The Todra Gorge, Morocco
During the spring of 2001 our "intrepid journalist" "Dirty" Dave Ferguson went on his climbing hols to the Todra Gorge... fortunately he managed to injure his knee climbing, thus giving himself enough time to write this article and do some topos!
Far from the maddening hordes of the Marrakech souks, the sun beating down upon your back. A belly full of tajine and a finger-full of limestone. A deep cleft in the mountains on the continent which spawned mankind. Climbing as a spiritual homecoming rather than a physical pursuit. Is the sun getting to me? Am I reading too much into it or is it simply too good to be true.
Britain seems to have missed out on the Todra Gorge hype. It was in '94 that I purchased a copy of the French crag mag Grimper, a tanned and disturbingly pant-lineless Didier Raboutou adorning its cover. An article featuring his curly locks extolled the delights of "The poor man's Thailand", tempting us with images of steep limestone and palm trees. Far from being the poor man's Thailand, the Todra Gorge has blossomed into an off-the-beaten-track climber's wet dream.
Arriving in Morocco from Europe you immediately know that you've stepped into a completely different culture. Allah is boss, five times a day the populace are called for prayer the statement that God Is Great And He's The Man ringing out over the rooftops. Moustaches and mint tea are order of the day; the throaty babble of Arabic fills every available corner; and it's hot, very very hot. Tales of magic carpets, princesses and genies sadly prove unfounded. Tales of hustle and bustle, persuasive trinket salesman and cooked goat's head turned out to be genuine. Morocco is everything crazy about the world rolled into one country. It's full of bizarre idiosyncracies. Casablanca is full of well dressed men in moustaches smoking American cigarettes and yapping wildly into shiny mobile phones, yet the country has Africa's second largest population of mules. As you escape the metropolitan centres and head into the foothills of the Atlas mountain range the pace drops off considerably. Cars and buses still approach the sound barrier but life is gentler. The road from Marrakech over the Tizi-n-tichka pass (traditionally the strategic key to the interior) is dramatic purely for the rapidly changing environment. The palmeries are left behind, olive groves and goats appear then disappear before the prevailing orange of the country takes hold south of the pass.
Tinerhir sits upon a spot of green in the oasis-speckled Dades Valley. Famous for it palmeries, it is also the launch pad for the Todra Gorge. This has turned the dusty town into an important tourist stop-over; a seemingly endless stream of jeeps and buses barrels its way up the winding 12km to the gorge. First sight of the entrance to the gorge and you know why. It is immensely impressive, even climbers experienced in stunning rock-architecture gasp at first sight: the brown limestone walls rise 300 metres above the stream, the echoes of jeeps and mules and excited children reverberate around the walls, the tall green palm trees at the mouth of the gorge dwarfed by the towering gateway, it all makes for an impressive spectacle.
Satanicos - Easy routes above the river, deep inside the gorge.
According to the locals there are over 400 routes on 40 Sectors at Todra. The actual number may be somewhat smaller but the quality and variety is unsurpassed in such a small area. The potential for further development is mind-boggling; newer Sectors such as Traine Blanche point the way.
On the left as you enter the gorge is the amenable Plage Mansour section with its fine collection of easy (Fr5s and low 6s) all a stone's throw from the climbers doss spot Hotel Mansour. A few dusty lines lie scattered around the lower half of the gorge, nothing terribly inspiring… until you get to the Pilier de Couchant. This is the most compelling line in the Gorge proper and at a full 9 pitches on the classic left hand line - none harder than 6a+ - is a grand day out. Route finding is slightly problematic near the top due to the sparsity of in situ gear, and it does receive a liberal dosing of blazing sunshine around lunchtime, hints: take a few slings (and wires if you have them), plenty of water and shoes for the rocky descent path.
Crag x Arch - an awesome unclimbed arch of dusty tufa.
The pleasant and worthwhile Satanicos Sector on the right hand side of the gorge is good for Fr5s and low 6s but is not a place to escape the tourists. Keep going. Passing the Hotels Les Roches and Yasmina you reach Sector De Meuk, the first of the hardcore sectors. Sadly its popularity suffers from dust and the passing jeeps so its blank walls are a bit dirty. Keep going.
Bursting out of the other end of the gorge the first thing a climber will notice is the impressive barrel-shaped wall (very Ceüse-esq, I thought) of Can Güllich on the hill opposite. A stony slog up the hill (10-15 minutes) deposits you on the ledge beneath the smaller-than-it looks crag. A poky 6c (Requiem por la cobra) and an even pokier 7a+ (Entre dos poyas) provide blobby tufa-squeezing warm ups on the left hand side of the wall. A handful of routes (7b - 8bish) tackle the main challenge presented by the ludicrously steep bulge to the right; cruxes tend to be low down and jugs appear near the top, which is handy. Haste un waka quisto must rank as one of the world's classic 7bs, the holds are unbelievably large and the moves delightfully flowing. A must. On the same side of the valley is the huge Trainee Blanche, only recently developed and loaded with stacks of potential. Watch this space.
Valley view - above the gorge the valley opens out into an occasionally green-specked moonscape.
For those with muscles in different places Les Jardins is probably a better bet, a brilliant lounging venue with good views and amenable routes.
A gentle wander up the by now fairly open valley leads to the solitary river bed boulder of Chaos. A fine and varied little crag with some pleasant bouldering nearby, this makes a nice afternoon/evening venue and has the stunning 7c+ arete of Kiffi to keep you entertained.
Tom n KZA: Kerrie Gosney on some of the long routes at Sector Mansour.
Further still is the delectable Petite Gorge, probably the best area of Todra, approximately 20 minutes from the hotels. A combination of fine rock, fine routes, fine views and relative solitude creates a winning cocktail. A good selection of 5s and 6s occupy the north side whilst the south caters for 6s and 7s plus the disgusting looking Trini Crack 8a+. Recommended routes include Lizard 6c, Ensalada Metallica 7a, and Sant Siurana 7b.
Fact File | Topos
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