Arnaud and I rarely have the opportunity to climb together. Eight hundred kilometers separate us; Arnaud in his Briançonnais, me in my Pyrenees. We cross paths at his place during the winter, where we make time for an explosive ice cocktail. He always chooses the right plan on each of my visits. And he is a great travel companion. In December 2006 we completed a long-standing joint project on the west face of Nassrani in Wadi Rum. This four-day climb forced me to chase the ghosts of a lengthy melancholic lethargy, caused by the disappearance of a friend. The sandstone played many good tricks on us, and we had fully to believe in the project to see it tamed.
We hadn’t climbed together in Taghia for four years, but as an amateur or guide, I have returned each year since. In 2005, with Thomas Berges, Michel Bourdet, and Joel Tost, I spent three days in the depths of the Akka n’Tazarte canyon, opening two routes on Jbel Tadline. There was still another line on the west face, more difficult, certainly, than the preceding ones. But without doubt exceptional. I had this project on my mind during the spring of 2008, and Arnaud told me he had similar plans.
Convincing Martin Elias to spend four or five days away from the village of Taghia really wasn’t complicated. Martin is an outward going lad, with a dazzling enthusiasm for any new adventure. We arrived in Taghia to find 80 climbers had just left and the guesthouse owned by the Messaoudis returning to a state of relative calm.
At Zaouia, I asked Moa to join the other mule-drivers and accompany us to the base of Akkas. Moa is one of those people I like to use again and again. Mohamed, Said’s brother, played a useful part in the journey: he knows the way well, and sometimes storms change the normally dry riverbed and the path becomes difficult for donkeys. In that case we have to shift rocks and make walkways to aid the progress of our precious quadrupeds.
We arrived at the cave opposite the face by early afternoon. Binoculars changed hands and a line emerged on the great red wall. I won the draw and got the first pitch. I was anxious to leave the ground, a situation that suits me perfectly but would also please my companions. After the first few meters the message was clear: we would have to fight. An obvious line led up to a roof, then two bolts protected a rising traverse left to a belay. Above, the wall had no real weakness, but it was Martin’s turn.
“Bon, bon, on va y aller” (alright, alright, let’s go), he said in a French he has learnt with disconcerting ease. I know few people who can infiltrate slang into our most refined language with such elegance.
Martin climbed the difficult wall and succeeded in placing a bolt. However, it was directly above the belay, and if he were to fall, it would hurt. He trembled and then managed to place a hook, from where he drilled another bolt. Seconding this section, Arnaud and I fully appreciated the skill of our friend from La Rioja in northern Spain. It proved to be the crux of the route. At the belay we fixed our haul line, and then descended to the cave, a woodfire, and food and drink.
From the ground it was hard to gauge the length of some sections, and the next day Arnaud made a shorter-than-anticipated traverse to reach the first dihedral. The climbing there was magnificent. Now it was my turn, and my mission was to find the answer to the yellow slabs. At first there was nothing obvious, but then one pleasant surprise led to another. Intuitive climbing along an ascending rightward traverse led to the second diedre.
We continued with some anxiety due to the performance of our drill on the first day: we were only able to place six bolts before our first battery ran out. After Martin equipped the fifth belay, logic suggested that we only have enough power left in our second battery for one more bolt. Several tens of meters above, the wall gave way to less steep and more broken terrain, but before that a roof system and, on the right, a vague spur blocked our view. To the west we heard the rumbling of a storm and were immediately faced with moments of doubt. Martin found a few more good words, and Arnaud decided to see what lay to the right. He climbed under the roofs and then traversed right on beautifully sculptured rock. The last bolts were placed: he bypassed the spur, and knew that we would now get up. The rain arrived and then intensified. I climbed a long easy pitch and Martin led through to the top, soaked.
It was a magnificent eight-pitch climb, and is one of the best in Taghia. We quickened our pace in order to find the descent back into the canyon before nightfall.
Fugitivos del Paraiso (ABO- 7b+ 7a+ obl, 350m, Martin Elias-Arnaud Guillaume-Christian Ravier, June 6-7, 2008). The start is 50m left of Amazigh.
Deux Anes et un plus fin (TD+ 6c, 250m, Elias-Guillaume-Ravier, June 9, 2008)
Jbel Timghazine, Akka n’Tafrawt
Oeil de Lynx (ED 7a+ 6c obl, 250m, Guillaume-Ravier, June 10, 2008). Situated to the left of Diedre Pikort.
Falaise de Machkour
Alambic Sortie Sud (7a+ and two points of aid on the third pitch, which has yet to be freed, 6b+ obl, 130m, Elias-Guillaume-Ravier, June 12, 2008). The start is a little to the right of Le Peau de l’Ours.
All routes require a full rack of natural gear.
Christian Ravier, France (translated by Marina Heusch)