Monday, March 6, 2017


After another sticky fall of grape smashing, I boarded a plane bound for Jordan. My good friend Jessica Campbell was already there. She had been invited to tour the country with a group from Climbing Magazine and had spent the previous ten days checking out Jordan's vertical scene. Jessica and I had loose plans to explore an area called Wadi Rum, an iconic, mars-like web of sandstone big walls and rusty washes. A sense of potential and mystery lulled me through a couple of long flights, before flinging me into the streets of Amman, Jordan's capitol city. A taxi ride later, I was high-fiving the homies at their surprisingly swanky digs. Everyone minus Jess was going home the next morning, so we enjoyed a nice meal together before capping the evening off with a couple of beers on the hotel roof top.

"You are going to LOVE Wadi Rum," Jess told me the next morning. Their crew had spent a few adventure filled days there before I arrived and she was eager to go back. Jess knows what makes me tick and as we drove south from Amman into the super desert of central Jordan she kept giving me that look that said, "Oh man, you just wait, this place, you just wait...". Jessica had already figured out a house for us to stay. Abdullah and Attalah, two kind brothers, had hosted the Climbing Magazine group while they were there. Now, we would be their guests for three weeks. Immediately upon meeting them, I sensed their fondness for Jessica. Because they thought so highly of her, I was accepted with open arms. Without a doubt, the highlight of our trip was spending time with this Bedouin family. The Bedouins are a nomadic herding culture and I was constantly amazed by their connection to the desert and their blatant toughness in a hostile environment. Most of all, I was inspired by their kind and genuine nature.
Bedouin hosts and friends. From left to right, Mohammed, Atallah, and Abdullah. Awesome people!

Our first couple of days in Wadi Rum were spent recovering from travel and beating a bug that Jess had picked up. I didn't need to charge out of the gates. I enjoyed walking through the desert and gawking at the magenta big walls, lined up like soldiers along a never-ending highway of fine, red sand. The sunsets would bleed into the landscape, bolstering the shades of red, pink, and purple that surrounded us. Daily calls to prayer wafted through the canyons, bouncing between mountains before disappearing like stray balloons.  At night, stars peppered the inky, black sky . Of course, the tea was as plentiful and sweet as the smiles around the fire.
Wadi on fire
Desert wanderings

After a couple of days health and energy returned. Our first route was Merlin's Wand, otherwise known as the "Super Crack" of Jordan. It was a good intro to Wadi Rum climbing. The rock was solid and featured, it's fragile outer coat worn down by all the climbers who had jammed up the wall. It reminded me of Red Rocks with plentiful jugs surrounding a slightly flaring, but easily protectable fissure. It was a unique route though. The rest of the climbing we did reminded me more of Zion. Or maybe I should say obscure routes in Zion. In other words, route finding, anchor building, and descents were engaging.
Jamming and jugging on Merlin's Wand

A few days later we spent an afternoon climbing on Jihad, a mega classic "sport" route equipped by Arnaud Petit and team in 2001. The 400 meter hueco fest on Nissrani North featured spacey bolts and more jugs than I've ever seen on one wall. Still, there were a few spots where the buckets disappeared into mazes of crimps and pockets. Even though we didn't climb the whole route that afternoon, one of the trip highlights for me was onsighting the crux pitch via headlamp. It was near the start of our time in Wadi Rum and I wasn't in very good shape, so working through the dark pitch of 5.12 was thrilling. We rapped down after the crux pitch planning to return another day. Unfortunately, when we came back, Jessica turned her ankle hiking to the base. I can't wait to get back and finish up this super fun line. Nissrani North's east face is a rad piece of rock.
Nissrani North's east face is an inspiring sheet of steep rock

Jebel Um Ishrin, one of the striking peaks above the village of Wadi Rum, is home to the 5.10 masterpiece, Beauty. Even though the route is moderate, it is a must hit for anyone climbing in Jordan. The magic begins on the approach, a twisting and turning scramble through Rakabat Canyon. Jessica and I visited this area more than once on our trip, each time pausing to soak in the ambiance of the corridors and hallways that twist through the heart of the massif. The climbing is pure fun, with just enough sandy runouts to keep the Wadi vibe strong. The icing on the cake is the unroped scramble to the summit. We quietly walked barefoot across plateaus and over rolling domes to gain one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen. Big walls dotted the lunar landscape until sandy air from Saudi Arabia swallowed the view, hiding the most remote mountains and igniting our imaginations.
Beauty climbs the left side of the tower before rolling out of sight
Beauty is a good old fashioned traditional climb with cracks of all sizes and great face climbing too
Jess soaks in an unforgettable view atop Jebel Um Ishrin

For me, the climbing highlight of our trip came near the end of our three weeks. I had finally found some fitness and flow. Jessica of course, has these elements in spades. We noticed a route just outside of town called Glory. It climbed a burnished (less sandy) wall for five pitches and was entirely bolt protected. We had previously written it off, intimidated by its 5.13c rating. Too hard for us we thought! One day we decided to check it out anyway. We didn't climb to the top that day, but we did get the rope up the crux pitch. I got pushed around on the 30 meter sequence of bizarre slabaneering, but Jess managed to follow the pitch cleanly by headlamp. There's no doubt about it, the girl can dance. We rapped down realizing that the route might be possible for us to free climb. It was clear I would need to work on the moves more than Jess, so I went to the wall alone a few days later to do some mini-traxing. I was able to free climb all the pitches that day, including the crux rope length. With our trip coming to an end, we knew we had one shot to complete the route. A couple of days later we returned to the south facing wall. The conditions were not ideal, but this was our chance and we had to take it. A free ascent almost eluded us when I slipped off the last hard move of the crux pitch in the afternoon sun. The grips felt horrible and I lowered, realizing that I probably wasn't going to be able to overcome the slimy conditions. After resting for thirty minutes I left the belay with no expectations and managed to find that rare combo of balance and focus. I felt like I was floating and the difficult moves came easily. Jess followed cleanly, just as smooth as the first time. As the light waned I stood on my aching toes for one more low 5.12 pitch. It was in the bag, but the last 5.11 still hurt my wimpy feet. The summit sunset washed away the pain and we soaked in the moment. The beauty (and challenges!) of our three weeks in Wadi Rum flooded in. It was a great way to finish the climbing aspect of our trip. Note: We didn't think this climb warranted a rating of 5.13c. 13a or Index 12c sounds right :)
Jess on pitch one of Glory.
Checking out the crux pitch for the first time
Jess nearing the end of Glory's crux pitch

A day later, Jessica left for home. We were all sad to see her go. Even the tough dudes had teary eyes. I boarded a plane a few days later. Usually, I'm happy to head back to Leavenworth after a trip, but this time I didn't want to leave. It took many weeks at home before I wasn't constantly thinking about Wadi Rum. It had an impact on me and I miss it still. I'll definitely be going back.

I can't say enough about Abdullah and Atallah. The brothers run an awesome trekking service in Wadi Rum and are worth getting a hold of if you are planning a trip to Wadi Rum. Check out their website: