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Moroccan Adventures – Part 1

The Difficulties of Being an Indoor Climber – First Ascents in the Atlas Mountains

“Mostly me in Morocco grading new climbs and being TERRIFIED of heights!”

Morocco - boulder pads

Me and Katya in the beautiful High Atlas Mountains

I never thought I’d get the opportunity to climb a first ascent – and now I have! Until my recent trip to Morocco, I’d always thought of the idea as being incredibly adventurous; discovering never-before climbed rock, cleaning off moss and loose fragments for the first time, and unlocking an entirely new sequence of moves and angles that, together, would never have been performed on real rock before.

On the one hand, I absolutely love climbing indoors. The inventiveness of the problems, the opportunity to try my absolute hardest without worrying about a bad landing, and climbing with and attempting to outdo friends, satisfies me immensely. Having said that, I’ve always secretly viewed it as training for climbing on real rock (well…until now!), which unfortunately I’ve always been worse at doing.

Since climbing a first ascent is such a sought-after prize among climbers, often the ones who find these unclimbed boulders (and sometimes even entire areas!) will keep them a secret to ensure they’ll have the chance to conquer them all before anyone else. Although this is a common practice, one impressive climber valiantly decided to go completely against the grain. Keoma Jacobs, on his ImikSimik website, writes about Oukaïmeden – a small village at 2,600m in the High Atlas Mountains, just 45 miles from Marrakech – where he found an absolutely breath-taking and untouched bouldering area ripe for the picking:

Oukaïmeden - boulder field

One of Oukaïmeden’s huge boulder fields

Keoma’s fantastic attitude towards his newfound secret was therefore: “I’ve found this amazing new bouldering area and I want EVERYONE to come and develop it with me!” Even more staggeringly so, for no profit whatsoever, he regularly organises trips there, helps people find accommodation in the nearby village, rents out bouldering pads, and regularly updates the guidebook on his website, just to spread the love of climbing in Morocco. For all of you skiers out there, Oukaïmeden is also Africa’s highest ski resort, but is still beautiful in the spring for bouldering:

Oukaimeden - flowers

A hidden gem of a village

When Keoma invited me to visit Oukaïmeden to see if I could add to the rapidly growing list of climbs and areas, I couldn’t believe my luck! However, I’d always found the idea of doing first ascents incredibly daunting. The combination of everybody being desperate to do them, many people keeping them secret, and many being better at outdoor climbing than I am, had me thinking I would need to hike miles into the wilderness to find unclimbed rock, or climb a V16 sit start to an existing climb – both of which sound unlikely for a London-based plastic-puller. Dave Graham famously once said, “there are more rocks than people on this planet, you just have to look”, and although this sounds incredibly exciting, could it really be true? Would it be possible that an enormous wealth of largely untouched rocks laid just a 6-hour journey from my front door?

Find out with more pictures and a new and exclusive video in ‘Moroccan Adventures – Part 2’