Climbing guidebook to Wadi Rum (Jordan)
Climbing in Wadi Rum
The Wadi Rum is a sandy desert out of which stunning sandstone formations rise to several hundred metres in height, harbouring exceptional opportunities for rock climbing. The area has been inhabited by man for thousands of years and traces of ancient civilizations are revealed in the numerous petroglyphs (in particular dating back to the era of the Nabatean Kingdom). In more recent times Bedouin tribes have settled here, discovering many routes through the landscape which they used when hunting Ibex and foraging for medicinal plants in the heart of the massif. These are now known as the ‘Bedouin routes’. The area was first discovered by Western climbers (namely Howard, Baker, Taylor and Shaw) in 1984 on invitation from the Jordanian government. The landscape worthy of a Hollywood film, the warm welcome from the Bedouin people, and the quality of the rock on which so many clean lines could be seen, all came together for these climbers to open the door to their personal paradise. In less than 10 years first ascents were made on over 300 routes, most of these only using natural points of protection. Some more recent new routes use bolts sporadically to safely forge a passage on walls of more compact rock, but the routes bolted in this way remain an exception and to get the best out of climbing in this area, you must be confident placing trad gear. The Wadi Rum is a bucket list must-do for all adventure climbers.
You will naturally want to exercise a certain level of caution on Wadi Rum sandstone, but overall the rock on classic routes is sound. These fantastic rock walls of exceptional texture and fabulous formations just call out to be climbed.
Lastly, take extra care after rain and be aware that in the presence of water, sandstone acts like a sponge and becomes very fragile.
The commitment factor
Upon discovering the area in 1984, Tony Howards opted to establish routes in a purely traditional style, remaining loyal to his climbing origins. From 1985 to 1995, several other climbers such as Wilfried Colonna, the Remy brothers, and Precht & Haupolter made the vast majority of their first ascents using the same climbing ethics. More recently other big names in the climbing world who have fallen under the spell of Wadi Rum have made a few first ascents using occasional bolts to safely forge their way through compact walls. Routes of this nature are few and far between and in most cases do not change the commitment factor of the older routes.
Traditional climbing requires a certain level of skill that is acquired through experience. All at the same time, one must be able to place gear correctly, route-find, make judgements on rock quality to avoid taking a surprise whipper, and have the skills to safely back off the climb if necessary.
Due to the specific nature of climbing in Wadi Rum, the idea of coming to this area to learn how to trad climb should be totally forgotten: rock can be unreliable if you deviate from the route and climbing parties must be self-reliant in the case of an emergency.
Une sélection de grandes voies
A selection of 26 multi-pitch routes (taken from the topo Rock around the World) is available on the OmegaRoc app. This selection is ideal for a first approach to climbing in Wadi Rum. A level 6a/6b trad is required as well as good experience of crack climbing.
Almost all of the routes offered are trad. Of course, this style of climbing on trad gear requires us to be modest about route choices, but do not fear, the rock lends itself well to gear placements, especially along its beautiful, long crack systems. Other equally interesting routes, more in a mountaineering style, focus on route-finding rather than pure difficulty. These follow more or less along the lines of the famous Bedouin routes. These ‘extreme adventure treks’ discovered by the locals are the most aesthetic way, and undoubtedly the only true way, to explore the area. Some climbing routes included in this selection use Bedouin routes as descents, and two Bedouin routes that ascend to the summit of Jebel Rum are described in detail.
Voir le topo numérique Escalade au Wadi Rum
Voir le topo (livre) Rock around the World
Other recommended routes
Amongst the hundreds of routes documented for Wadi Rum, the classic routes generally provide peace of mind in terms of relatively sound rock. Picking from the easy routes, L’Apéritif (5+, great protection) is a short route that also enables you to locate the approach to The Beauty. And of course, the Bedouin routes are absolutely magical experiences (see the website of Gilles Rappeneau).
Amongst harder and more committing routes than those featured here, we can pick out routes first ascended by Precht (Rock Fascination, Jolly Joker and No Way For Ibex), then from the same era the Al Uzza route first climbed by W. Colonna and B. Domenech. Last but not least, a very difficult partly-bolted route, Rock Empire, appears to be a good challenge (8a max).
Practical information for climbing
from October to April: The ideal time to come is from February to the end of March, when the days are getting longer and plants are coming back to life. November is also a sure bet but the days are short (daylight from 6:30am to 5:30pm).
December and January are the coldest months (a sleeping bag with a comfort rating of 0°C is a good idea) and it can rain and even snow, but pleasant climbing can still be found on sunny routes. On the other hand, it is possible to climb in October and April but it can be very hot and only routes in the shade can be attempted (you may suffer during the approaches).
Approaches et descents
Approaches and descents are not always obvious in this complex massif, and sometimes require a flair for skilled navigation in spite of the presence of cairns.
Upon arrival in Wadi Rum, a preliminary reconnaissance tour is strongly recommended to familiarise yourself with the area and will certainly not be time wasted in this incredible scenery. For example, you can circle around Jebel um Ishrin, passing the foot of the Guerre Sainte route or even traverse the Jebel Rum via the Nabatéenne, passing by Hammad’s Route on the way back.
Walking times given are for a ‘normal’ walking speed so do not require you to run, but then again dallying has not been taken into account. Give yourself extra time especially during your first few climbing days to scout out different sectors.
Other than the cords hung around spikes, here you will come across a local speciality, the ‘peg-bolt’. This is a small, V-shaped piton made from hard steel that is hammered into a drilled hole, providing very satisfactory strength. In certain cases, the piton has been sealed with resin to increase its longevity. On the contrary, classically-placed pitons are not reliable.
Bolts are generally high-strength in this rock but their longevity over time varies as a function of the quality of the sandstone they are placed in. Glue-in bolts are the most reliable anchors, and they are often used at abseil anchors on classic routes.
Gear to bring
It is possible to climb all the routes described here with a complete set of nuts, and a double rack of friends ranging from a green Alien (or a #0.3 Camalot) to a #3 Camalot, and one #4 and one #5. For smaller sizes, offsets (like Metolius or Aliens) work well too. Preference should be given to using extendable 60cm runners and 120cm slings to reduce rope drag (choose wide flat slings over narrow dyneema ones as the latter can cut into the soft sandstone). Also bring climbing tape or crack gloves (very useful for certain routes) and extra cord to reinforce abseil anchors (even if the routes described here are well-frequented classics). Lastly, packing an extra half rope as a potential replacement is a good idea in light of the highly abrasive nature of the rock. Hammer and pitons are useless, except if you plan to climb old, difficult routes which are not described here and which are very infrequently climbed.
A standard rack would consist of a set of nuts, a rack of friends ranging from a green Alien to a #3 Camalot, 12 quickdraws including 5 extendable runners, and 5-6 120cm slings. All gear required in addition to this will be described in detail.
For approaches, be sure to bring light, flexible approach shoes with good grip on the soles (and a compass, of course).
Other useful guidebooks
The classic guidebook by Tony Howard is re-published from time to time but has not really been properly updated. A new, ultimate reference ‘Bible’ has been in the works for several years. This is a project that was initiated by Bernard Domenech and has been taken on by Wilfried Colonna, who continues to work on it in collaboration with the Bedouin people.
In the meantime, a climbing logbook for the Rum area can be found at the Rest House, providing a good excuse to go and have a drink there!
The Gilles Rappeneau’s website, full of information on Bedouin routes: http://wadiram.userhome.ch
Updated in 2017
Languages spoken: Arabic (many people speak or understand English)
Currency: ‘Jordanian Dinar’; 1 JD is roughly equivalent to €1.26 (in 2016). There are cash points at the airport but none in Wadi Rum.
Passport: Must be valid for at least 6 months after your date of departure from Jordan
Visa: Purchased at the airport on arrival for 40 JD, valid for 1 month
Time zone: UTC + 1hr (summer) or 2hrs (winter)
Electricity: 220V AC in the village
Communication: Mobile network coverage in the village and in part of the desert. Internet access is available in rental accommodation in Rum (buying a local SIM card at the airport is a practical way to communicate with the Bedouin in the desert)
Vaccinations: No mandatory vaccinations, but general vaccinations are recommended.
Wildlife: Mosquitoes are sometimes present in the village (think about bringing repellant) but never in the desert. Scorpions and snakes are only rarely encountered.
Drinking water: Officially, tap water is potable in Jordan but it is recommended that you purify it further to avoid any unpleasant effects (always keep a few iodine tablets handy).
Emergency services: This is a relatively isolated region with no official organisation of emergency services. It is best to be self-reliant and provide your Bedouin hosts with the information necessary for them to initiate a rescue if needs be, using their knowledge of the massif.
Getting to Jordan
By air to the capital city Amman, or to Aqaba (closer). Direct flights take 4 – 5 hours from Europe with prices ranging from €400 to €800.
Travel within Jordan and getting to the Rum
Local buses are cheap but take a long time. A taxi is the best solution (ask for the price before you get in). It is possible to take a taxi from the airport, even at night. Your hosts in Wadi Rum will be able to book a taxi for you (see the following chapter ”Where to stay”).
Prices for popular taxi journeys (for 3-4 people):
– Amman / Wadi Rum (3 – 4 hrs): 85/90 JD
– Aqaba / Wadi Rum (1 hr): around 20 JD
– Wadi Rum / Petra (11/2 hrs): 35 JD
– Petra / Amman (3 hrs): 55 JD
A good tip for some travelling at the end of your stay: car rental rates are very reasonable (25 JD per day) and it is possible to rent a car in Aqaba and hand it back at the airport in Amman (using Avis car hire company).
Where to stay
Your unavoidable base camp for climbing, the village of Rum has little charm and has lost its appeal even further over the last few years. However, the warm welcome from your hosts will more than compensate for this.
A few years ago, the rise in tourism in Wadi Rum led to a proliferation of camps in the desert maintained by the Bedouin, but nowadays they are not often used.
Some local Bedouin have also set aside rooms in their houses in the village especially tailored to climbers, and this proves to be the most agreeable and welcoming accommodation option. You will generally find a bedroom with mattresses on the floor (for 4 to 8 people), a bathroom with toilet and shower, and a ‘dining room’ in a bedouin tent where meals (often copious) are served. Prices vary from host to host and depend on the number of guests (3 – 5 JD just for the night, 15 – 30 JD for half-board. Amongst many others, here are two good quality addresses:
– Ali Hamad Zalabia: www.wadirumdesertjo.com
– Atayek Hamad Al-Zalabea (Ali’s brother): www.wildbedouinlife.com
Remember: Your hosts will be considered your official guides by the locals and you must therefore consult them as a first port of call for arranging transport in the desert or to spend a few days in a camp or in the desert (e.g. in Barrah Canyon).
Lastly, the Rest House at the entrance to the village is maintained by locals and offers camping-style accommodation (Bedouin tents, toilets and showers available, 5 JD per night).
Restauration and eating options
The dining options in the village have petered out over the years and now the only option other than your hosts is the Rest House; this is the only place where beer is available and it is also possible to eat breakfast and other meals here.
In terms of shopping for food there are several small grocery shops in Rum with fluctuating prices where it is worth making an attempt at negotiation. The last shop on the main road leading to the desert is recommended but your host may steer you towards others. Do try to avoid the shop at the town entrance, just after the Rest House, which sells goods at high prices. You will find something of everything in these shops, especially flatbread, sardines, fruits and vegetables, various biscuits, and for bivouacs in the desert there are chinese noodles (a picnic for 4 people costs less than 10 JD).
To bring from Europe: Plan to bring a few climbing rations with you to round out the locally-available snacks, as well as a thermos flask (your hosts can provide hot water) and a stove and dish to use for bivouacs in the desert.
Aqaba: This is the entrance to the Red Sea and a great opportunity to spend a rest day while exploring the coral reefs.
Petra: This ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage Site is worth the visit despite its very expensive entrance fee.
The Dead Sea: Relax by taking a swim in the heavy salt water…