Here are some extracts from Brian’s diary of a two week rock climbing trip in April 2000 to Wadi Rum in Jordan with Gavin Rees. We also visited the ancient city and UNESCO site of Petra for 3 days in this superb desert area. Images are digitised from old slides and can be a bit grainy and ‘speckly’ but hopefully give an idea of the scenery!
We flew from Manchester, England to Eilat in Israel on the shore of the Red Sea and crossed the border from Israel into Jordan, taking a taxi into the town of Aqaba and then onto our destination, the small settlement of Rum on the edge of the desert mountain range of Wadi Rum. The dry and dusty highway on journey north reminded me of the movie Mad Max II with abandoned vehicles along the way.
The mountains of Wadi Rum were beautiful, not diminished by the stifling mid-day heat and slightly scrap yard look to Rum itself. We camped on sand beside the rest house looking onto the camel ‘taxi rank’ nearby!
Despite the temperature we headed out for a scramble up a peak to the north, Jebel Mayeen following a ridge reaching down to the village. Great views back down to the valley and across to other peaks including the highest Jebel Rum itself. Nice scrambling too on good sandstone, boding well for the rest of the trip. Making our way down into Wadi S’Bach (Wadi is a valley) with a spring we met some Bedouin herding goats. A nice short warm up for us but followed by a poor nights sleep with calls to prayer at 4am, 5am and 6am!
Next day we were away at 7.30am for a walk and climb through Rakabat Canyons to the east and followed a goat track meeting two young Bedouin girls herding goats up to the high ground. The Kerezah part of the canyon was incredible with vertical walls and down to body width in parts. Finding ourselves off route on unclimbable walls, we were able to escape by abseiling back down to the canyon floor. Finally we entered Rakabat Canyon itself and a great meandering scramble through the narrow slot sections. Emerging out to the other, east side of the Ishrun Jebel, we skirted round the massif to the south over some red sand dunes along the way. Returned to the tent at Rum at 6pm after a long sandy walk and a great day exploring.
We had arranged a camel ride out to Burdah, a peak in the south east of Rum with some good climbing and a distinct rock arch. However it was cancelled in the morning by Nayef the camel owner as the camel was sick today- he offered us a jeep ride instead. We harboured a sneaking suspicion that the jeep ride would be easier for him, but we went for the jeep anyway.
Before getting the lift, we walked up to ‘Laurence’s Well’ (that’s Laurence of Arabia who travelled through here and Rum is featured in the famous movie). Met some giggly Bedouin girls who gave us a glass of sweet mint tea which was rather lovely.
We did get our jeep ride out to Burdah where we had a few scenic stops along with a flat tyre on the way, but we made it and set up a quiet camp in an alcove.
Away at 7am for pleasant slabby scrambling up a ridge to the Burdah rock arch in a sensational position. We continued up to the actual summit with a bit of climbing up a sandy slippy corner but found a welcome breeze on top (Burdah coincidentally means mountain of cool breezes). Soaked up the great panorama from here over mountains and desert plains before descending easily with one abseil back to camp and jeep pick up.
Nayef took us back to his family house for some sweat tea and chapatis. He is one of nine children and they all nervously came out to greet the strangers during our stay.
Decided to do a climb the next day on the Abu Maileh tower – the Salem route at grade 5+ (maybe UK grade HVS, US 5.9). Being on the north face it had the advantage of shade and followed a crackline. We lost the route on the easier entry climbing and we had a few slightly scary moments before we got back into the crack. There followed some exciting climbing exiting a cave onto an arete then jamming up a steep crack. A good route though and we sat about on a exposed perch on the summit tower before abseiling and scrambling back down. A grand day out.
After the climb we moved off to see the famous ancient city of Petra about 100km to the north. With total confusion over a scheduled bus from Rum, someone kindly gave us a lift out in a truck to the main road to try and get a bus from there. But the driver was stopped after about 5km by soldiers and accused of drug carrying! This was eventually cleared up, and we got dropped off but again there was no sign of a bus on the dusty highway. More help arrived in the shape of a van driver who took us all the way to the village beside Petra called Wadi Musa. After finding a motel and buying a 3 day pass we took an afternoon wander down the wonderful entrance canyon into the city carved into the rock faces and the initial sight of ‘The Treasury’. We found we could scramble up the canyon walls to get a different view from above to the buildings. Phew, what a place!
For the next two days we wondered and explored more around the old city. constructed by the Nabataean civilisation about 400BC much of the city is carved into the sidewalls of the rock canyons. The city served as a stopover from various trading routes from the east and south and had the advantage of both water and shade. We particularly liked freely scrambling around and this led us to an interesting old rubbish tip with well preserved pottery shards. Petra finally succumbed to Roman takeover and then natural events- earthquakes destroyed some of the reliable dammed water sources. A really special place.
On the way back we took the 6am bus from Petra to Rum which went smoothly this time and upon returning to Wadi Rum we decided to climb Jebel Rum, the highest point in the area via 2 scrambling routes with a bivouac on the summit if possible.
A jeep dropped us off on the west side of the mountain and we arranged a pick up in 2 days time. After pitching the tent we each gathered some climbing gear, ropes, 4 litres of water and bivouac gear and set off on ‘Sabbah’s Route’. It was a relief to enter into some canyons initially for shade from the hot sun and we enjoyed the exposed scrambling on good rock with some pitches of roped rock climbing at about UK Severe grade. Eventually we surfaced out onto a rolling plateau of yellow sandstone at about 16.30 and from here we wandered around white domes with some harder moves before summiting about 18:00 – both rather exhausted from carrying heavy backpacks in the hot temperatures.
It was rather blustery on the top overnight and we were up at 6am after a fitful night’s sleep. Our descent was down a different way ‘Hamdan’s Route’, the easiest climb to the summit but the routefinding was complex and we had to retrace our steps at times before making it down into the blazing heat at 12.30. Our afternoon was spent under a small bush/tree drinking water, tea and soup to rehydrate. Three camels passed by and many dust storms….
Next day we waited for our jeep pick up at 10am and with no sign of a jeep by 12 we set off walking in the sand round the south tip of Jebel Rum. Eventually we sighted our jeep with the driver apologetic and we made it back to Rum village. Another interesting and exciting trip!
On the last day in Wadi Rum we climbed from nearby Wadi S’Bach. A cool ascent up to an exposed tower summit where we see an Ibex skull and horns nearby (how did it get here?!) Two exposed abseils back to the desert floor ended another great day.