WADI RUM: TEN HIKES & SCRAMBLES
Wadi Rum's deserts have been traversed on foot for many millennia & hikers can explore the region on many routes alongside the main circuit of the Wadi Rum Trail. The ten hiking routes outlined below represent some of Wadi Rum's best circular routes & most of them can be done within two days. Some align with short sections of the Wadi Rum Trail, before leaving it again. Others align with secondary routes in the Wadi Rum Trail's broader network of hiking trails. A few stand entirely out of its network, following altogether lesser-known routes into deeper parts of the region. Hikers who do not have time for a full traverse of the 10 day Wadi Rum Trail can consider some of the routes outlined below. It is important to be aware the routes outlined here are not all straightforward hikes. Many involve challenging scrambling & short sections of grade three rock climbing & some require technical descents involving abseiling too. Bedouin climbing guides are recommended for following any routes that involve climbing & hikers must be sure to take the correct safety equipment for protecting themselves on any given routes. Whilst independent hiking is possible off the Wadi Rum Trail, Bedouin guides are still fully recommended. What follows below is only a broad outline of the routes, rather than detailed, routefinding notes on how to navigate any one of the circuits.
1. JEBEL RUM CIRCUIT - A superb, low-level hiking circuit can be followed around Jebel Rum's bottom flanks. Starting in Wadi Rum Village this route begins by moving into Wadi Shellali, before crossing a low pass next to the isolated peak of Jebel Hamayra el Shellali. A high path continues on a southerly course below rugged cliffs from here t0wards the Bedouin hamlet of Abu Eina, where a shepherding pass known as Raqaba Abu Eina - which is traversed by a secondary route of the Wadi Rum Trail - is followed through Jebel Rum's southern crags. The route continues around the wild, western side of Jebel Rum with small wadis & low rocky passes crossed to the north, before a scrambling route leads east over Jebel Rum's low, northerly crags. Rocky passageways & desolate basins swept with red sand are followed through the northern parts of the mountain before a descent is made back into Wadi Rum. Hikers can continue back to the village along the main road in Wadi Rum but a better alternative is to scramble up a small cliff to enter a low rocky wadi before Jebel Maiyeen. This is followed, with a scramble leading south to a low pass, which is descended into Wadi Sabbakh, which leads back to Wadi Rum Village, past the ruins of a Nabataean temple. This route covers nearly 20km & can be completed in a long day or over two, with a night spent in the quiet westerly or northerly parts of Jebel Rum.
2. JEBEL UM ASHREEN CIRCUIT - With its high domes, towers and sheer, sometimes overhanging cliffs, Jebel Um Ashreen is a massif of similar magnificnce to Jebel Rum & a superb hiking circuit can be followed around its northern half. This route starts from Wadi Rum Village, running 6km north in Wadi Rum to the beginning of a rocky passage known as El Makhras. El Makhras cuts through the northern crags of Jebel Um Ashreen & is traversed to the east, bringing hikers out in Wadi Um Ashreen; a dramatic sweep of red dunes between high sandstone peaks. Hikers continue 6km south in Wadi Um Ashreen, passing a sandy hollow above which Nabataean steps lead to a cluster of secluded water basins (see Mohammad Musa’s Route). The route continues down a sandy side passage below the cliffs of Jebel Um Ashreen before passing the entrance of a canyon known as Zarnooq el Dabr. A little further south a deep, shadowy chasm known as Um Ejil or the Raqaba Canyon can be followed west through the spectacular heartlands of the Jebel Um Ashreen massif to Wadi Rum Village. Um Ejil is a challenging scramble crossed in the opposite direction on the first section of the Wadi Rum Trail. It involves scrambling up steep, rocky steps & the traverse of an exposed, sloping ledge & some hikers may require protection with a rope. A little over 15km, this route can be completed in a single day or extended into an overnight trip by camping in a secluded part of Wadi Um Ashreen at the end of the first day.
3. JEBEL UM EJIL CIRCUIT - A subsidiary peak in the Jebel Um Ashreen massif, Jebel Um Ejil stands between its highest summit in the north & the impressive domes of Jebel Nassrani in the south. This is a short, varied half-day route with superb scrambling & at least one 40m abseil, on which a full circuit of Jebel Um Ejil is made. Hikers begin with a scrambling traverse of the shadowy chasm of Um Ejil or the Raqaba Canyon, between Wadi Rum & Wadi Rum Ashreen. Once in Wadi Um Ashreen, hikers move north around one kilometre to the opening of the next canyon; Zarnooq el Dabr. A scramble leads up this canyon to a high, rocky pass, which looks down into the Kharaza Canyon. An abseil chain is found 10m down to the left allowing a 40m descent into a chimney - mostly free-hanging - after which some awkward, grade 3 climbing leads down to the canyon floor; all of which can be avoided with a second abseil. From the end of the Kharaza Canyon it is necessary to exit up left & descend by the initial gully used on the approach to walk back to Wadi Rum Village. Traversing the majestic heartlands of the Jebel Um Ashreen massif this is a spectacular route giving an excellent introduction to scrambling in Wadi Rum, passing near a number of classic climbing routes such as The Beauty & also aligning in its first section with the Wadi Rum Trail. It is a route that will require a Bedouin climbing guide & specialist equipment, including climbing harnesses, descending devices & two 50m ropes.
4. SIQ BARRA CIRCUIT - Siq Barra is a deep, shadowy gorge dividing the high, pyramid peaks of Jebel Barra from the neighbouring highlands of Jebel Abu Judayda. It can be integrated into a two day hiking circuit starting in Wadi Rum or completed as an extension to the Jebel Um Ashreen circuit above. A traverse of Um Ejil or the Raqaba Canyon is made between Wadi Rum & Wadi Um Ashreen on the first section, with the route continuing east through sweeping red dunes. A narrow, rocky opening known as Um Zilga is soon passed, with the route circling north into the gorge of Siq Barra. Hikers follow it upwards for about 3km to the bottom of a rocky canyon called Abu Ighleekhat. This cuts through the eastern parts of Jebel Barra & involves 30m of grade three climbing up to a low pass, from which an asbeil of 30m leads down the other side to a sandy wadi. This is followed north around the northern peak of Jebel Barra, before continuing out over Wadi Um Ashreen to the start of a rocky passageway known as El Makhras (see Route 2). After the traverse of El Makhras, Wadi Rum is followed 6km south to Wadi Rum Village. The climbing in Abu Ighleekhat can be avoided entirely by following the gorge to its northern end, then moving east towards Wadi Um Ashreen. Siq Barra is a popular climbing area, home to classics such as Merlin's Wand and the Star of Abu Judayda. It gets busy during peak season so hikers seeking solitude should visit in low season months or otherwise try a more remote route on this list.
5. JEBEL BIRDA CIRCUIT - A high peak in the eastern districts of Wadi Rum, Jebel Birda is traversed on the first half of the Wadi Rum Trail. Whilst the Wadi Rum Trail continues east into a tract of desolate tablelands after Jebel Birda, this circuit goes the opposite way, moving into pretty sandstone massifs to the west. It begins by following an old Bedouin scrambling route up Jebel Birda's north ridge to a well-known rock bridge. A short pitch of grade three climbing can be ascended to the crest of the north ridge here, which can be followed to the summit. Alternatively, hikers can descend a short way east from the rock bridge, taking an easier scrambling route. After Jebel Birda's summit has been reached, its tricky south ridge is descended towards a saddle, from where a gully leads down to the east side of the mountain. The route continues south to the hills of Um el Athlaaf - whose low, gentle tops give spectacular views over the sandstone massifs south of Wadi Rum - before striking west towards Jebel Um Frooth, where another well-known rock bridge is found. Hikers continue around the northern side of Jebel Abu Khashaba, following a rocky canyon through its massif to the south, before winding back towards Jebel Birda through sandy passageways. This circuit covers around 25km and will take most hikers two or three days. As with Siq Barra, this area gets busy so hiking it in low season will avoid the biggest crowds. Challenging scrambling is involved on Jebel Birda, for which some hikers will require rope protection.
6. JEBEL KHAZALI CIRCUIT - A towering hulk of sandstone capped with light coloured domes & often harbouring large pools of water, Jebel Khazali is a beautiful, richly fabled massif once regarded as sacred by the early peoples of these deserts. Hikers will see Jebel Khazali from almost every part of the Wadi Rum Trail but it remains off the main route, isolated in the middle of the circuit. It is one of the great mountain jewels of Wadi Rum & a circuit can be followed around its low crags, starting at the dark, shadowy chasm of Siq Khazali or the Khazali Canyon in its northern crags. Ancient inscriptions in South Safaitic & Hismaic script are etched into the canyon walls, along with Arabic inscriptions in Kufic script & rock art showing animals, humans & footprints. The first section of the canyon is a simple walk, but steep steps must be scrambled to continue further. It ends in a natural cul-de-sac for hikers, but the Bedouin say climbing routes lead up its sides to higher parts of the mountain. After backtracking in the canyon hikers follow sandy wadis around Jebel Khazali's eastern side before crossing a tract of rugged crags at its southern end known as Um Jalada. Different ways exist through Um Jalada including scrambles & routes requiring steps of grade three climbing. They all meet in an area of deep, red-hued dunes before running north along the western side of Jebel Khazali, where beautiful views extend to Jebel Gattar in the west. This route is around 12km & can be completed in a single day.
7. WADI SAABIT CIRCUIT - A natural passage of vast, sweeping sands, Wadi Saabit divides the sandstone heartlands of Wadi Rum from a range of remote highlands on Jordan's southern frontier with Saudi Arabia. This entire region stood within Saudi Arabia before 1965, when a territorial realignment between the two nations saw Jordan's border moved around 20km further south. This circuit combines a walk in the lowlands of Wadi Saabit with a traverse of the high sandstone country overlooking it from the north & will hold a special appeal to any hikers seeking the quieter, more solitary parts of Wadi Rum's deserts. Starting at the eastern end of Wadi Saabit, the route ascends a rugged band of cliffs known as Mudaraba el Buyoot, where steep, rocky steps must be scrambled. Mudarba el Buyoot means the Hitting Place of the Tents in Arabic & it was from its high parts the Bedouin once threw heavy tents down into Wadi Saabit to avoid carrying them around on more circuitous routes. From the top of Mudarba el Buyoot a route known as Tareeg el Hash is followed west through low, hummocky hills to high sandstone crags where spectacular views open up of Wadi Saabit to the south. A dark, shadowy chasm known as Siq Nugra is followed down through these crags to Wadi Saabit, which is traversed east back to the start point. This route is 20km but with long stretches on sand it will take most hikers two days. Transport will be required from Wadi Rum Village to the start & end points.
8. EL QIDDAR CIRCUIT - When seen from the north, El Qiddar's summit dome resembles the upturned pan or 'qiddar' the Bedouin place over a fire to make bread. Rising up on the northern side of Wadi Saabit, El Qiddar is a medium-sized massif surrounded by broken hills of sandstone, windswept dunes & quiet wadis, around which hikers can make a superb half day circuit totalling 10km. The route begins through a rocky passageway known as Raqaba el Qiddar, which traverses the southern part of the El Qiddar massif, involving a mix of walking & easy scrambling. Hikers emerge in the pretty sands of Wadi Um Ghatha after Raqaba el Qiddar, which is followed to the north. Narrow clefts in the rock allow hikers to move west from Wadi Um Ghatha to a bigger wadi known as El Mughar, where the huge twin caves of Haraab Anter can be visited. The route soon circles back towards the east, moving through a tract of broken hills at the northern end of El Qiddar before veering south towards its start point. This route aligns with a short section of the Wadi Rum Trail in Raqaba el Qiddar & the Jordan Trail also crosses it on its north-south passage through Wadi Um Ghatha. This area is remote & little-visited & this route is another one that will appeal to anybody wanting to explore a quieter, more solitary part of Wadi Rum. It can be done with several variations, making it longer or shorter.
9. JEBEL GATTAR CIRCUIT - With its dramatic eastern face of sawtooth pinnacles, Jebel Gattar is one of the most beautiful massifs in Wadi Rum. Towering up to the west of Jebel Khazali it is named after the springs of El Gattar, which drip from crags at the foot of the mountain's east face. Jebel Gattar stands within a special protected area & whilst hikers are not permitted to enter the inner parts of the massif, a circuit can be made around its outer parts, showing the mountain from each side. Whilst its eastern face is perhaps the most dramatic, its western side is quiet, wild & little visited & its northern side has several spectacular high points too. A full circuit of the Jebel Gattar massif totals around 18km & with most of the walking surfaces firm, it can be completed within one day.
10. JEBEL MAIYEEN - A long, rugged ridge at the foot of Jebel Rum's towering east face, Jebel Maiyeen stands on the doorstep of Wadi Rum Village & a traverse of its crest to its 1100m summit can be completed in around 5 hours. The route starts from behind the Wadi Rum Rest House, ascending scree & rocky steps to the crest of the ridge. Ledges, slabs & small ravines are traversed towards the north, with the terrain steepening towards the summit. Scrambling is involved most of the way, with a grade three climb required to reach the top of the summit boulder. From the summit the route moves west, involving a grade two scramble down a chimney towards a low pass, from which a descent is made left towards Wadi Sabbakh. The dramatic ravine of El Thalamiyyah - up which a Bedouin climbing route leads to Jebel Rum's high parts - can be seen high on the right here. Springs lined with verdant tracts of green are seen at the foot of Jebel Rum & the ruins of an old Nabataean temple are passed before Wadi Rum Village is reached.