Jordan Fact File
“Rum the magnificent…vast, echoing and godlike.”
T.E.Lawrence - Seven Pillars of Wisdom
This fact file is designed to accompany the story about Paul's epic accident in Barrah Canyon. You can find the article here.
Wadi Rum’s certainly been around a while. The granite and sandstone geological formations belong to the pre-Cambrian period of around 55 million years ago. It’s also been impressing people for a while. Evidence shows that pre-historic man was living there over 200,000 years ago.
Rather more recently the majesty of the place was brought to public attention when T.E.Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), famous for his part in the Arab uprising of 1916-18, started documenting his fascination with Wadi Rum in his book ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ published in 1922 (well worth reading before your visit).
The important bit of history from a climbing point of view came in 1984 when Di and Tony Howard made the first exploratory visit at the invitation of the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism. When they first visited only one climb was documented (although Bedouin had been scrambling over the peaks for centuries), but after several subsequent visits they wrote the first climbing guidebook in 1987 (Treks and Climbs in Wadi Rum) and the potential of the place was officially out.
Wadi Rum’s People
The Bedouin are the inhabitants of Wadi Rum. Many still live a semi-nomadic lifestyle grazing their sheep and goats for several months before moving to pastures new. Most Bedouin still live in the traditional black goats hair tents called ‘beit sha’ar’ (translates to ‘houses of hair’) which you will see dotted throughout the desert.
They are a proud and independent people who, if treated with respect, will reward your visit with friendliness and openness. We found them amazingly welcoming - we were invited into their tents for delicious sweet tea and enjoyed some life enhancing evenings sat with family groups under magical starry skies.
Wadi Rum is easy to access. Several airlines fly to Amman’s Alia International Airport and from there you can take a bus or taxi to Rum. Many of the bus routes involve taking one bus to the coastal resort of Aqaba (70 kms from Rum) then another to Rum so if there’s a group of you it’s certainly worth considering bartering a good taxi deal instead.
Once in Rum you don’t need a car because much of the climbing is within walking distance and if you want to access places like Barrah Canyon you can use local Bedouin 4x4 transport (or go Lawrence style and hire a camel!). Having said that if you want to travel to some of the other Jordan sights like the Dead Sea or Petra a hire car may be worth considering.
Easy! Use the campsite at the back of the Wadi Rum Resthouse either in your own tent or one of their pre-pitched ones. There are loads of hotels available to suit all budgets if you are staying in Amman, Petra, Aqaba or any of the other tourist centres during you stay.
Rum village has a few small shops selling a limited range of basic provisions if you want to cook yourself. If you are travelling via Aqaba it’s better to stock up on provisions there (particularly fresh food). Of course you do have the far more relaxed option of eating the reasonably priced food in the Rest House Restaurant for your main meals instead!
September, early October, January, February and March are said to be the best times to visit for climbing. We went in mid April and it was already very hot but manageable – if you do decide to go in one of the hotter months leave a day or two at the start of your trip to get your body used to the heat and watch out for dehydration.
Climbing in Wadi Rum does best suit climbers with a love for adventure and a head for friable sandstone but don’t let my little tale of misadventure put you off! In reality it’s awesome climbing and should be on everyone’s must visit ticklist.
There are climbs of all grades, climbs of all types, climbs that can be accessed in a few minute’s right through to some that require expedition style planning…and everything in between. Enjoy!
Your standard UK climbing rack will do the job but it’s worth having a good supply of medium to large cams and hexs and plenty of slings. It’s also a good idea to take plenty of abseil tat as some of the stuff you find in place will most likely have been seriously weakened by abrasion and U.V. Bolts are being used more often and you will also find abseil rings or chains on many of the most popular descents. Don’t forget your helmet too!
Loose fitting lightweight clothing rules. It’s important to respect local cultures by keeping legs and shoulders covered near Bedouin encampments but you can dress a little less restrictively near your own campsite. Approach shoes are fine for all the desert trekking you’re likely to be doing. It does get cold at night so don’t leave all your insulating clothing at home.
Camping stuff is camping stuff but it’s certainly worth considering what type of stove you take because gas will be very hard to find. We used petrol stoves which worked great. Lastly, if you head out to camp in the desert you’ll need to take plenty of water. We took plenty of those wine box inner bags with us and we had plenty of capacity. It’s also a great excuse to guzzle plenty of wine before you go!
Finally, if you retrieve a Rock 6 when you’re climbing a new Barrah Canyon route I really DO NOT want it back – but I’d love to hear what grade you gave the route!