In summer the Atlas mountains see a procession of British and European hikers enter the high valleys, entranced by the mysterious Berber villages and drawn to the barren hills by their formidable 4000m heights. The terrain is brown, arid and bleak. A crude iron frame tarnishes the broad scene of the Atlas' highest summit. Parties of 10 or more parade into its shadow and descend as swiftly back to Marrakech stopping for cerveza at one of the huts or kasbahs.
In winter heavy storms burry the range in a heavy blanket of snow and forbid all but a few hardy mountaineers from seeing their upper reaches. In January I packed up my gear and a few kilos of food and hiked/skied into the valley surrounded by Ras, Timesguida, Biguinoussene and Toubkal. Crossing frequent piles of avalanche debris and gazing upon the mountain faces around me, I was surprised to see numerous ice gullies and steep coulouirs reaching from valley to summit. These were to be the target of my climbing and I have compiled a video clip to show some of the best areas.
Ultimately, the more amazing discovery was that during three weeks in the region, I did not meet or hear of a single climber entering the range for the purpose of winter climbing on these exceptional, long pillars and gullies of ice. Clearly these lines were either unclimbed or seldom climbed, and it took me many days to even recce access routes (by ski) to the upper ice and faces.