Night on a bare mountain

21st March, 2012

By Ann Jam

We’ve all been kept awake on occasion by our mind scrolling repetitively through trivia. This night was one of those, persistently cataloguing the pros and cons of an unplanned night out on a Moroccan mountain (not so trivial then). Pro: a wide dry flat rock to sleep on (no chance of rolling off); con: the rock is cold, with only a climbing rope as a poor substitute for a karrimat. Pro: a clear night sky with an almost full moon; con: no way of switching off the floodlighting of the moon… Pro: I still have six jellybabies left; con: only a mouthful of water left, and not knowing how long the jellybabies will have to last us tomorrow. Pro: knowing our mates in the valley will likely come searching for us tomorrow, con: knowing they are right now sleepless with worry (and vowing next time not to leave my mobile in the car). Pro: three layers of clothing on; con: my knee-length trousers are allowing all my body heat to escape through bare shins, so I wrap them in the bit of rope I’m not lying on (hoping I won’t need to leap up in a hurry, and fall over cartoon-like). Pro: it’s not cold enough to die of hypothermia; it’ll make a good story.
“Well” to quote David Byrne, “How did I get here?”

This was a return trip to Morocco for me – the challenging roads, occasional loose rock, and need to route find felt intimidating last time, but I had a better idea of what to expect this time and there were four of us, and the scenery and sense of adventure were as stunning as ever.
We’d set out that morning for our Big Climb of the week – The Eagles Beak – 350m, 4C, the only recorded route on ‘Crag A’ beyond the village of Anergui in the Anelm valley.  All we had to go on was a wiggly red line on a crag photo showing the route, but no description of the descent. But it looked possible to join the walkers’ path descending from Jebel El Kest – how hard could that be?

An ‘exciting’ 45 min drive up to park at the village, followed by a pleasant walk to the crag, and the first challenge, to find the start of the route. The million dollar question “If I could climb anywhere on this crag, where would it be?” helped to identify a clean rib and impressive crack line.  By 11.30 we were on the first pitch, the rock on the whole solid. The second pitch required some route finding, with a couple of bold moves across a wide crack, but still heading up and left, we made solid progress. Five pitches of no more than 4C climbing got us to easy ground from where we picked up the ropes and scrambled alpine style to the top.

Topping out at 5 o’clock and now just the path to find. We spotted wild daffs, a couple of gentians and random cairns, but no path, no gentle col, no sight of the village, in short no path. We did find a gorge, which we scrambled steeply down, guessing it might lead to the path, but wrong, it led instead to a vertical drop. We had no desire to abseil in the dwindling light, so retracing our steps up the boulder strewn gorge was our only option.

By this time we had our head torches on and a sprained ankle was becoming a serious risk. So I’ve never seen a wide flat rock look a more inviting place to stop for the night.
We survived of course. As dawn broke at 6am, we had a quick breakfast of a jellybaby each, then found the path within 20 minutes, and were down at the car in another 30.

First things first – water. Next we were approached by an excited man who was relieved we were OK, was wondering whose car had parked next to his house and, by the way, our friends had just set off up the path to search for us!  Fortunately they’d not gone far, and we were able to call them back. Sure enough they’d lain awake, and got up at 5am (before us BTW) to come and look for us. Mr Said invited us in for a cup of tea, followed by coffee, bread, soup, oranges… it was Anergui’s answer to Pete’s Eats.
Sure enough it makes a good story. (And I still had 2 jellybabies left).

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