Compiled dispatches, originally sent live from the field with a PDA / Sat phone combo to The North Face web-site

One of the most stunning locales for North African climbing, Kris Erickson, Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk, Heifi Wirtz and Kevin Thaw will attempt to establish a new route on the vast limestone walls located within the Taghia Cirque region of Morocco.
This expedition will also help to renovate schools and improve education in rural Morocco.

Topo of our route "La Bas"

View the Taghia Cirque with Google Earth


The Vegas of Morocco     September 13, 2006

"Marrakech is the Vegas of Morocco!," Kris exclaims as he leads the team through a bustling midnight marketplace jam-packed with people. The athlete team of Kevin, Conrad, Heidi and myself and our talented high-angle film crew of four all follow him through the cobbled maze of tight alleyways to gather key supplies for our journey into the enchanted cirque of Taghia.

We are all eager to start our exploration of the giant red limestone walls while working to restore the local school and trail network of the isolated mountain village. At this point we have two more days of city-prep before launching into our adventure! We'll keep you posted from the field...

Cheers, Renan

     


The Final Leg of the Approach     September 15, 2006

Zaouiat Ahansal, the end of the road was our point to embark the final leg of the journey to Taghia. Donkeys bore our equipment the final three up-trail hours to the village and will continue to do so over the next week. Building supplies for the school roof and our food have been sorted into importance so as to decide which day the donkeys will portage them.

Zaouiat Ahansal lies at the confluence of many drainage channels, rivers without their potential flow, though I'm sure in spring the torrents rage as seasonal snow diminishes.
Ecology akin to Western US deserts gives way to scant pine coverage as the valley steepens, terraces tier the steep slopes and surround the river bed. Figs, corn, apricots & apples prove to be the season's staple plus of course animals, of which goat occupies most common grazing zones.

The valley pinches into a canyon as it winds toward Taghia, brush covered walls drop cliffbands toward the river, a final curve grants the vista we travelled for a cirque of 800m soaring golden limestone surrounds the village A lifetime's worth of stunning climbing from which we shall choose a project.

That's the days plan, tour the cliffs see what has been done and find the gaps that beg to be climbed. Potential akin to wandering into Yosemite in the early days.

Between school roof construction and gorgeous rock our time will be well spent all of us are eager to get on with it! --Kevin

       


Coming to Terms with the Character of the Rock     September 16, 2006

Before embarking on our route project it's important to come to terms with the rock character, basically go climbing n' check out what's been done.

We're unable to engage building projects as supplies are still trickling in via donkey, can't get to grips with the school roof just yet.

Yesterday we split into pairs and each ventured to different formations. Heidi & I went for a seven pitch line on the cascade wall, a fun 5.11 induction to the nature and climbing style of the local stone.
Limestone is uniquely featured, cracks and large features of course but on the blank looking faces solution pockets and water carved rivulets abound. A big tell tale in the water carving is calcite deposits on each and every ripple. This gives the rock a sharp abrasive nature, un-precise movement quickly removes skin! Not common to all regions of this stone but very evident in Cirque du Taghia.

The climb felt wandery at first but as the pitches flowed and we began to read the features more clearly and quickly. A fun warm up to the area as was the route chosen by Conrad & Renan, Kris & Cloe. Excepting Kris & Cloe we based the teams on who had not climbed together previously.

This morning (17th) we walked to the chosen line on the TNT wall to ensure all was good with the intended following experience climbing, also we carried trail building supplies. The route looks fine and progress with it will ensue tomorrow.

Precarious trails used by the villagers to gain higher grazing (goats) pastures skirt the canyons on skinny ledges and over boulder problem cliff bands. Branches hammered into cracks then further log stacks with rocks slotted in gaps are usual fair for the bouldery sections. Today a series of steps were built and a chain fixed as a hand line on a section where an elderly villager recently took a fatal fall.

Taghia is just beyond the realm of communication, no road, electricity or phone, climbers have in recent past forged their link to the outside world. The new school roof and a safer passage to their high pastures is welcome initiative from the villagers, both groups equally as excited for the projects ahead.

       


Climbing and Building the School Roof     September 20, 2006

Yesterday was a fine one on our TNT wall project. I added the final bolt on the first pitch (ran out of drill juice previously) and redpointed it at 511+ (though some think it harder?). Pitch one is a fine 40m sweep of clean grey limestone, delicate, fun climbing above which Renan had taken the rope up a ramp system and into a cave. His pitch out of the cave proved a heady 5.10 on less than perfect rock, an admirable lead. The following day, instead of pursuing the same course on friable stone Conrad & I opted to straighten the line up to the high point, keeping to grey solution rock we'll leave good high quality climbing, enjoyable for all who follow. Fine craftsmanship from our part hopefully.

Three high quality 5.11 pitches and one more on a vegetated ramp is the tally thus far. Above the high point more fine grey solution rock awaits Heidi, Kris & Conrad today. Renan & I have rotated to the school roof project for the next couple of days.
-Kevin

Back on the village floor major progress was achieved on the school roof construction. Although the Berber culture does not normally lead to volunteer work the locals of all ages came together to drill dig carry rocks and lay concrete. Especially touching was the group of ten young boys diligently setting up the nuts and washers, literally constructing the framework for their future.

By mid day with the help of the village we put ourselves ahead of the available building materials being ferried up valley by donkey and were honoured to an appreciation lunch with our host family. This included freshly prepared goat slow cooked over the fire in a ceramic tajine capped by some juicy local melon.
-Renan

       


The Projects Progress     September 23, 2006

The route & town projects are still forging ahead admirably.

Deep within Taghia's encircling limestone walls one team is always pressing the route above the scant trees and small terraced fields while rotation in and out of the climbing task allows rest and furthering the school roof project.

A couple of days ago Renan and I redpointed the climb thus far, 5.11+, 5.10-, 5.12a & a steep 5.11a to the base of Kris's new pitch. This granted a short yet stout 5.12c/d section. Kris opted to climb to the right from the high-point then straightened out the line resulting in the hard pitch followed by 5.10 climbing up to his belay. Conrad & Heidi are on the TNT wall today taking the route further, everyone felt the need to rest yesterday.

We chose the TNT wall based on it's shady aspect, it's hard to imagine climbing in the direct sun even though an autumnal shift is evident.
Tomorrow Renan, Kris & I plan to equip (bolt) the current crux, redpoint it then add a pitch or two above today's pitches from Heidi & Rad.

Wood supplies still trickle in slowly via mule, the roof is a couple of days ahead of schedule even with the time lag in receiving mule deliveries. There are only five animals for hire at the road head town so hastening the mechanism isn't possible. Stepping ahead of supplies allowed Cloe & Heidi to enjoy a day on Taoujdad's fine eight pitch wall, a welcome break from the construction management.

The teacher returned from summer break this morning, children had caught word yesterday that he was en route and immediately busied themselves with cleaning and arranging the class room.
He seemed duly impressed with progress, children will soon find their school room to be one of the finer buildings in town, no longer a need to hide at home for the rainy months to avoid a dripping ceiling. -Kevin-

     


Questing Further     September 25, 2006

Ramadan has just commenced in the Islamic world. A period of reflection and fasting during daylight. A time to raise awareness of what one has and what one should be grateful for. Based upon the lunar cycle Ramadan began with yesterday's new moon.

Up on the wall Heidi added a fine steep pitch while Renan and I did some cleaning a pitch below then redpointed what has become the current crux, a technical 5.12c stemming corner, beautiful climbing! Two or three more rope lengths should see us through the steep zone.

On the roof the ridge beam and rafters are in place, today's task for Conrad and I is blocking the rafters. Adding strength for upcoming winters and their snow load. The sheeting should be added tomorrow with the entire job concluded later this week.

Renan and Kris are questing further up the route today, Heidi and Cloe are cruising down valley to Zaouiat Ahansal for the souk (market). Snack supplies are running a little low plus it should be a fine slice of culture. -Kevin-

       


"Bishweeah, bishweeah"     September 27, 2006
 

"Bishweeah, bishweeah," Kris says in Arabic with a big grin on his face. Steadily, steadily the team has been accomplishing our ambitious projects in the isolated high atlas village of Taghia. Both the school roof and new big wall free climb are in nearly completed form.

The day before yesterday Kevin, Conrad and myself put a day of blood and sweat into the roof. This involved blocking out the rafters by cutting small custom cut two by four pieces and hammering them into place. Its amazing how many small obstacles have to be overcome to build such structures away from electricity and a home depot within driving distance.

On the rock yesterday was also a big construction effort. Kris and I ascended a thousand feet of overhanging rope to the high point, added another hard pitch above, and then laboured the haul bag upward. The new pitch involved a powerful short section (5.12 grade) before kicking back onto an easier arete and finishing on the summit of a detached tower!

During these efforts I have also made considerable progress on a mural covering the back wall of the school room. The composition is a 360 panoramic of the valley and is congruous with the local geometrics of the ancient casba architecture of the area. After laying down the initial sketch in sharpie for a video time lapse I involved some curious small children to christen the colors. By creating paint stamps with carved wax candles the kids were able to dab shapes into the landscape. This worked brilliantly at first but quickly got out of control and I was forced to jettison with oil paints before to many lines went wandering off the wall. Working solo by headlamp later the same evening balanced out such a rambunctious beginning.

All in all the entire team is in good health and spirits and sends our thanks to all those reading and who have made this adventure possible!

Cheers, Renan

       


Taghia Village     September 29, 2006

The sun rises each morning with a crisp fall hue. The deciduous trees are turning and the villagers are preparing to harvest corn. Peals of laughter from the children and the braying of the donkeys punctuate the call of chickens.

It is now the fifth day of Ramadan, the holy month of the Islamic faith. Our host Said (think sayeed) wakes before dawn to feed his family and prepare for the day. During Ramadan the faithful abstain from food and drink during daylight hours. We do our best to be mindful of their faith by eating breakfast in private. With nightfall the villagers enjoy a small feast, laugh and sing.

The route continues to challenge us the amount of work to equip an 11 pitch sport route is more than any of us had anticipated. End result of our efforts is to create an enjoyable climb that requires a rope and a dozen set of quick draws. In thinking about our climb I see it as the antithesis of what alpine climbing is. On an icy face the size of Tagoujimt we would be seeking out the safest and easiest passage. In contrast to traditional style, where one follows cracks, we look for featured faces that can only be protected with bolts. As the pioneering climbers in this region are continental Europeans we have taken their lead as to the style the routes are established. To create these gigantic sport routes requires big wall techniques aid climbing, hauling and fixed ropes. When the work is all said and done we hope to enjoy the fruits of our labour with a one-day free ascent of the line.
With a week to finish the roof, route and trail projects we split into small groups to get after each project. Chloe is working with the schoolteachers to finalise the last details of the roof: Renan, Heidi and Kris are toiling away on the route while Kevin and I are adding the last touches to the trail project. After three weeks of being in Morocco I have a new sense of appreciation for the people who are our hosts. Tucking into a landmass about the size of Montana, my home state, is a population of 35 million. We experience only a tiny segment of this rich and colourful country.

Travelling reminds me of how small yet enormously diverse our planet is. When I see the children lining up for school I think of my own three sons, off to school each day as these children are. In the end I see all humans striving for similar goals: to be close to your family, to be free of want and strife and to find happiness in their existence.

Salaam peace be with you,
Conrad

       


Fresh Buzz     October 2, 2006

Amid the terraced fields and beneath the grand limestone escarpments of our home for the prior weeks a fresh buzz resounds about the town. Locals have been monitoring daily progress with the construction yet may took a stroll by as the final section of roof was fitted earlier today. The children's education will no longer stall for rain or snow days.

Renan and I are excited as tomorrow is our day for the grand send of the climb. Conrad & Kris established the final two pitches yesterday but to truly conclude the line we feel it important to climb it from the ground in a single push.


Success!     October 4, 2006

Yesterday Renan and I concluded the route by climbing ground to summit in a single 'no falls' push. Twelve bolted pitches plus a thousand or so feet of traditionally protected climbing above those. A fine, fun experience that perfectly concluded our Taghia task list.
From the climb we could see the new school roof and watch the goats being herded through the steep trails recently enforced with chain and re-bar.

Climbing has been a wonderful vehicle to see and enjoy some of the planet's less known nooks & corners. The experiences always leave one gratified and feeling richer from the journey, yet when one leaves a community feeling the same from our being among them everything is escalated to a fresh level.

No more drips in the school room, hopefully no more fatal tumbles from the precarious trails and a fine new route in addition.

Our time is by no means over, the following few days are set for fun climbing, checking the hard work of others who've been motivated to search and equip the clean sweeps of limestone between the fissures: Also for the everyone in the group to get to grips with the TnT wall route, for which will still trying to agree upon a name.  -Kevin-  Topo of our route "La Bas"

       


Heading Home     September 8, 2006

Thanks for checking on our Moroccan adventure.

We're safely en route home, time to reflect on a wonderful journey.

       

 

Kevin Thaw