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Last Week in Tafraout!

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Last week I had the joy of being back in one of my favourite places –  the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Such a fantastic multi-pitch trad paradise with hundreds of routes and still so much room for development!

 

 

I was out there guiding Lindsay from Washington DC, who is a keen climber and was up for proper multi-pitch adventure!  We had just three days there to get in as many classic routes as possible.

 

For those of you interested in the details, here’s the breakdown:

 

South Side – Tafraout

Day 1 – Tizgut Gorge

  • Tizgut Rib VS 4c
  • Ahmed VS 4c
  • Tizgut Corner HVS 5a
  • Right Recess VS 4b

 

North Side – Jebel Kest

Day 2 – Afantinzar Valley – Lower Eagle Crag and Ksar Rock

  • Pink Lady VS 4c, 230m
  • Sahara MVS 4b / Jedi Groove HVS 4c

 

Day 3 – Samazar Valley – Waterfall Walls

  • Above the Water HVS 5a, 400m

 

 

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Our last day was pretty full on, as we left Tafraout for the more remote walls of the Samazar Valley. The walls here are massive, with routes up to 800m. We chose a top 50 HVS called ‘Above the Water’ on Waterfall Walls. This route has some sick exposure and isn’t to be underestimated as there are sections of loose rock… proper adventure climbing. From door to door we took about 10 hours with about eight and a half hours of non-stop climbing – a brilliant way to finish off the trip.

 

If you are up for an Anti-Atlas adventure or looking for an introduction to multi-pitch climbing in an exotic location with great sunshine then get in touch for this autumn, winter or spring as this is the season to head to Tafraout!  And for a review of the brilliant guidebook produced by Oxford Alpine Club check out my blogs here.

 

 

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Categories: Anti-Atlas, Blog, James, Jebel El Kest, Tafraout, Trad
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Alpine Gear Review 2016 – Nano Air Hoody, Sum’tec & Lim’ice

Alpine Gear Review 2016 – Patagonia Nano Air Hoody, Petzl Sum’tec Ice Axe/Tool and Petzl Lim’ice screw sharpener!

 

This winter season I have been using a few new piece of kit for both personal and work trips: Patagonia Nano Air Hoody and the Petzl Sum’tec Ice Axe/Tool, and Petzl Lim’ice screws sharpener. I would like to give a few thoughts about these pieces for those looking for a good insulation piece, a do it all ice axe, and finally, an ice screw sharpener that anyone can use… all from the usual suspects in the outdoor gear industry!

 

 

First, let’s start with the Nano Air Hoody from Patagonia.

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 2.31.09 PMBreathability

This jacket rocks! It breaths very well, is perfect for start stop adventures and as they say “you can put it on and leave it on!.”

 

Comfort & Fit

I now wear this thing all the time as it feels comfy against the skin. I found that a size small fit’s me perfectly (5’9 and 165lbs with a 39inch chest). I could wear a size medium if I wanted a bit more layering options but I still can get fleece and base layer under this thing no problem;-)

 

The stretch of this jacket really does make it a piece you will use all the time as you don’t have any restriction of movement whilst climbing and moving in the mountains! And the hood fits fine over a climbing helmet.

 

 

Durability

I have used this jacket on all my trips this winter and wear it most days around town and it is still going strong. I did tear the fabric a bit on the back with freshly sharpened ice tool but this sort of thing is going to happen if you get out climbing in your gear. Easy to fix… just a bit of seam grip or repair tape and way you go. Why not aim for a jacket with patches and soul!

 

Value

It is pricey this piece, but worth every buck spent. I am a bit of an ebay junky, so I waited to find a killer deal on the previous season’s colors before buying. That being said I would pay full price for this if I had no other option!

 

For more technical information on the jacket go to Patagonia’s website!

 

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Good old Chamonix… and was pleased to have the Nano hoody for this trip! Sept 2015

 

 

Second up, the Petzl Sum’tec Ice Axe/tool

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 2.14.55 PMOk, I am a bit old school when it comes to a mountaineering axe! I have a 55cm Mountain Technology straight shafted mountaineering axe I use on my winter skills courses, and general mountaineering trips. The MT axe is awesome for adze work but over the last couple of years I have been looking to bridge the gap between a mountaineering axe and a technical ice tool… BOOM Petzl Sum’tec axe! I was originally inspired to check out the axe by a photo of it in Mont Blanc Finest Routes (page 56) where a climber paired the sum’tec with a nomic! What a brilliant idea… as often you want good tools for climbing but then a mountaineering axe for approaches and descents! Well if that is what you are looking for then this axe for you!

 

 

 

General Purpose

The axe does very well with adze work… i.e. cutting steps, snow belays, etc. It also preformed well on approach slope as it has a solid spike. It is much lighter than my old MT axe… weighing in at 485g. Despite its weight it has a T- rated shaft so super strong for those buried axe belays!

 

Ice and Mixed terrain

As mentioned the axe is light but even so it still climbs well on ice! I found it to have a bit of weight behind the head which makes for a nice swing and good pick penetration/placements. The pommel is absolutely wicked and makes climbing grade IV ice no problem at all. If you have a similar style slightly bent shaft axe already I reckon you could retro fit the pommel to the axe… it should fit on axes such as the BD Venom, Grivel Evo tech with a bit of ingenuity;-)

 

Durability

Bomber, well made axe that you can replace the picks after heavy use. This means you could have this bad boy for years;-)

 

Value

Price is pretty standard for this type of axe, but again being able to replace the pick means long-term use!

 

Due to the weight, and great performance for both mountaineering and ice/mixed climbing this axe has become my go to for most days in the High Atlas!

 

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Out guiding recently using the Sum’tec! Thanks for the photo Zach!

 

 

Last but not least, Petzl Lim’ice screw sharpener

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Every been on a steep pitch of ice reached for a screw and then almost had a panic attach because your blunt screw is taking ages to bit into the ice? Been there done that… introducing the Lim’ice from Petzl.

This is an idiot proof ice screw sharpener. It gives clear easy to follow instructions and works a treat to resurrect those old screws you end up trying to only use on your belays! I got mine as a kind gift from one of my clients this winter and it has been amazing! Thanks so much Martin!

 

Pros

  • The best thing is you can replace the file when it finally bites the dust.
  • The thing is compact, so it can be carried in for longer trips! After receiving it and trying it out I had it with me at the hut for any of my climbing trips this winter.
  • And finally, it works with any screw I came across this winter: Petzl, Grivel, BD!

 

What a clever little tool all us winter climbers could use through out the season to keep us quick on the draw with our screw placements! It cost a bit but I think it is a good investment for seasoned winter climbers!

 

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At home after touching up a recently resurrected screw:-)

 

Summary of the Alpine Gear Review 2016! Essentially, all the bits of gear above preform very well for their intended purposes, are built for the long haul and are great bits of kit that will serve you well for your alpine adventures! Can’t really think of any cons… sorry!

 

 

Categories: Alpine Climbing, Blog, Gear Review, James
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Toubkal Winter Conditions #8 – March 2016

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Mouflon refuge and the south col route up Toubkal after the storm broke! 24-3-16

 

Latest Toubkal Winter Conditions Report – March 26, 2016

The snow fall has been late this year but better late then never! This last week I was out with Mike and Zach from Texas for a Winter Alpine Ridges trip that included a bit of ice climbing. The boys did very well with the adventurous, blizzard/Scottish-like conditions!

 

Snowpack and Snow Cover

A metre plus of snow dropped early this last week which included spells of strong northerly winds. We came across the graupel deposits in isolated places. There are some pretty deep drifts and windslab deposits to look out for and do take care as the snowpack continues to consolidate. Also, take care on the big gullies such as the Tadat and Clochetons couloirs which are pretty loaded. The afternoons with the forecasted warmer temperatures should also be treated with care as the snowpack will become heavy!

 

 

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Walk out from the refuge 24-3-16

The snowpack should settle well over this next week and in the longer term keep the peaks in good snow cover. I imagine the skiing is getting pretty good again!

 

 

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Weather forecast from: http://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Toubkal/forecasts/4167

 

Climbing Conditions

The big lines on Afella and Toubkal West looked in good condition and should stay that way for the next couple of weeks as the recent snow should fatten up the lines.

 

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Toubkal West looking ready for action! 23-3-16

 

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Afella looking ready to go! 23-3-16

 

 

The Afekhoi cascades are good but a bit buried and difficult to get to with all the fresh snow. Chockstone Gully and Curtain Call (the ice smear on the left of Chockstone) once again are ready for action but do take care on the approach.

 

 

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Ice near the refuge!

Overall, the winter climbing should be good for the next couple of weeks but again do take care in warmer conditions!

 

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The boys enjoying the Tadaft Ridge! 23-3-16

 

Refuge Access

Porters are still essential for getting supplies and extra gear up to the refuge. Mules can get a bit further than Sidi Cham (2,350m) but no further. Over the coming weeks, if warmer conditions persist, mules should be able to get higher up the track near the refuge.

 

 

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Mules hanging out above Sidi Cham, 24-3-16

Do make sure to pay your porters and muleteers properly and keep to no more than 80kg for a mule loads and 20 to 25kgs for porters!

 

Winter Conditions Summary

A metre plus of fresh snow fell in the High Atlas mountains of Morocco earlier this week! The snowpack is generally settling well and should continue if the current weather forecast is correct. Do take care as there are weaknesses in the snowpack and avoid windslab deposits. Watch the big gully lines as well as they were pretty loaded. And finally, do watch the later part of the day as the snowpack warms and gets heavy and may become avalanche prone.

 

The climbing conditions should stay good over the next couple of weeks and the mountaineering should stay good as late as the end of April.

 

 

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Summit of Akioud 21-3-16

 

 

For a personalised trekking, guiding or instruction service for Toubkal and the High Atlas, get in touch with us here at The Mountain People!

 

 

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On route to SE face of Akioud 21-3-16

 

James, Full-time guide/instructor for TMP

James, Full-time guide/instructor for TMP

Disclaimer: as a mountaineering instructor I have had avalanche risk assessment training and have a good level of experience but am by no means a professional avalanche forecaster. These reports aim to give you a general idea of the winter conditions for a few days ahead and the risks involved but please be diligent in checking weather forecasts yourself and monitoring the conditions when you are out in the High Atlas.

 

Categories: Blog, High Atlas, Ice Climbing, James, Morocco, Mountain Information, Mountaineering, Winter
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Toubkal Winter Conditions #7 – March 2016

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Toubkal with the sunrise – photo taken from near Ras 4,083m – 2-3-16

Latest Toubkal Winter Conditions Report –  March 8, 2016

The Toubkal Massif is a winter playground at the moment! I got back from a 7-day trip that took in most of the 4,000m peaks in the range, and for the most part found good winter conditions. Harald (professional photographer from Austria) and I had some pretty epic early starts over the week as we were keen to make the most of the sunrise and its good lighting!

 

 

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Coming down the main gully on Akioud (standard route). See the ski touring group in the nearing the col. 5-3-16

 

Snowpack and Snow Cover

Again the snowcover is brilliant in the High Atlas and the overall conditions underfoot are good as the snowpack has consolidated and firmed up considerably. We came across some skiers over the week who were enjoying the more northerly aspect slopes. A few of them mentioned that there is good skiing, but you do have to work to get to it.

 

 

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Ras, Akioud, Afella, etc. Good snow cover on the 4,000m peaks!

 

I did run across some suspect layers which showed signs of weak bonding to the adjacent layers but these were mostly in the big gully lines and more northerly aspects. Also, found isolated pockets of the graupel layer (mentioned in my last post) in some of these areas, so continue to be aware when out and about. With the current forecast the snowpack will continue to turn to good neve and generally be stable.

 

 

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www.mountain-forecast.com – taken this morning 8-3-16

 

Climbing Conditions

The big routes on Toubkal West now look good for climbing, but you may encounter soft snow on some of the routes! The route Corredor ENE del Ras, D, 500m route continues to stay in good condition. Unfortunately the big lines on Afella looked a bit thin and most of them not complete.

 

 

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South col of Toubkal and Toubkal West! 3-3-16

 

The Afekhoi cascades will give some good single pitch ice climbing! Chockstone Gully and Curtain Call (the ice smear on the left of Chockstone) is thin near the top, still look in good condition but the smear is missing the lower section of it. Overall there is good ice and mixed climbing at the moment and with the freezing level staying around the refuge height the climbing and mountaineering should continue to stay good in the Toubkal Massif.

 

 

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Afekhoi cascades! 3-7-16

 

Refuge Access

Porters are still essential for getting supplies and extra gear up to the refuge as the track has still has snow on it. Mules can as far as Sidi Cham 2,350m and a bit higher but not all the way to the refuge. Do make sure to pay your porters and muleteers properly and keep to 80kg for a mule load and 20 to 25kgs for a porter!

 

 

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Toubkal Massif yesterday morning 7-3-16

 

Winter Conditions Summary

March is shaping up to be a good month for those looking for good winter conditions in the High Atlas. The snow pack is generally speaking consolidating well and quickly becoming firm neve. There are weak layers in the big gully lines and more northerly aspects slopes but with care should be ok. The mountaineering and climbing is great with the ice and mixed climbing good at the moment and should remain that way with the current weather forecast.

 

For a personalised trekking, guiding or instruction service and/or logistics for Toubkal and the High Atlas, get in touch with us here at The Mountain People!

 

James, Full-time guide/instructor for TMP

James, Full-time guide/instructor for TMP

Disclaimer: as a mountaineering instructor I have had avalanche risk assessment training and have a good level of experience but am by no means a professional avalanche forecaster. These reports aim to give you a general idea of the winter conditions for a few days ahead and the risks involved but please be diligent in checking weather forecasts yourself and monitoring the conditions when you are out in the High Atlas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Blog, Climbing Information, Conditions, High Atlas, Ice Climbing, James, Morocco, Mountain Information, Mountaineering, Winter
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Toubkal Winter Conditions #6 – Feb 2016

Latest Toubkal Winter Conditions Report – February 24, 2016

 

High Atlas looking much better with all the snow that has come recently! 24-2-16

High Atlas looking much better with all the snow that has come recently! 24-2-16

It has been sometime since my last proper conditions update! I headed up to the refuge today to check out all the snow that has been dropped over the last 2 weeks. Things are looking very good after a big couple of dumps of snow.

 

Snowpack and Snow Cover

The snow cover at the moment is fantastic with deep drifts and general a good amount of snow about. The snowpack is generally pretty settled and when the cooler temperatures hit later this week it will consolidate even more!

 

I found a couple of weak layers in the pit I dug today on a NE aspect slope at about 3,300m altitude. A graupel layer was just under the two inch surface layer and it is 3 to 4 inches thick in places and no doubt from the last snow storm that had some strong winds. Then the second weak layer I found was about 40cm below that. It sheared with a moderate pull on a hand shear test.  It is worth keeping these two suspect layers in mind whilst out. If we get another big dump of snow then the graupel layer could become very dangerous!

 

 

Pit I dug with the graupel and deep weak layer clearly showing 24-2-16

Pit I dug with the graupel and deep weak layer clearly showing 24-2-16

 

Graupel 24-2-16

Graupel 24-2-16

 

Overall the snowpack was pretty stable but do watch out with the warmer temperatures and avoid windslab!

 

 

From today's forecast at: www.mountain-forecast.com

From today’s forecast at: www.mountain-forecast.com

 

Climbing Conditions

The big routes on Toubkal West look like the will come into condition soon but they do need a bit more time for the snow slopes to firm up and for some more ice to form. It looks the same for the big lines on Afella. The route Corredor ENE del Ras, D, 500m route still looks good but probably has some deep deposits of snow.

 

Toubkal West looking like the big lines are getting doable! 24-2-16

Toubkal West looking like the big lines are getting doable! 24-2-16

 

Afella looking better as well 24-2-16

Afella looking better as well 24-2-16

 

The Afekhoi cascades are good to go and should be good for climbing with the lower temperatures coming soon.  Chockstone Gully and Curtain Call (the ice smear on the left of Chockstone) are still looking in good condition but the smear is missing the lower section.

 

Afekoh cascades ready for action 24-2-16

Afekhoi cascades ready for action 24-2-16

 

The ice just behind the refuge is pretty buried, but the stuff higher up around the refuge looks good and fat!

 

Overall things are set to get good! We should see the bigger lines come in to conditions as there is plenty of snow to feed their formation! Also, the single pitch ice all seems to be in good to go!

 

Refuge Access

Porters are now essential for getting supplies and extra gear up to the refuge as the track is now full of snow! Mules can get as far as Sidi Cham 2,350m but no further. Do make sure to pay your porters and muleteers properly and keep to 80kg for a mule loads and 20 to 25kgs for porter loads!

 

Ski trackes out of the the North Col route of Toubkal 24-2-16

Ski tracks out of the the North Col route of Toubkal 24-2-16

 

Winter Conditions Summary

Finally, some significant snow has been laid down in the High Atlas mountains! The snowpack is settling well, but do watch out for a couple of suspect weak layers – the in graupel layer and a weak layer deep in the pack. With the warmer conditions tomorrow and Friday and then the temperatures dropping right down we should see the snowpack firm up! Also, as time goes on the bigger routes on Toubkal West and Afella should start to come into condition and the rest of the ices continues to be good from the most part!

 

For a personalised trekking, guiding or instruction service and/or logistics for Toubkal and the High Atlas, get in touch with us here at The Mountain People!

 

James, Full-time guide/instructor for TMP

James, Full-time guide/instructor for TMP

Disclaimer: as a mountaineering instructor I have had avalanche risk assessment training and have a good level of experience but am by no means a professional avalanche forecaster. These reports aim to give you a general idea of the winter conditions for a few days ahead and the risks involved but please be diligent in checking weather forecasts yourself and monitoring the conditions when you are out in the High Atlas.

Categories: Blog, Climbing Information, Conditions, High Atlas, Ice Climbing, James, Morocco, Mountain Information, Mountaineering, Winter
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