Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Jordan Trip Report Part 2: Climbing in Wadi Rum

I left Peter’s place at 5:30 to take a cab to Naz’s apartment in Abdoon [the fancy/Western/wealthy/suburban-ish part of Amman.] We had some breakfast and then headed out to Kufranja in her embassy-supplied car. The drive north was beautiful, through the kind of landscape that, somehow, really does look biblical: rolling hills, small scattered villages, ancient olive groves, shepherds herding goats and sheep [yes, seriously]. After some Mazda off-roading and a semi-rugged approach, we finally reached a limestone cliff band with some bolted lines.

Biblical landscape.

We warmed up on an easy face climb, then did a couple of really fun, long moderate routes -- one with a super-awkward chimney at the top and one with a crazy sequence pulling out of a cave [that I swear something lived in]. Then we got on a harder climb that Naz had tried before, but not finished. There was a bit of excitement when I broke a hold off as I was about to clip the third bold, and took a pretty good fall, but Naz caught me and it was all good. We managed to get up to the chains, but not without a bit of whimpering on my part.

Naz cleaning the cave pitch.

Lest we forget we're in the Middle East.

All the routes we did were really fun and we lucked out, weather wise, as some unusual clouds kept the sun off us for a couple of hours. After a half-day the heat got to be too much [we had only planned to climb for the morning anyway], but we had such a great time [and were both psyched to finally have a climbing partner!] that we figured we should try to get in another day. We thought about coming back to Kufranja, but then Naz had the bright idea to drive South and check out some stuff at Wadi Rum. She’d been down there a few times and knew a Bedouin guy named Mohammed [go figure] who lives in the village, knows the area really well, and works as a climbing guide. We went back to Naz’s place, got in touch with him, and soon it was all set. Mohammed was actually pretty booked up for the day, but he agreed to take us out to one area in his jeep, drop us off, pick us up later and take us to another area. The only complication was that we had to be at his place early enough so that he could drive us out and be back in time to meet his clients. “Early enough” turned out to be 7:30…which, given that Wadi Rum is 3 or 3.5 hours from Amman, meant that we had to get a rather alpine start to the day, but we figured what the hell, it was going to be worth it.


An alpine start it was -- up at 3:30, then a drive down the desert highway, and a stunning arrival in Wadi Rum just after sunrise. There was a bit of a cluster-f*ck at the park entrance, since we arrived before the park was open, but we realized that Mohammed Hamad was a good name to throw around [somehow, everyone seemed to be his cousin] and we managed to make it to the village in time.

Wadi Rum is amazing -- an unbelievably vast area of enormous sandstone massifs separated by sand dunes. I’ve never seen anything like it; and I tried to take some pictures but they don’t really capture the immensity of the place.

We went to Mohammed’s place and he insisted on giving us tea, even though it’s Ramadam and he couldn’t drink any himself. Then we piled in his jeep and he drove us out and dropped us off in one of the more accessible areas. It was crazy…totally silent, no signs of other people, and a pretty foreboding landscape. And the climbing is intense…adventure-style: multi-pitch trad with marginal pro, route finding, loose and soft rock, unbelievable views.

Mohammed's Jeep.

I ended up leading a moderate corner beneath a fairly imposing chimney. It was a bit harder than either of us anticipated [5.8?] and I got a little sketched out in the middle, not so much because the climbing was hard, but because I was at least 2/3 of the way up before I had a piece that I felt really solid about. I managed to make it through the loose section without incident [placing some psychological pro that I figured would at least slow down a fall] and was pretty psyched to find bolts at the belay stance. Given the fact that I hadn’t been out in 2 months and didn’t lead much trad this season at all, I felt really good about it. I also lead a super-fun [mid-10ish] pocketed face climb that had bolts and “key holes” – holes drilled in the rock, and threaded with cord.

Naz leading on scary crumbly sandstone.

Me rapping off the corner pitch.

The imposing chimney above.

Mohammed’s brother picked us up and drove us back to the village the long way – so we could see a little more of the park. Since it was too hot by that time to do much climbing, we hung out in the rest house for a couple of hours and had some mezze (lunch). Later, Mohammed drove us out to another area where there are some [rare] bolted granite routes. I think he said that the face climb I did was a 6b [help, what is that in YDS?]; it was a super fun climb…but a pretty heady lead: super technical balancy climbing with slopey holds and smearing for feet…and some serious run-out at the top. I wouldn’t say it was my most stellar climbing performance [I got to the last bolt, realized that it was the last bolt, saw the chains were still about 30 feet away and just stayed there for a while, summoning the motivation to keep climbing] but I made it to the top and felt good about that.

The Bedouin village in Wadi Rum.

Village Street-scape.

Camping at the Rest House.

Naz rapping off a slabby granite face climb.

As the sun was beginning to set we walked back to the village through the sand dunes, past ornery camels and locals having Iftar. The drive back was uneventful and Naz and I made tentative plans to try to go back to Wadi Rum during Eid ul-Fitr [celebration of the end of Ramadan], when she has a few days off [this, coincidentally, happens to fall on Rosh Hashana this year…but personally, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the new year than with a climbing trip to Wadi Rum!]


Sunset hike back to the village.

Camels on the edge of 'town.'

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