Posts Tagged ‘Jordan’

a Wadi Rum trip report (sort of)

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

I thought I’d post some reflections on my 9 day Wadi Rum visit in March, partly as a follow up to my pre-trip post and partly as I learned a few things that may be worth passing on.

Nasrani North and South, west faces

For anyone curious after my pre-trip post: we didn’t do La Guerre Sainte nor even try it. The main reason was a mutually-reinforcing combination of poor conditions and ebbing confidence. A chilly north wind blew hard for the first 4-5 days of our stay keeping effective shade temperatures very low indeed. The route is on an east-facing wall (ie sun only in the morning) with the crux pitches near the top. It didn’t look fun or viable to be up there attempting hard face climbing once it went into shade. And after six years adjusting to UAE heat I no longer “do” cold very well and had split tips on about half my fingers and a general loss of gnarl by day four.

Nasrani North and South, east faces (right side blankness is La Guerre Sainte)

So instead of La GS we refocused on building up to Inshallah Factor, a 15 pitch E4 trad route on Jebel Rum’s giant east face. We did it on our final day, descending the Eye of Allah route, in about eleven hours tent-to-tent. I led the introductory 5.10/ 5.10+ ish crack pitches (worth doing in their own right) then Duncan dispatched the bold and delicate crux fifth pitch, his hardest lead for several years due to recurring injuries. We also did: The Beauty with its direct variant, Merlin’s Wand, half of Lionheart (my fault …), the fun North Ridge of Jebel Burdah and Eye of Allah (in ascent).

Jebel Rum east face
(Inshallah Factor is the centre to leftwards trending line)

We camped at The Rest House, which seems to be the default for independent visitors to the area. As on my last visit in April 2009, the camping area was quite squalid with rubbish blowing around the sand and the toilet/ shower block very unsavoury. (Duncan also got sick from dodgy chicken from the RH’s kitchen on our first evening. We didn’t eat there again, favouring Ali’s Place down the road at a fraction of the price.) The expanding Rum village, which apparently didn’t exist when climbers first came to Rum two decades ago, is also in general an eyesore. Once escaped into the stunning scenery rocks or desert, that ceases to matter but it seems a shame that there isn’t an aspirations to higher standards. At minimum it would be nice to see a local entrepreneur create a proper climbers’ hang-out with a bar/ cafe with some character for the long evenings and a clean campsite. Perhaps low standards are a function of the almost total invisibility/ non-employment of local women in this very conservative community?

It’s also troubling to see the obvious over-supply of young local guys, one or two quite disgruntled and aggressive, touting for business as “guides”. For climbers this just means 4×4 taxi’ing to the more remote climbs but, judging from the conversations I had, not all of them have the knowledge necessary even to do that functionally. I guess the over-supply stems from the high minimum rates fixed for this type of work. The community or national park authorities might want to consider either letting the market work its magic through lower prices, or giving out fewer guide licences. Otherwise I can envisage the friendly Bedouin charm of Rum, which many visitors cite as an attraction, gradually fading away to be replaced by the tiresome background hussle found in tourist honeypots elsewhere.

Ironically it actually seems you can use your own 4×4 for travel in the Rum sands if you pay a private vehicle fee at the national park gates – or at least the rules are vague. Duncan and I were lucky to hook up with a couple en route from London to Cape Town with a pimped-out Land Cruiser (called Brenda). We made a three day/ two night trip together to Burrah Canyon and Burdah. Being self-reliant in the desert was very rewarding and added an unexpected exploratory element to our visit. It’s probably not normally cost-effective to visit Rum with your own 4×4 but if I am able to visit again I will be tempted to at least check the costs.

“Brenda” in Burrah Canyon

By chance we met Wilf Colonna one evening at Ali’s Place. He is one of the original pioneers of climbing in Wadi Rum, along with Tony Howard. He has been visiting regularly since the mid-1980s and now lives in Aqaba. Amongst various interesting revelations we learned from him that there is now quite a lot of climbing in Jordan outside Wadi Rum, including sport routes on sandstone and limestone equipped by Amman-based local climbers. These might be interesting mid-summer options for UAE-based climbers as flights to Jordan are regular and cheap. Wilf is working on a climbing guide to Jordan that will include all these new areas.

next up on the Project Wall

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

There is a wall in my house where there are always three photos of routes on show. I call it the “Project Wall”, as the routes are ones I have yet to complete (and, sometimes, yet to even try). As soon as the project is done, the photo comes down. At the moment it has: Freeway, an eleven pitch 5.11 trad route in Squamish (Canada), which has been there a long time; the unclimbed Caracal Tree extension at Tawiyan here in the UAE; and La Guerre Sainte, a twelve pitch F7b sport route in Wadi Rum (Jordan). As I am flying to Amman in four days time for a ten day session in Rum it’s La Guerre Sainte that’s very much on my mind.

As ambitions go this is quite a major one. Twelve pitch routes are usually all-day climbs even if the grades are amenable. In this case there are four pitches in the F7 zone, and I am only confident of onsighting up to about F6c. And one of the F6c pitches is notorious for sparse bolts and christened the “Climb or Go Home”. So I anticipate some swearing, bolt grabbing and possibly even outright failure. But I feel compelled to go and try it, and am lucky to have a climbing partner who is prepared to indulge me.

Why this route? The routes often talked about as the “best in the world” have some common characteristics: long enough to occupy a day, ascend a striking rock feature, have classic climbing and distinct historic pitches. There is no official “list” but a few names always come up when climbers debate the topic. The preeminent example is Astroman in Yosemite with its “Enduro Corner” and “Harding Slot” (no, I have not done it and I am not sure I will ever be capable!). Astroman is so iconic that the “Astro” prefix gets slapped on classic new routes all around the world. The crazily-overhanging Fiesta de los Biceps in the Riglos, which I have climbed, though in poor style, is another example, as is Squamish’s Grand Wall, which I have done twice in good style.

La Guerre Sainte is much younger than those routes (the FA was in November 2000) but it seems to be gradually building a reputation. The wall it climbs is certainly astonishing: vertical and flat for 400m. It also summits what may be the world’s tallest desert tower, North Nasrani. This giant block has 400-500m walls on all sides with no non-technical route up it, unlike all the other major summits in Rum. So I am guessing it is heading for the “list” and am nerdy and egotistical enough to want to be able to say “oh yeah, I have done that” once it is there! Hopefully the actual attempt will be enjoyable too …

Wish us luck!