In late December 2019 I went to Wadi Rum for a week. I had just got back to Chamonix after a great time in the US. I was not very happy to be back in a cold, damp pre winter Chamonix, so when my friend Bruce Marsh asked if I was interested in going to Wadi Rum for a week I didn't have to think about it for too long. He had the trip planned, cheap flights, and all I had to do was say yes.
Wadi Rum is one of those places I have always wanted to go, but never got round to. It has a big adventurous feel, with out being epically adventurous. Its not hugely far away but it felt very far from home. It is an arab desert vibe, which is a bit more "Indiana Jones", than "Indian creek”. I haven't climbed in the creek, but I have done quite a lot in red rocks and Zion. I guess wadi rum is sort of similar, but minus the hoards of tourists, and more camels.
I was psyched just to have another little holiday and check it out. I knew a few people had been and they offered mixed reports. Essentially there is an incredible amount of huge walls, but equally a lot of very bad rock.
The classic routes that have been well travelled offer absolutely brilliant climbing. But there might not be as many classic as in the stateside desert counterparts.
The lack of definitive guidebook adds another element of exploration.
I enjoyed the whole journey, flying from Geneva to Aquaba and watching the middle east pass below from the window. Bruce had arranged everything with a local tour operator, who arranged our transport, accommodation in a camp in the desert, food, and lifts in the jeep around the desert.
Bruce had been before and knew a few of the good routes and venues.
First day we climbed a relatively recent route on a wall around 300m in barra canyon. I can’t even remember its name. It was mostly bolted with a few 7a pitches. I was surprised how soft and snappy the rock was. I was genuinely pretty gripped, not trusting the sandy smears and snappy crimps. But it was great to be climbing in such a remote feeling and different environment. The top pitches to the top were supposed to be easy but protected on trad. As much as I wanted to stand on top of the thing I got totally terrified pulling on rotten snappy sandstone knobs with out a single piece of trustworthy gear. Our rack was pretty limited. We backed off a pitch below the top, and I didn’t think too much more about it. In hindsight it was actually quite damp as it had apparently rained in the previous week and I think the rock was still wet, adding to the snappyness.
On the way back we wandered through the canyons and climbed this weird 7b sport pitch on a sandstone tuffa. It was pretty cool, but again I felt like the whole thing could just peel off the wall. I thought it was a gripping pitch.
The next day we had a go on a big route on Jebel rum that I had read about online. …It looked great but also huge. We were climbing as team of 3 and Ben had forgotten his helmet. I was happy to just check it out. It would have been awesome to free the whole thing if that was the sole objective of the trip. But this was such a short trip, and I accepted it as just a recce and that to do anything was a bonus.
We climbed the first pitches which were bold snappy face pitches. The style of the bolting was a bit spicy. But it was very impressively bolted ground up. There was an 8a crux pitch which Bruce and I were very keen to have a go on. I had a go first. I was still pretty gripped about the soft rock and compression bolts placed in soft rock. But the beauty of the climbing and the lure of the onsight pulled be in and soon I wasnt worrying about the rock or bolts. It felt adequately safe and I was just moving methodically upwards in a bubble of focus. I fell towards the top of the pitch misreading a sequence on disspointing pockets. I pulled back on, figured out a sequence I was happy with, and lowered down to let Bruce have a go. Bruce had a good go and also fell off near the top. We both repointed it on the next go which was really rewarding. It would be a good onsight, but very doable. I thought it was an amazing wall, with some better sandstone, almost like grit in places, with little monos and techy shallow pockets.
At that we were running out of day, and abbed back down to get our dinner.
The next day we climbed Jihad/La guerre sainte. 400m 7b+. Although bruce had climbed it last year he was happy to climb it again, because he said it was so good. Its one of the all time classics and it was everybit as good as its reputation. A route from Arnaud Petit and team, it features in his book, Paroi de legende.
It was really well bolted, with mostly glue in bolts, which are much more confidence inspiring in the soft rock. It felt like it was created to be an everlasting classic. It seemed really well cleaned and the pitches following cool features.
The wall itself was a huge face taking the winter sun most of the day, which was perfectly pleasant. The lower half had a lot of overhanging pitches but mostly with great jugs, then a few tecnichal faces with sharp crimps. I was having a blast and Bruce seemed to be happy to climb it again. The last 3 pitches were particularly memorable. At some point we crossed a band where the rock quality got way better, becoming a super clean sandstone, with incredible opel like pebbles. Although soft in some places we were climbing the veneer of a black streak which lead directly up the headwall to the top. I was frustrated to fall off the final 7b pitch misreading a move, but lowered down and did it second go. At the top of the route we ran to the very summit in our bare feet, which took about 15 minutes. It was such a bizarre place. An alien landscape, where very few people have been. I think its one of the coolest places I have been on this planet. The opel stones were so white and smooth in comparison to the red sandstone. I took a few clear white pebbles in my pockets for souvenirs and then we scampered back down to get abseiling. This route is truly a wall of legend and I can’t reccommend it highly enough. I would happily climb it again, and understood why Bruce didn't mind.
The last day we did a few pitches around the base of Jebel Rum, on some cool, black sandstone.
I got a taste for it and I’m super psyched to go back. To finish rock empire, and try the epic looking 14 pitch 8b on Jebel Rum.