Text and pictures © 2011-2013 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2012/12/13
"Open Sesame!" — Arabian Nights quote.
Left: Moonrise over Ishrin at sunset. 'The Beauty' is the first left-facing dihedral on the right of the main canyon. The approach is kind of obfuscated. We were fortunate to have 3 italian climbers show us the way.
Right: Last rays of the sun over Isrin.
Left: Sunset behind Ishrin. Hiker's Rd is in the 1st canyon on the left.
Right: One of the lower pitches of Hiker's Rd. This summit is one of the only two that wasn't first climbed in antique times. And Hiker's Rd is the easiest way up, which says a lot.
Left: A view at the southern Jebel Rum from halfway up Hiker's Rd.
Left: Climb this, I dare you. The sandstone climbing of Wadi Rum is quite different from what you can find in Utah: much fewer cracks and lots of sandy mushrooms that break when you grip them too hard...
Right: Getting into the canyon via a long and loose sandy traverse. Pretty scenic though.
Left: Now where does it go ? It's a long and winding route, so we wanted to start early. We asked at the rest house if we could have breakfast at 6am instead of the customary 7am, they said 'no problem'. But the waiter showed up in pajamas well after 7. After that we tried to make up for lost time, but between the short november days, the vague description and our lack of practice on this style of rock, we didn't quite make it.
Right: Long dihedral pitch inside the Siq (canyon).
Left: Pretty, but trust me on this, you don't want to have to climb it.
Right: Two lone dromedaries in the desert. It's much more common to see SUVs or old Jeeps crossing it at full speed rather than camels.
Left: Upper section of the route. We lacked time to do the last two pitches.
Right: Panoramic view of the Nasrani Range above the village. Hiker's Rd is in the big canyon on the right.
Right: The complex and error-prone approach to 'The Beauty' through Rakabat Canyon.
Left: 30 meters of perfect layback on the first pitch of 'The Beauty'.
Right: 5 pitches higher and the much feared final offwidth pitch of the route. Which way do you wanna go: layback of full-body jam ? Vincent chose the opposite of me and still bears the scars. I had a #6 (visible here on my rack) but I could only place it on the 1st 3 meters. Trying to move it up wasn't a good idea as it jammed in a bad orientation. Anyway after the 1st 3 meters it gets much easier and can protect with a #4 or less.
Left: After the final pitch, we did an additional heinously sandy pitch to get to the summit. And we could have just walked around it...
Right: Marco on 'Alan and his perverse frog', a route just left of The Beauty which we climbed afterwards.
Left: A dromedary (a.k.a. arabian camel) waiting for customers. We had the chance of trying camel milk and camel meat thanks to our bedouin guide. The first has a reputation of sending the average tourist straight to the bathroom (read the desert sands) for the rest of the night, unless drank with tea. We chose the safe option. I was surprised at how mild it tastes: much better than cow milk, IMO. And nobody was sick ! As for camel milk, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference from beef, quite tender and pretty good indeed. And a nice change from the chicken and rice we had 18 dinners out of our 21 day stay !
Right: Red dunes in the desert facing the tough Arnaud Petit route 'La Guerre Sainte'. Don't expect to watch the sunset in solitude here: plenty of 4x4 show up at the last minute, loaded with tourists and then head back to their respective desert camps.
Left: That'd be me leading the way up the perfect crack of Merlin's Wand. Never very hard but still quite sustained. Most of the classic routes of Wadi Rum are in the 5/6a range, a more moderate level than Utah.
Right: Jenny, Vincent and Cecile following Merlin's Wand's first pitch. Plenty of holds out of the crack.
Left: The platform on the 1st pitch.
Right: 2nd pitch of the route: great hand jams.
Left: Vincent on the last pitch of the route.
Left: Camel convoy making its way up the northern part of Barrah canyon. There's a small arch down there, only about 20 minutes walk from the base of the routes.
Right: The epic large start of the 2nd pitch of 'Les Rumeurs de la Pluie'. A note in the Rest House's routebook said 'scary — don't climb', but it's an easy and beautiful route if you are not an idiot and know how to climb it and how to protect it. Unless you absolutely love a squeeze.
Left: Vertical panorama of Jenny making her way up to the summit of the route.
Right: Summit of 'Les Rumeurs de la Pluie', a route first climbed by the famed Remy brothers.
Right: View of Barrah Canyon from above.
Left: Cecile completing the last few meters to the summit.
Right: And another rope gets stuck. The rock in Wadi Rum is very harsh on the ropes. And on the climbers doing the rappels. We got our ropes stuck on half the routes we rappelled off. My advice is: climb on double ropes and bring an older spare rope. And climb on the spare, not on your new ropes ! We shot 3 ropes in 3 weeks !!! Makes for an expensive vacation, particularly in addition to the 6$ price tag on each beer !
Left: 'Les Rumeurs de la Pluie' is the obvious dihedral.
Right: We mostly slept at the Rest House campground in the village, but we spent a few nights in the desert, sleeping at Abdullah's camp. Most people sleep and eat on some bedouin's house, and with good reason: from the campground the night is taken over by barking dogs, roosters in heat, some 4x4 fanatics and of course the 4:30 muezzin. With the vertical walls of Jebel Rum and Ishrin on both sides of the village it makes for fantastic acoustics, but NOT at 4:30 !!!
Left: 2nd pitch of 'The star of Abu Judaida', before the sandy section.
Left: The rope cutting right trough several sections of the soft rock on the 2nd pitch. Rope drag, what rope drag ? So how many of you would trust a cam to hold a lead fall ?!?
Right: Jenny at the end of the 2nd pitch.
Left: Cecile following Vincent the wrong way up the 4th pitch. Instead of cramming yourself inside the squeeze, it's much easier, if more runout, to face climb on the left.
Right: View on Barrah Canyon from the upper pitch.
Left: The arch at the northern entrance to Barrah canyon.
Right: Barrah Canyon: 'Rain' is the dihedral right of center, and Merlin is off to the right.
Right: Already high up on the Wisdom Pillar.
Left: Traverse on the last pitch of the Wisdom Pillar. This is rated 6b, but is only one short well protected move. Most of the route is quite a bit easier than its rating suggests, and with the exception of the 1st pitch above the platform, it protects well.
Left: Vincent topping out on the pillar.
Right: After the end of the route, some steep hiking still necessary to join Hammad's route.
Left: Back on Hammad's route which we've climbed 3 days earlier. Seems like we've already forgotten where it goes.
Some practical information: you can change some dollars or euros at the Rest House, but at a poor rate. For an ATM you have to go to Aqaba, which costs 25 dinars by taxi (one way) or about 2 dinars by hitch-hike + bus. Another word of advice is: stop eating rice and chicken well before you come ! It's the only dish available here. Out of 3 weeks, we had beef once, camel once and fish once (and two of those were at a bedouin camp in the middle of the desert). All the other days were chicken and rice for 4 dinars at Ali's place and a bit more at the rest house (10 to 13 dinars for dinner, tent spot and solid breakfast).
Right: Panoramic view on the Wadi Rum village and the Ishrin range.
Right: View of the long corner crack of Hajj.
Left: Although it looks steep and hard from a distance, Hajj is a very nice route at a moderate grade. It still requires full trad gear for protection, including belays, but the rock is good except for a few short sandy sections.
Left: And as you can see the panorama is fabulous. Hajj is the southernmost climbing route in the Wadi Rum area and faces south towards Saudi Arabia, across vast stretches of desert and different looking mountain ranges to the south (including the summit of Jordan near the border).
Right: Vincent and Cecile off-route on the upper section.
Right: The long but very easy diagonal traverse of the upper part of the route.
Left: The same traverse, seen from above, and the summit of Jordan, Jebel Um Adaami (1830m), in the background.
Right: Jenny on the summit of the route. There's still a bit of exposed scrambling to make it to the top of the range. The normal descent has one or two rappels, but there's also a way to walk down towards the north.
Left: Rock and sand.
Right: It's early. Our pick-up won't show up for another few hours, we don't expect to get lost on the descent, so let's have a nap.
Above: Panoramic view from the summit of Hajj.
Right: A panoramic view of the whole range in the evening sun. The route is right off center, not very visible with this light.
Right: Walking across the desert.
Left: The desert: add a camel and a thorn shrub or two, but that's pretty much it.
Left: Dromedaries between rock structures. There are no wild dromedaries in Arabia anymore, they all belong to some bedouins or others.
Right: Back at the desert camp, we put up a rope and try to do some topropes with the young son of our bedouin host, breaking huge chunks of rock in the process.
Left: Our host, Abdullah Ali, and his well organized camp (and good food). He knows where all the climbing routes start from (including routes that aren't in the guidebook like Black Eagle, see below), and can take you there in 4x4 (or camel!).
Website of Abdullah Ali for Jeep tours, access to climbing routes, nights in the desert, camel tours...
Right: Let's raise the level a bit. So far we've only done fairly easy routes, all in the grade 5 range. Here this harder classic has several pitches of 6b, all trad, with some rather wicked sections like this offwidth after over 40 meters of already strenuous finger crack. She smiles, but I wasn't, particularly if you look at how open my only piece of pro is.
Left: Lots of sustained crack climbing on Lion Heart.
Left: Some of of the route proved difficult to do in the sun. It's one of the only time we actually suffered from the heat during our stay. We were there in November and the weather was cold for the season. Even though, we mostly climbed in the shade for comfort. After cooking on the 4th pitch of Lion Heart, we waited for about an hour for the sun to pass the corner before finishing off the route.
Right: Vincent on the 4th pitch. Painful feet jams.
Left: Fifth pitch, finally in the shade.
Right: Final pitch of the route, with great view of the desert. Don't traverse too high at the start.
Left: Cecile finishing off the route. Lion Heart has some of the best sustained crack climbing I've done in years. Even in Utah there are only few long routes that can match it.
Right: The east face of Jebel Rum as seen from the campground at the Rest House.
Left: 3rd pitch of Inferno, and excellent climb we did on our first day after flying and riding by taxi all night. Maybe not the easiest but it puts you right in the mood: one first pitch in not so good rock (or so you feel at the beginning), a second pitch with a hard not so well protected move and a 3rd pitch with an awesome 55m endless crack corner.
Maybe I should have started the page with this. Since it's right above the campground and also has the best all around rock, the East face of Jebel Rum is where most climbers start off. And we did too. It's also good for afternoon climbs in the shade when it gets too hot. Or morning climbs when it's windy and cold like on our last day, just before catching the taxi back to the airport.
For the paranoid in you, let me just say that the bedouin pride themselves in honesty, and that's not just a myth. We once hitched a ride from an old beaten pickup, and Jenny forgot her walking sticks and 40 dinars in the car (fell on the floor when she pulled something out in the dark) ! The guy rode back an hour later to bring them back to us. So leaving the tent with some climbing gear inside is no worry at all. Excluding the cats who happily piss on it.
Right: Jenny on Goldfinger, an easy classic. Easy but not to underestimate as usual on sandstone. In the background you see the tower of Inferno laying against the main face and the great Siq in the back, where we got lost on our first descent of the traverse of Jebel Rum.
Left: Upper section of Goldfinger, with the neat ruins of the Nabataean temple visible far below.
Right: On the way down from Goldfinger, something to do absolutely is the 2nd pitch of Troubadour (the other pitches aren't worth their weight in sand). An incredible handcrack. Just make sure you have the proper gear for a safe lead as there's been accidents there. Vincent almost came off after placing all the wrong cams in the wrong places, but that's his problem.
Left: Troubadour: 2 purple DMMs and layback on the 1st half, 2 green DMMs and hand jams on the 2nd half.
Reading the route book of the Rest House is sometimes edifying. A comment states that Troubadour is terrifying and way harder than 6a+. And goes on to state that they climb 8a. Well, just to say that you can't train on plastic and come straight here thinking it's going to be a steal. Cracks and particularly sandstone cracks take a bit of practice and the grades often don't mean that much. If they say 6a+, suck it up.
Right: After the hand jams of Troubadour, off we go to Inch Allah and its thin finger crack, though not so sustained as Troubadour. Here Jenny right after the finger section.
Left: Sunrise over the east face of Jebel Rum.
Left: The moon setting behind Jebel Rum.
Right: Our Guide, Abdullah, and his 3-day old baby camel.
Left: Diesel-powered camel ?
Right: Another excellent route on the east face of Jebel Rum: Flight of Fancy, on the left of the face.
Left: Jenny in the crux dihedral. With all the rest positions it actually felt much easier than Troubadour, never mind the half extra grade.
Left: Jenny on the exposed traverse of the last pitch of Flight of Fancy. It's not difficult but hard to protect well and mostly balancy on the feet.
Right: On our first few days in Jordan we met the Wuber Brothers, italians with plenty of Jordan trips under their belt. They had recommended the 'Black Eagle' route for a change of style: bolted face climbing. Not in the Howard guidebook, the route is on the eastern side of Jebel Rum and follows the obvious black streak in the middle of the photo. Adbullah can take you to the base.
Left: Five pitches of mostly-bolted face climbing in the 5 range, with only one move of 6b. Relaxing.
Right: But then the 6th and last pitch turns out to be a rather evil offwidth. Very sandy at the base which fortunately turns to better rock higher up, with the possibility to protect without a #6 at the crux. Don't skip it, it'll wake you up !
Left: 360x180° view of Ishrin, from above the summit of the route. Descent is on rappel on the route. Only a light rack is necessary.
Right: Jenny relaxing under a small natural arch while we wait for our driver.
Final day in Jordan before we head to Israel. We want to do something both hard and committing. We got served.
Right: We start from the camp before sunrise and a puppy starts following us eagerly. After half an hour, as we do the first few moves of climbing in the goat gully, when it figures out we aren't taking it home and it can't follow us, it starts crying heartbreaking sobs. Jenny was worried that it wouldn't find its way back, but in the evening it was at the camp, purposefully ignoring us by looking the other way whenever we were around.
Left: A cloudy sunrise on the summit of Jebel Rum. It actually rained a bit during the night and we had to scramble to shelter all the climbing gear we usually left strewn around the tent.
Left: Jenny on the 2nd pitch of Catfish corner, and incredibly beautiful finger crack which protects very well with a wide variety of gear, but that won't offer any respite in term of rests. I had to rest on it while she onsighted it. Although graded easier at 6a+, the 1st pitch is somewhat worse: a kind of offwidth in a dihedral with two fingercracks about a hand's distance inside. You never know what position to adopt: chicken wings for the offwidths ? Inconvenient finger locks for the deeper cracks ? Layback for the dihedral ? It's usually some awkward and inefficient combination of all 3. At least the 2nd pitch is straightforward and doesn't require you to think.
Right: 3rd and last pitch of Catfish Corner. The difficult stuff is over but the serious stuff is about to start. Yup.
Right: Vertical panorama of the middle pitch of Black Corner. Immediately after we continue on Black Corner we find a different kind of difficulty: route finding and softer rock. There are 4 parallel chimneys and I'm not sure I picked the easiest one. Then above that a 60m pitch of pancakes and soft mushrooms. Rope drag included for the same price. There are a few cairns on the route, to make you believe you aren't lost.
Left: We are about to get inside the great chimney, not sure what we'll find there. At first I'm tempted to climb it outside, but going inside is actually pretty easy.
Left: Higher up you get completely inside a huge cleft. No belay possible but it's not difficult so a shoulder belay will do, even while taking pictures.
Right: Jenny inside the big cleft. Staying at the bottom is the best option. Actually there's no floor but a bottomless crack, but you get the idea.
Left: And now let's go for a pitch of grade 2 traverse. Should be easy, right ? No pro at all and then the rope drag kicks in. At the first vertical crack I stop and do a belay. The guidebook says to climb diagonally from there...
Right: This image shows the finish of one of the scariest pitch I've ever done. As it's already 14:40, we have only 2 hours of daylight remaining and we are getting stressed by the stories of people who couldn't find the descent (including the previous day from another route). This diagonal climb began to look like a 'last' mistake as I go over a first sandy bulge higher than me, unprotected and impossible to backtrack. Then a second one. And then, after placing a symbolic cam in a sandy hole, a 3rd one. I have to hang onto pebbles sticking out of the soft sandstone knowing full well that it takes almost nothing to break them off, my feet rubbing sand out of the rock in near panic. I finally reach a delicate but still unprotectable sloping ledge, keep traversing and find a good crack for a belay.
Left: Looking down I figure out it would probably have been much better to keep traversing horizontally on the ledge, all the way around until reaching a large corner. I make my way to this corner, but it's unprotectable although easy. I runout 40 meters to a safe sand platform, but I'd like to protect Jenny's traverse, so I pull the remainder of the rope and climb to the summit of the pillar and a delicate belay. Jenny starts off but the rope is stuck in the numerous flakes. I untie and solo down (barefoot, but handling the rope) until I reach a position from where I can free it while she waits patiently in the middle of the traverse. Still, she has to do the whole traverse 'protected' only from way over to the side.
Right: A few more meters and we are on the summit. It'll be pitch black in less than an hour, although from the picture it's hard to believe. We run to the north and fortunately find the trail of cairns easily. Less than 15 minutes after finishing the route we are already on the first of the 4 rappels. After that it's dark but we know the way down the canyon. Tomorrow morning we head to Israel for 2 days and then back home.