The tiny rider confidently urged the donkey up the rocky track towards us. He was barely bigger than the chickens in front of him and couldn’t have been more than 5 years old.
While most pre-school children in the West are still learning to pedal a bicycle, this tough little Berber child was riding a powerful animal, over difficult terrain. Since leaving the road-head, Donkeys were the only form of transport we had seen. They are the HGVs of this mountainous territory, serving as family cars, taxis, ambulances and tractors.
A few days earlier, we were grateful that a donkey had carried our heavy bags of ice climbing gear up to the refuge, 1467m of ascent, along 10km of winding tracks, through thickening snowfall.
I first came ice climbing to Morocco in January last year with BMG Mike “Twid” Turner. Martin, from North Wales, joined us this year in March to explore more waterfall ice in the rugged Haute Atlas.
The climbing was excellent once again and we only saw one other team as we swung our axes into numerous steep routes on bullet-hard, waterfall ice. However, what really made this trip so special, was the local people. Acquaintances from last year welcomed us back as old friends, invited us to their homes and freely gave us their trust and hospitality.
On our last morning at the refuge (3207m), we left our heavy bags with Abdul, Mohamed and Aziz. They would load them on a donkey and tell the drover where to meet us. We then descended for a couple of hours with only our climbing gear and two 60m ropes.
Eventually, we crossed a ravine at 2500m and made our way up firm snow to a spectacular multi-pitch waterfall ice route. We climbed, topped out at 3200m and rappelled down from Abalakov threads – with an added sense of urgency. The strong Moroccan sunshine was starting to return parts of the enormous columns of ice above us to their liquid state.
As promised, 6 hours after leaving the refuge, at an agreed spot where the track crosses the river, the donkey and drover were waiting patiently for us with the bags that we had left at the refuge early that morning. Just below the tiny hamlet of Sidi Chammharouch, Ibrahim prepared delicious omelettes, new bread and freshly squeezed orange juice. We repacked our climbing gear and loaded our heavy bags back onto the donkey for the descent to Imlil.
We would have lingered to soak up the atmosphere but we were hurrying South to the Anti Atlas, where we would climb several new routes on unexplored hot rock (see other posts including: “Well ‘Ard” – Morocco new route, Cool Music & Hot Rock, Monkey Shoulder – E5 6a 1st Ascent and Lizard of Oz – E5 6a 1st Ascent).
Sometimes unfamiliar ways of life and different customs can seem a little threatening. It is not all rosy in Morocco but our experiences with these tough, good-natured people have been inspirational and humbling. Despite having little material wealth they are rich in spirit, gracious and incredibly hospitable. We will definitely return to enjoy their company again and look forward to exploring more fantastic rock and ice in North Africa.
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