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Jordan Climbing Trip 2006

"Shurkran habibi" said Andrew with a grin. The taxi driver had accepted to drive us from the airport into the desert some 4 hours drive away. I had just landed in Amman Airport at 3am Sunday morning and was greeted by a happy Andrew who had arrived half an hour earlier. We set off towards Wadi Rum, a little beduin village on the border to the desert in the South of Jordan. The drive would take 4 hours and we'd arrive as the sun would rise in Rum. Andrew had got his hands on blankets and pillows from his flight and we cuddled up in the back of the car to sleep most of the way.

Andrew in his element

Arriving with not much sleep we went straight to "Wadi Restaurant", a weathered old building with a few tables outside. We immediately bumbed into some of the local friends of Andrew's: Erga, an 71 year old American woman turned Bedouin and Atech the son of the local Bedouin Master (not quite a sheik I think), We also met the chef of the restaurant Abu Ali who would turn out to become a good friend over the next days. Abu Ali had been in Jordan for a year or so, having escaped Iraq leaving his wife, kids, dogs, house, fields and work (he was a lawyer). It was quite eye-opening to listen to his stories in the evening and discuss politics and wars with someone who was really affected by it. It must be truly desperate to have to leave your wife and kids indefinitely.

Once fed with tea and a good breakfast (omelet, pita-bread and jam) we checked out our possibilities for accommodation which was either a grim looking Abi Ghrail type prison block or an excellent looking open air penthouse flat (basically the roof of Abu Ali’s restaurant) we decided on the later leaving Abu Ghrail to Andrew’s Swiss friends who was arriving the following day.

Sun Breaking through

Being fairly knackered from not having must sleep in the taxi we considered two options: take a nap and take it easy or go climb a rock, we were surrounded by it on all sides. No place for the weak, and the boys wanted to rock and roll, so we geared up and headed off in the sand towards the nearest crag some 10 minutes walk from Wadi Rum, some 500 meters high! We (or Andrew really, the guide for the week) chose a route called Mumkin that would take us half way up the magnificent rock and our descent would be by abseil. Since I had no idea how the grading was I trusted Andrew to having picked something suitable easy to easy us and especially me into the climbing – I hadn’t climbed any real rock for a long time, and my ambitious training regime had consisted of the run to catch the bus to the airport 24 hours earlier. So it was not without trepidation that I got my shoes and harness on and tied into the ropes, luckily Andrew had offered to lead the first pitch so I still had time to  … well to get more scared.

It turned out to be an excellent climb with my pitch being really exposed but on good and solid rock with plenty of challenges to keep me focused. I found it pretty hard and Andrew kindly agreed that it was a bit hard for the grade after he had swum up it to meet me at the stance. It was a pretty exciting first climb.

The descent was equally exciting if not downright scary. Apparently this is a regular trademark of Wadi Rum climbing: scary and nasty rope-eating abseils. The problem is really in the rock that is so shard and flaky that the rope is more or less certain to catch and jam if you are not both careful as well as lucky. We managed to get the rope completely stuck in one place and Andrew had to climb up in a rather exposed fashion to retrieve the jammed rope. If you can’t get the rope back (which in many situations is very likely), there’s really not any alternative than to sit tight and wait for rescue. This can be a very long wait in certain places out in the desert. So it’s a real nail-biting experience to “pull the ropes” on these long abseils. Andrew did get our rope freed and we managed the rest of the week, by being careful and lucky, not to get the rope stuck again.

After an excellent afternoon on rock we returned to the village to the local Refreshment Tent and re-hydrated the best we could in the local (quite expensive) Golden Throat Charmer. After a quick meal at Abu Ali’s (chicken and rise) we headed off to the penthouse for a long and nice sleep. Andrew, being a seriously experienced and up to date traveler, had even brought earplugs for the both of us, so that we could sleep all the way until the late morning ignoring the 5am prayer, the local dog barks, and the general noise of an open air penthouse. Good job.

Monday

Next morning (Monday) we met the Swiss who’d arrived the previous evening and after much greeting and eating we stocked up, packed our gear and headed out in a 4wd (with driver) to the desert to stay three days. This was something I really looked forward to and I was not disappointed. Andrew knew an excellent camp spot and knew all the climbs in the area and it was really just a matter of picking and choosing between the numerous challenges out there. Monday afternoon was spent climbing “Sunkiss” while the Swiss did the neighboring route called … . A most excellent route again, with a finish that one hardly forgets. A full rope length of an exposed traverse (not trivial) with pretty must 1 perhaps 2 pieces of protection. The traverse teaches you a good lesson about Wadi Rum: you probably don’t want to fall off this stuff.

Temple ruins Wadi Rum

We returned to the camp in the evening and had our pita-bread with various toppings, refreshments, and numerous cups of tea. Sitting around the fireplace in the desert is a great experience. It almost reminded me of the happy days being a scout. Maybe also because of Andrew had announced himself the Scout Master (with a cane and all) and that I was on a good path to take my Tea-making badge, my Bedouin Climbing Badge, etc.

Tuesday

Next day’s objective was a suggestion to climb “Snow in the Desert” a hard and awfully intimidating looking 11 pitch route that it bang in the sun for the most of the day. Does look like a super climb, but as we approached the shadow of this towering sea of rock we quite quickly came up with several excuses why this climb would have to wait for another day. Instead we looked across to the other side of the valley and spotted “Ocean Slabs” which was a long “Bedouin” type route up a genuine sea of slabs taking the commuted team all the way to the summit. This fitted the bill and we set off to do this instead.

Desert Walking

It was quite and undertaking and we had a full day probably even more in the sun, but with more easy climbing and lots of it. It was pretty scary stuff though and although we climbed without ropes we tended to swap leads once the leader was drained mentally. This solo-climbing is very much a mental game and although it really is easy climbing, one can suddenly freeze half way up a 100 meters slab and think: “Will this go”, “how the hell do we get down” etc. Our route-finding (a major issue on these long climbs), was pretty spot on and although we had a couple of moments where we seemed to have lost the “bottle” (or the YOOOR!), we managed to pull it through and got up to the final barrier before the summit. We couldn’t figure out how to get over the last bit though, and after several brave attempts from Andrew, and with a fairly worried “how do we get down” Mathias, then we decided that the actual summit could wait for another day and we started heading down. Andrew had an inspirational suggestion that we should go down another way than we came up and although this can sometimes get you into some serious trouble, this was a good decision as we quickly found some old abseil thread here and there and started a quick and enjoyable descent all the way down to the desert floor.

We arrived at the camp before the Swiss team and having been in the sun all day we felt pretty exhausted and therefore started the refreshment phase early.

Wednesday

Next day was booked for doing “Merlins Wand”, a classic of the area. A awe-inspiring crack splitting one of the steep rock faces in the Barra Canyon Valley. We invited JM along from the Swiss team, and climbed the beauty as a pleasant team of three. We took our time and enjoyed it all. I led the “crux” pitch and was really pleased that I still have it in me and can climb stuff in the extreme end of the grade. It’s a top climb that everyone visiting the area should do.

Returning the the camp in good time we packed everything and spent the rest of the afternoon bouldering on the beautiful boulders that was scattered around our pickup point.

Andrew Abseil

Ataech picked us up in the afternoon and we headed back thirsty and dirty to Wadi Rum. In the evening we managed to get Abu Ali to extend his menu from Chicken and Rise to include “A Jebel (mountain) of Chips”, which went down really well. We also met all the local young Bedouin hotshot guides which was quite entertaining. They also thought it was quite a laugh waiving their hands under the chin to illustrate a head-chopping session, suggesting that I would not live to see another day (because of the Muhammed Drawings), and Andrew quickly established that he was indeed English and planned to sleep in our open access penthouse with his passport taped to his throat – just in case they came to us that night. I didn’t sleep much that night.

Thursday

Next morning was layed out as a bit of a rest day and Andrew and I took it easy and enjoyed being in Abu Ali’s restaurant and company and only around 11am did we start thinking about doing something or the other this for me last day in Wadi Rum. We lazily looked left to Jebel … and right to Jebel Rum, the second highest mountain in Jordan. Suddenly we forgot all about rest days and decided: let’s climb the bugger. We geared up in 5 minutes, grabbed some water and headed off to what is usually a two day climb (one day up, camp, and one day down). Without any mistakes (route finding wise, a major challenge), we should be able to pull it off in time for refreshments in the evening.

The pace was set (quick walking) and we spent the next 7-8 hours non-stop climbing up rock for miles and miles. It was a truly excellent climb and only possible because of Andrew now totally transformation into a Beduin Guide. He wasn’t taking any prisoners, and all I could do was to follow and politely mention when the stuff was a bit dangerous. We got to the summit and enjoyed the views and again headed down a different route. This descent route Andrew knew though and that made it straight forward, although not easy. We were particularly cribbled a bit only having brought one rope and we did have a few scary abseils to mid-way point on big walls where we had to set up our own abseils on creative bits of sandy rock. It went fine though and we were actually a bit chuffed getting down to the village again even before the Swiss had returned from their full day venture. An excellent tick.

Evening Wadi Rum

Friday

I was due back to Copenhagen from Amman Sunday, and decided to visit Petra on the way. So I left a full blood Beduin Andrew Friday morning, and headed off to Petra with a couple of other travelers in the local bus. It was well weird suddenly to be on your own (I’d had Andrew taking care of me the whole week), but it was also really enjoyable to set off into new land on a popular tourist path to see some culture and history of Jordan. Petra was excellent a really interesting place (huge). We (the people I had met and was now traveling with) all stayed at a most excellent youth hostel with an inclusive dinner, which I salvaged in the evening. I had only tasted chicken, rise and pita-bread (and a chip), so the lavish Arabian buffet that evening was an overwhelming site and it was really really excellent stuff. There were many other travelers gathering around on the tables and we all had quite an enjoyable evening telling stories etc.

Saturday

Next day I decided to head to Amman to spent a bit of time in the regular city and to experience a bit of the atmosphere of the Arabian Mad City life that I have enjoyed before in Cairo. I wasn’t disappointed and I actually really liked Amman – it’s less crazy than Cairo and it’s actually really pleasant to walk around. You practically don’t get hassled but if you ask someone they are still well on for haggling over the prices etc. They have all the exotic shops and some fine restaurants, barber shops, fruit markets and spice shops all over the place. There isn’t must history to see, which is why there aren’t many tourists I suppose, so a day or two is probably enough, but definitely worth it. I had a good laugh meeting local nutters on the street, overcharging taxi drivers and enthusiastic shopkeepers. Another thing that’s nice in Amman is that you see women, both with vail, without and with the burka, whereas in Wadi Rum they are practically hidden.

I ate in some westernly looking place in the evening and slept on a fairly rough hotel. Next morning I got the 7am bus to Amman Airport (2 hours drive, price: 1 pound). I had a long and fairly tedious flight back (connecting in Vienna with a long and boring Transit wait) and arrived back in Copenhagen Sunday night.

It was an excellent trip, especially because of Andrews local knowledge and all his double racks of useful items. The climbing is world class and Wadi Rum and the desert is quite a unique place. Petra is a world class tourist attraction and Amman an interesting stop on the way. The people are really friendly and come from all over the Middle East. Since many of them are immigrants and since Jordan is a fairly new country you don’t feel that much of a stranger.

Mathias


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