Call To Prayer: A First Ascent in Morocco

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“Morocco is winning,” JT said, examining his stubbed toe. We had spent nearly two weeks climbing in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains. Tired after climbing the technical eight hundred meter Oujdad, JT nailed his toe on the rocky descent, putting a large blood blister on his pinky toe.

After twelve days of eating soup, living in a concrete bunker in the Taghia Gorge and the slight injury, JT and I needed more of a Western influence. The long limestone routes of the Taghia gorge had beat us up. We hiked west to Agoumin, to Kris’s house and potential new routes.

donkeys, taghia, morocco climbing,

After a honeymoon trip to Taghia, Chloe and Kris Erikson moved to the small town of Agoumin where they established a guiding program. When Emily Harrington and Hazel Findlay stopped through in 2013, they bolted a couple of routes and left Kris with a drill. The following year, Sam Elias visited for three weeks, establishing a dozen routes from 5.12 to 5.14. The potential for new lines remained though.

Kris Erickson, Taghia climbing, Morocco climbing

“We should hike up there,” Kris pointed at the horizon. “I bet there’s some new lines.”

Kris said from the porch of his tow house. We packed the drill, bolts, ropes and gear and followed him through a labyrinth of century year old buildings to a shepherd’s trail. The path went to a spring at the top of a plateau where the Berbers grazed their goats and sheep during the days. Below the grassy area, sat an eighty meter wall of vertical limestone.

“It’s a half hour hike,” Kris said in between stories of ski guiding in Antartica and climbing in Chamonix. “It’s not far.”

The short hike and the quality of the rock enticed us to make a first ascent. It would be a good change from the long routes of the Taghia Gorge. Equipping a new route would also allow JT’s toe to rest.

An hour later, we made it to the crag. The six mile hike from Taghia to Agoumin had been tiring. The trek up the hill to Agal Mosse had been exhausting. We looked at the cliff, overwhelmed. The steep rock had never been climbed on. With limited time and unsure of the terrain, we decided the best way would be to place bolts on rappel.

The following day, we scoped the best path to the top of the crag. JT hiked to the summit and dropped a rope down the cliff.

“Am I over the line?” He shouted.

“Yeah!” I said from the ground, “It’s below you and to the left? Are there holds!?”

“Huge holds!” JT placed two bolts, one with a ring anchor. Eyeballing the route, he descended, stopping every few feet to brush and tick holds and place a bolt. He placed twelve bolts before the battery in the drill died.

Leaving two bolts in the middle of the wall clipped, I toproped up fifteen meters of slab, placing chalk marks where I thought bolts should go. From below, the line appeared easy and short. On the rock, I felt the steepness of the moves and the length between them. Draws dangled from the wall brushing the limestone dust from the holes. I dogged up the route, chalking the holds, finding the best stances to clip them. Near the top, I aided through a section. Unsure of the exact spot to place the bolt, JT placed the protection too far right of the line, making it difficult to clip. We decided that the bolt needed to be moved further left. Chris attempted the route, climbing into the crux, a difficult move right. He helped chalk the holds, kick off some loose holds and brush up the feet on the route.


drilling, first ascents, Morocco climbing, Jonathan Thesenga

While I rested, JT switched out the battery, jugged up the fixed line, moved the bolt and then placed bolts on the lower slab. I attempted the route again, this time I fell on the crux a few times and then linked to the anchor.

The next day, we returned to the project. JT made an attempt on the route and figured out an alternate version to the crux, making a long move where I bumped through crimps. I climbed the route after JT. With the beta sussed and the holds ticked, I climbed through the crux and fought the pump to the anchors.

Jonathan Thesenga, First ascents, Agoumin

 Allah u Akbar! Allah u Akbar! The evening call to prayer resounded from the mineret in town. An Islamic Berber shouts from the tower five times a day. The chant begins predawn and reminded us of the time through out the day. The evening call echoed just before dusk while JT was on the route.

JT reached huge between two holds. He stuck the crux and kept fighting. A few more moves would see him to the anchor. This would be his last attempt on the route. We had to leave for Marrakech the next day and continue back to the states. He had to hold on.

First ascents, Morocco Climbing, Agoumin

He stood into an undercling, clipped the last bolt and shook his way to the anchor, freeing Call to Prayer, a 35meter 7c+ and the first route at the crag. We left Morocco with aplomb, ecstatic to have found and climbed such an amazing new line.