken French and English languages by the locals makes the communication quite easy.
There are several climbing spots in Morroco, but most of them offer only traditional climbing routes in remote areas. Nevertheless Todgha Gorge (pronounce “Todra”), located in the south of the Atlas mountain range, has more sport climbing routes than the other places. This deep narrow canyon, famous highlight of the bus tours across Morroco, started to be bolted in the 70’s, with hard level routes at the beginning (> 6b). Nowadays, there are easier bolted/semi bolted routes: single pitch routes with all levels (4’s up to 8’s), a few multipitch routes in 5c – 6a range. This matched perfectly to the level and expectation of the group.
Day 1: arrival in Marrakech
We took a late afternoon flight from Eindhoven to Marrakech. Transfer from the airport to the city centre (Djama El Fna main square) by taxi, night in a basic hotel.
Day 2: travel from Marrakech to the Todgha gorges.
This 400 km journey took us a day across one of the most scenic routes of Morocco, from the green “Palmeraie” nearby Marrakech, the twisted roads across the high elevated Atlas mountain range, the desert style wide landscapes near Ouarzazate, the oasis villages along the Todgha river... So don’t be fooled by the distance, this journey reflects pretty well the Moroccan pace of life, where everything takes more time than you expect.
We met our local guide Hassan in the evening around a glass of mint tea: look at the topo, discussion about which routes to do, how we organize the group. During the whole climbing trip, we stayed in the Yasmina hotel, which is highly recommended for its location in the middle of the gorge close to the climbing routes.
Day 3: two short multipitch climbs
Todgha gorge has a particular atmosphere, kind of unique melting pot: shepherds bringing their goats uphill, donkeys, carpet dealers, drummers, tour bus visitors, climbers, hikers… It is one of the touristic highlights of Morocco, so it gets really busy with a lot of traffic in the middle of the day. Climbers should definitely start early in the morning (before 9 am) to skip the crowd and enjoy a more and more peaceful climb pitch after pitch, hearing a background noise of drums from the bottom of the gorge…
We hired Hassan (the local guide) this day to lead one multipitch route with 2 persons of the group (sector “paroi du taghia – les jardins d’été”, unnamed route, number 13, fully bolted, 5 pitches from 4a up to 5c), whereas I did another multipitch route (sector “paroi du taghia – les jardins d’été”, route “tik sab”, number 16, fully bolted, 5 pitches from 5b up to 5c). The bolting was correct, similar to Europe. In both of the routes, we came back by repelling down. Figuring out where the routes are starting is not so easy, especially when you have a hand drawn topo without pictures, so the help of Hassan was very useful.
In the afternoon, I went for a second multipitch route (sector “aiguilles du gué”, route “le diedre”, number 8, 4 ptiches from 5b up to 5c+). This route offers a more alpine style climb in a diedra – as its names tells – with more spaced bolts, some of them looking quite old (square shaped bolts which are not manufactured anymore), a bit athletic with a slight overhang boulder move before the last pitch. Sometimes I added some friends to make the route more secure. We came back making one short repel down and then walking on a trail.
Day 4: a semi trad multipitch route
After the first gorgeous day of climb, I was enthusiastic to go for a longer multipitch route. There are not so many fully bolted easy multipitch climbing routes in Todgha gorge, and the possible other routes were in 6a+ - 6b level, a bit too hard. We chose a “semi trad” route (sector “sortie des gorges”, route “arête nord”, number 17, 13 pitches 4 – 5+), one of the first which was opened in the sector. This route offers mostly easy traditional climbs (level 4, no bolts, friends and slings necessary), and 2 harder bolted sections (level 5+). The start is just behind the last carpet shop of the gorge, going up directly just above the road, so a special care must be taken to avoid the fall of stones.
In this route, the hardest climb sections were correctly bolted, whereas the trad climbing was mostly ridge style. The route was pretty long, considering the time you need to find the itinerary, without obvious bolts to guide you. We finished at the end of the afternoon on the summit with a stunning view on the gorges and on the desert style landscape on the other side. We had to come back on a long trail marked by a few cairns (1 hour 30 min time).
In a few words
This was a great climbing trip, associating awesome routes with stunning landscape. Many multipitch fully bolted routes are hard (above 6b), but there are still a few multipitch bolted/semi bolted routes in the 5c – 6a level. Since those routes are the easiest ones, the bolting is sometime light and old, so you should be prepared to add extra protections when you leadclimb. The rock is a beautiful limestone involving different kinds of climb, although very abrasive. The difficulty rating is supposed to match to the French system. In reality, it is more comparable to Belgium. The topo (available only in the gorge) has some handdrawn schemes of the cliffs, which are a bit approximate, so I recommend to contact Hassan, the local guide, who can gives you directions and advices. Finally, despite the high popularity of the Todga gorge, we were often on our own on the cliffs; there weren’t so many climbers in this area.
Practical informations about Todgha gorge
When to go there?
Climbing is possible during the whole year, but the best season is spring or falls. We went there at the end of April; the weather was already quite hot. Deshydratation shouldn’t be underestimated especially for multipitch routes, so you should take a large amount water (2L minimal). Single pitches route are located at the bottom of the gorge, which gets hotter in the middle of the day without so much air blowing. So it is wise to climb early in the morning, have a long lunch break and come later in the afternoon.
How to get there?
Marrakech seems to be the most convenient airport, with a wide offer of affordable flights from the Netherlands. We were considering Ouarzazate, a bit closer from the Todgha gorge, but it was difficult to get a flight there from the Netherlands.
Hiring a car was the best option considering the time we had (4 days in total). The bus or common shared taxi might be an option, but the journey would have been longer. Having our own car is also an advantage in case somebody gets hurt for transportation to a first aid place. Driving in Marrakech is similar to the Place de l’Etoile in Paris in the rush hour (adding the donkeys as an extra thrill). In the rest of the country, the driving is slower than in Europe, but not difficult.
The access to the gorge is quite difficult since the road is dirty and narrow. Moreover, the gorges gets busy in the middle day with the tour busses, but it becomes quite peaceful before 9 am or after 6 pm. So staying close to the crags is highly recommended. There are not so many hotels in the gorges. We picked up Yasmina hotel, which offers the best location, reasonable prices and good food.
Be aware that there is no helicopter rescue in the gorge in case of accident.
The topo (available only in the gorge) has some handdrawn schemes of the cliffs, which are a bit approximate, so I recommend to contact Hassan (Phone: +212 677 038 880), the local guide, who can gives you directions and advices. Possibility to hire him to leads some routes with 1 or 2 persons. He speaks French and English very well.
Gear to bring
For single pitch routes: 80 m single rope, 14 quickdraws.
For multipitch routes: 50 X 50 m twin rope, 14 quickdraws. Bolting can be a bit light and old (especially on easy routes), so I recommend bringing extra protections like friends, nuts and slings
Extra maillons are recommended because the rings at the top of the route are sometime damaged. We didn’t have to use them. Helmet is highly recommended.
Extra medicine in the first aid kit and extra water are also necessary.
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