Back in 2017 when we were thinking of ideas for our next climbing holiday, Jordan came up as a possibility. This was somewhere I had not considered before and was very much outside my comfort zone. It sounded fantastic, but also very adventurous. Perhaps too adventurous for me? I don’t mind 3 or 4 pitch routes, but 10 – 20 pitch routes? With 3 hour descents? Literally in the middle of nowhere… With no backup… ? This was not sounding like my ideal climbing holiday! However we found some shorter multi-pitch routes with abseil descents, and two friends (Jo and Richard) who were keen to come on holiday with us. So the flights were booked and we were all set to spend New Year in a goat hair tent in the middle of the desert. It was going to be an adventure!
Quite simply, Wadi Rum exceeds all expectations. The landscape is phenomenal, on a scale that I have not experienced before, the vista’s open up on every turn and reveal ever more complex rock structures with vast areas of desert between them. The mountains rise up to over 800m vertically from the desert floor with a myriad of sandstone textures from perfectly smooth, clean faces with sharp edges, to highly weathered walls that look like candle wax dripping from the heat of the sun.
We stayed in the Quiet Village Camp, located at the base of Jabal Khazali surrounded by nothing except rock and sand. It was not quiet, it was silent. The type of silence that is huge, and endless, and is anchored in a profound sense of tranquility. The camps around Wadi Rum are modern versions of traditional Bedouin camps, they are permanent fixtures with the essentials for visitors (toilets, showers, double beds), but retain the essence of traditional Bedouin life (hospitality, communal living, goat hair tents). The owner of our camp, Saleem, was incredibly helpful and made sure our visit was as enjoyable as possible. Our luggage missed our short connection in London, so whilst we were out exploring the rocks and the desert, Saleem was liaising with airlines and couriers to get our bags down from Amman to Wadi Rum with the minimum of fuss.
Because of the delay in our bags (which contained all our climbing kit), we spent the first few days walking around the different rock formations and generally exploring. There are so many long walks up and around the mountains that we were easily kept entertained. The challenge is to not let yourself become too overwhelmed by the beauty, and the stunning nature of the rock.
The day after our bags arrived we headed into Barrah Canyon to do Merlin’s Wand, a beautiful, straight, 150m 6a+ crack. This was a route we had identified prior to our visit as one we would like to do, what we hadn’t accounted for was the fact that it was only 4 degrees, and the climb faced north. It was so cold! It was a 40 minute drive on the back of an open pickup truck, the standard form of transport around Wadi Rum (other than the camels). We had a guide with us who drove us there and waited all day until we were ready to return. He was insistent on staying, and it was quite comforting to know that we were not going to become stranded in the middle of the desert. The climb is a mixture of crack and face climbing with a couple of overhangs (one of which I found particularly gnarly, but that is because I am not particularly strong, Jon cruised up it). The crux pitches are definitely lower down, and I think we complicated matters a bit by rigging the first belay too early not realising that there were anchors in place above the overhang immediately above us! All the way up I could see our guide waiting patiently at the bottom, watching us inch our way slowly up the wall. Jo and Richard would reappear periodically to see how we were getting on and then disappear to explore some more of the canyon. A combination of the cold temperature and a lack of recent outside climbing meant we were very slow on the route. We had expected it to take us about 5 hours, we were planning to be down in time for a late lunch. However it took us closer to 9 hours! We finished the final pitch just after the sun had set and quickly started the 5 abseils back down to the bottom. By the time we got to the final abseil we were struggling to see (our head torches were unhelpfully at the bottom of the crag) and we had a cluster of people at the base watching us with increasing levels of concern.
Cold and tired but having really enjoyed the route, we piled into the back of the pickup truck along with Jo and Richard and two random climbers who needed a lift back. Supper that night tasted so good!
The next day we headed over to Petra for a couple of days. Although we had only had one climbing day so far, it was still very cold so we leapt into the car with enthusiasm. Petra, and neighbouring Little Petra (Siq al-Barid) were both incredible and well worth a visit.
Back in Wadi Rum on our final day of climbing we tackled Goldfinger (5c) on Jebel Rum itself, just outside the village beside some Nabatean age ruins. This 4 pitch route goes up one of the fingers on the front of the mountain, and although it feels like a decent length route, it only covers about half the height of the mountain. Having said that, the top of the finger is a natural top-out so the route felt complete when we got to the top. The crux pitch was a long crack with one very unbalanced cruxy move in the middle. This was a big, long pitch that absorbed our entire trad rack. Having got through that the rest was really enjoyable, and completed in daylight which was a bonus! There were no fixed belay anchors on the route, but there were abseil stations at the back of the finger so the decent was fairly straight forward.
Wadi Rum is an extraordinary place to visit. We would love to have spent more time there and had more climbing days, but were a bit unlucky with the weather. The 3 days we had no gear were perfect climbing conditions, sunny and mild, but as soon as our gear arrived the temperature plummeted, and we got too cold hanging around on belays to make the most of the time available for climbing. I would love to go back, there are so many other routes both climbing and walking/scrambling that are calling my name. Maybe next year?
ps. More photos in the video below: