Sat in the sunshine drinking sweet mint tea, tired but in high spirits, the events of the day before were on our minds. We were reminiscing about the night abseiling, me leaving my favourite sling on the route, having insufficient gear and ropes, forgetting a walking pole and a multitude of other small sins that always characterise a memorable adventure.
The previous night James and I were still on the belay below the crux pitch at 9pm, considering how the four of us would safely descend the ridge. The climbing had been fine up until that point, although buried in snow it had proved time consuming. We were aiming for a rock band that protected the upper section of the ridge, but, upon arrival the crack within it was overhanging and rounded. Will had set off on the lead with two axes, having borrowed my own one. We had each only brought one axe on the route, as it was supposed an “easy mountaineering route” and a “rest day”. After no small amount of effort, and a couple of points of aid, the call of "safe!" floated down from above. The crack had involved more excitement than anticipated, with balancy little limestone edges and plenty of fiddly gear. An exciting lead I’m sure, and certainly an exciting belay.
James and I stood below the crux crack. With Mike and Will above us we began to discuss our options. We had attacked the route with a selection of gear that was more appropriate for a mountaineering day out - about three quarters of a rack between us, a half rope between two and an ice axe each. This would have been perfect if the ridge had not thrown in the surprise technical winter climbing pitches that we had come across all day. The gear situation had meant that the crux lead had to be done by one person and then prusik-ascended by the rest of the team. So standing there watching the cloud building, knowing that the nights grow very cold, we decided to turn around.
The new route we were attempting was a buttress which led onto a knife-edge ridge, leading in turn into another buttress blocked by the crux. This was then followed by a final block ridge. The retreat would require us to either retrace our path back down the technical ridge and buttress, abseil off the right side of the ridge onto the Sidi Chamourouche icefalls (which were dangerously buried with lots of fresh snow and very ready to avalanche) or to the left side of the ridge into a gully which went in the wrong direction.
Picking the potentially safer but still unknown option, and with Mike and Will having now joined us, we abseiled one at a time into the darkness. We had seen this corrie from the walk-in and tried to recall which way it went. I remember being nervous and tired, although I also remember looking around at my friends and taking comfort in the trust I had in them.
A few abseils later we waded to the bottom of the valley and walked round to the start of our tracks at the foot of the buttress. We then descended the steep broken ground back the way we had ascended that morning. The trench in the snow was waist deep in places as we fought our way back to the main trail leading to the hut. The fatigue and dehydration built. It felt like the cold air was drying my mouth out and I couldn’t wait to get back to the hut and drink some water. Eventually, on arrival at the hut, the deep and drifting snow outside snared me and spun me round turtle-like onto my back. Exhausted, I lay there for a while before unstrapping my bag and climbing to my feet. We were greeted by Mohamed and Mohamed, the hut guardians, telling us that it was “dangerous, very dangerous”, but it fell on deaf ears. It was after midnight and we’d definitely missed dinner.
Two days later, after thawing out in the sunshine, we went back and climbed the route in a single push. We named it after Mike’s grandfather who sadly died while we were away. “Flemy’s Route” was never reported or written about until now. We agreed on a grade of ED1 A1, and believe it could well be a contender for one of the more exciting mixed routes climbed in the High Atlas.
Not that any proposed grade matters; what matters is that we threw snowballs at each other when we abseiled off in the sunlight after our successful ascent, smoking Marquise cigarettes and laughing as we watched the crimson sun set over the High Atlas Mountains and North Africa. Adventuring at its best.
All images by Mike Scott.
In September 2017 Connor, Will and James, along with Sally, Mark and Simon are off to the Djengi-Djer range in Kyrgyzstan with unclimbed peaks in their sights. You can keep up with them on their expedition Facebook page.