WADI RUM: TEN CLASSIC BEDOUIN CLIMBS
Wadi Rum's mountains are home to some of the earliest known rock climbs in the world. Whilst little is known of Wadi Rum's earliest climbers, spoken history passed between generations of Bedouin gives at least a glimpse of climbing here over the last few centuries, which most likely continued traditions established long before. Going barefoot & often alone, the Bedouin climbed primarily to hunt, pioneering climbs to the highest, most remote parts of the mountains. The Bedouin may have inherited ancient climbing routes from their forebears but they also developed many new ones of their own. Bedouin climbing routes crisscross the deserts of Wadi Rum today & stand as a collective monument to the explorations of early peoples in this region, representing a rich, unique & precious part of Jordan's mountain heritage. Whilst some have been forgotten, others are well-remembered & some old climbs have also been rediscovered & documented by Bedouin & foreign climbers in recent decades. What follows is a selection of 10 of the best Bedouin climbs, as suggested by Sabbah Eid; a Bedouin climber from the older generations of Wadi Rum. They typically involve climbing up to grades three or four & do not involve moves harder than grade five. What follows here is a summary of the routes only, not a description. Many are fully described in Tony Howard's 'Treks and Climbs in Wadi Rum, Jordan'.
1. EL THALAMIYYA- A deep, shadowy ravine said to be the dwelling place of jinn, El Thalamiyya cuts through Jebel Rum's towering east face. A long, complex route involving some 500m of climbing up to grade five, El Thalamiyya winds up both sides of the shadowy ravine before moving out to more open rock & continuing over terraces, slabs & domes to Jebel Rum's quiet uplands. Once here, climbers can head south across a high plateau to the base of a small top known as Amen Dome, beyond which a chasm known as The Great Siq opens. An abseil can be made into The Great Siq, after which an old Bedouin climb known as Hammad’s Way can be followed to Jebel Rum's summit. After the summit, Hammad’s Way can also be used as a decscent route back to Wadi Rum. A shorter circuit can be made by heading west before The Great Siq to a subsidiary summit called East Dome, which stands directly above Jebel Rum’s East Face. A Bedouin climb once dubbed the Eye of Allah by foreign climbers - but which is not referred to as such by the Bedouin for religious reasons - can be descended from here, passing through a deep, shadowy cave then continuing by abseils to the lower reaches of The Great Siq, where Hammad’s Way can be followed to the bottom.
2. THAMUDIC WAY - The most direct Bedouin climb to Jebel Rum's summit, the Thamudic Way - also known as the Nabataean Way or the Western Safari Route - is named after two Thamudic inscriptions on its lower crags reading 'Kharajat, Son of Sa'adan' and 'Jahfal, Brother of Taym'. At least 2000 years old, these inscriptions qualify at least the lower parts of this route as one of the oldest known rock climbs in the world, giving it a special distinction in this list. It begins in a gorge on the western side of Jebel Rum, moving up steep, rocky steps to gain an exposed ledge. This is followed along the northern side of the gorge - with big drop-offs on the left side - before a short, steep climb leads up to a basin dotted with trees. Cracks lead to the top of the west face from here, after which domes & slabs are ascended to the summit. Whilst most of this route counts as a scramble, climbing up to grade three is involved too & there is serious exposure. Most climbers continue on a west-east traverse of Jebel Rum, following the classic Bedouin climb Hammad’s Way down Jebel Rum's east face, in a series of abseils. Anybody completing the traverse of Jebel Rum on the last two days of the Wadi Rum Trail can consider the Thamudic Way as an alternative to Sheikh Hamdan's Way.
3. RIJM ASSAF- Another classic Bedouin climb on the east face of Jebel Rum, Rijm Assaf begins at the entrance to Wadi Shelalli; a pretty gorge, home to dripping springs where verdant tracts of ferns & grasses grow. This route takes its name from Assaf, a Bedouin climber who may have made its first ascent. Rijm Assaf literally means the 'Cairn of Assaf' after a large mound of stones he assembled to ease a precarious climb over an overhang. Compared to the long, winding route of El Thalamiyya, Rijm Assaf is relatively direct; after the overhang has been passed on Assaf's mound of old stones the route ascends a ridge & its slabby continuation to join a different ridge - followed by another Bedouin climbing route known as Hammad’s Way - which leads on towards Jebel Rum's summit. Rijm Assaf involves 250m of climbing at grades three & four with the grade five crux being the awkward overhang move over the precariously piled mound of stones. A descent of Hammad's Way gives the most direct way back down to Wadi Rum.
4. EYE OF ALLAH - Given its name by early foreign climbers, the Eye of Allah refers to a cave through which this route passes on its way up Jebel Rum's east face. Nevertheless, the name is rarely used by the Bedouin today on account of religious sensitivities & some have suggested changing it to the Eye of Rum. This route starts up a gully from some springs, a short way north of Ein Shellali, before moving up onto a ridge above Wadi Rum Village. It descends into & crosses the eastern end of The Great Siq from here before climbing its north side up steep cracks & chimneys - passing straight through the spectacular cave - to emerge on top of Jebel Rum's east face. It is a serious climb through steep, complex cliffs, with many pitches of grade 4+ & 5- Some parts of the climb have bolts, which might be used for abseiling on the descent. Alternatively, it is possible to continue west from the summit of East Dome, picking up the route of El Thalamiyyah to the summit of Jebel Rum before retuning by abseiling down a Bedouin climb called Hammad’s Way.
5. SOUTH SIQ & SOUTH SUMMITS FROM ABU EINA - Abu Eina is a Bedouin hamlet at the southern end of Jebel Rum & this route starts in a nearby gorge known as Wadi Abu Nakhla, ascending slabs, chimneys & ridges. Climbers emerge from the gorge into a highland region of basins & domes that counts as one of the quietest, most little-trodden parts of Jebel Rum. A pretty circuit can be made of this area, moving first to a subsidiary summit in the east called Vanity Dome, before circling around to another one known as Frustration Dome in the west. Climbers descend the same way, going down the gorge. Whilst most of this route counts as a scramble, grade three climbing is involved in a chimney in its lower section & also on the ridges above it. Getting up either one of the two domes involves climbing up to grade 4. The southern & northern uplands of Jebel Rum are separated by a deep chasm known as the Southern Siq, once thought to be impassable. Nevertheless, the entire massif of Jebel Rum has now been traversed from north to south, much or all of it on Bedouin routes, by Wilf Colonna & Amjad Shahrour & also by Talal Awad & Gilles Rappeneau.
6. JEBEL UM ASHREEN, VIA MOHAMMED MUSA'S ROUTE - Whilst Jebel Rum's summit can be reached on several technically straightforward Bedouin climbing routes, there is still only one way to the true summit of Jebel Um Ashreen. This is a Bedouin climb but a markedly serious one at a higher grade & with little protection. Only one ascent of it has been recorded so far, by Wilf Colonna & Mohammed Hammad. A subsidiary summit in the northern parts of the massif known as Jebel Hajjaj can be more easily reached on a route pioneered by Mohammed Musa of the Howaytat tribe. Starting below a granite pinnacle in Wadi Rum, a steep, shadowy ravine is ascended, with climbers veering left at the end to scale the domed summit of Jebel Hajjaj. The route continues east through a gap before descending steep rock to a hollow in the heart of the massif. From here, climbers can go north, descending a narrow canyon to a large boulder in Wadi Rum known as Dims Hajjaj. Another route heads east through a complex warren of canyons to a point where an abseil is made into a canyon where water basins are found. Nabataean steps cut to reach the water lead down to Wadi Um Ashreen from here. Whilst most of this route requires climbing no higher than grade three, down climbing at grade four is involved in one section & there is exposure throughout. It is one of the more serious routes.
7. JEBEL KHUSH KHASHA BY SABBAH'S WAY- Jebel Khush Khasha is the southern part of a bigger massif known as Jebel Khazali. Along with Jebel Rum & Jebel Um Ashreen, Jebel Khazali is one of three major massifs around the main course of Wadi Rum & it was once regarded as sacred by the early peoples of these deserts. Even today, Jebel Khazali is richly-fabled in Bedouin folklore. Known as Sabbah's Way after the Bedouin climber Sabbah Atieq who made its first ascent, this route is usually started in a canyon on the eastern side of the massif. Whilst complex & sometimes exposed, this route is one of the easier Bedouin climbs, ranking mostly as a grade two scramble. Nevertheless, a grade three climb is also involved in a chimney & another one on the final summit dome. A return is usually made the same way, although the Bedouin say alternative routes allow the massif to be descended on other lines. Another top of Jebel Khush Khasha known as the Far South Summit rises nearby & can be reached on a route known as The Ribbon of Moebius.
8. RIBBON OF MOEBIUS - A relatively short climb to the Far South Summit of Jebel Khush Khasha, the first ascent of this route - named the Ribbon of Moebius by British climber Tony Howard - was also made by Bedouin climber Sabbah Atieq. It is started most easily from the south, but a more adventurous, challenging route starts instead from a narrow canyon on the massif's western side, involving a short grade 4- climb, which can also be avoided with a grade 3- alternative. The route continues moving northwards up the massif after this, running through a narrow canyon before passing under & then back over a natural rock bridge to bring climbers to the summit. It is not yet known whether the two routes on the southern summits of Jebel Khush Khasha can be connected, so the same route is followed back down, taking the easy exit & avoiding the narrow canyon with the more challenging climbing.
9. JEBEL KHAZALI, TAREEG ABU SHEEDA - Whilst the previous two routes ascend the southern parts of the Jebel Khazali massif, this route - known as Tareeg Abu Sheeda - ascends its northern highlands. Tareeg Abu Sheeda starts up the southeastern side of the mountain & counts mostly a scramble, although sections of grade three climbing are involved too. Once the high parts of Jebel Khazali have been reached a descent is made on a different Bedouin route that moves to the north known as Tareeg el Lassig, on which several abseils are required. Jebel Khazali's high parts offer spectacular views over the sandstone heartlands of Wadi Rum, with the massifs of Jebel Rum and Jebel Um Ashreen towering up in the north. Jebel Birda is seen over a sweep of broken massifs to the east & Jebel Gattar stands to the west. To the south, remote sandstone deserts roll away to Jordan's frontier with Saudi Arabia.
10. HUNTER'S SLABS - An excellent Bedouin climb to the northern peak of Jebel Barra the so-called Hunter's Slabs route - named by British climber Tony Howard in memory of Sheikh Krayyim, who described this way to him in the 1980s - involves 500m of climbing of up to grade 3+. The climb starts near the north west tip of the mountain, continuing to ascend a huge expanse of slabs to a tree-dotted terrace, from where the east ridge of the mountain can be gained & followed all the way to its summit. More challenging lines involving climbing up to grade 4+ or 5+ can be ascended directly from the terrace too, avoiding the east ridge. This route gives an excellent option for climbing away from the heavily visited crags of Jebel Rum & Jebel Barra's summit offers rarely seen panoramas of the region, with especially spectacular views to neighbouring summits such as Jebel Abu Judayda & Jebel Um Ashreen.