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Climbing in Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum has established itself as one of the great climbing destinations of the Middle East. Home to huge rugged sandstone massifs rising into domes, whaleback summits and sharp, pyramid peaks, the possibilities for climbing in Wadi Rum are virtually endless. The region is home to long mountaineering routes involving a mix of walking, scrambling and climbing along with much purer kinds of rock climbs, covering everything from single pitch sports routes to multi pitch trad climbs. Climbers continue to establish new climbing routes today. Modern styles of rock climbing using ropes and other safety equipment first appeared in Wadi Rum in the 1980s when British climber Tony Howard and his team arrived to begin exploring the region's mountains, inspiring other climbers to follow from around the world. Nevertheless, climbing of a more traditional kind had been practised in Wadi Rum's mountains long before this. Inscriptions on the crags of Jebel Rum show climbing ascents were made on its lower crags by the early peoples of this region at least 2000 years ago and the Bedouin tribes now present have been climbing for at least the last few centuries. They most probably inherited some climbing routes from their nomadic forerunners in these deserts and established many new ones of their own too and the Wadi Rum Trail integrates some of these into its main circuit seeking to raise a wider awareness of this unique, precious and little-known part of the region's ancient mountain heritage in contemporary times. With hikers following Bedouin climbing routes it is hoped more will learn about the extraordinary contribution Bedouin climbers made to this region's mountains and climbing in general, most of whom have been forgotten to history. 

Bedouin climbers

Jebel Birda Scramble, Wadi Rum Trail

Wadi Rum is home to some of the oldest known rock climbs in the world, with inscriptions in Thamudic script over 2000 years old etched into Jebel Rum's crags. Whilst little is known of Wadi Rum's ancient climbers, spoken history passed between generations of Bedouin gives at least a glimpse of climbing over the last few centuries, which most likely continued traditions established here long before. Climbing was practised primarily for hunting by the Bedouin. Their goal was not to reach a summit but to access the shadowy gorges, high terraces and quiet domes and basins of the uplands where ibex could be most successfully stalked. They climbed barefoot and often solo, relying on excellent routefinding skills and a solid improvisatory know-how for getting out of trouble. Makeshift ladders were sometimes made from old wood to ease the way. Stones were piled up into steps to pass overhangs. Bedouin daggers or 'shibriyas' were used to file small handholds into the sandstone where none existed before. Bedouin climbing routes in Wadi Rum are typically long, winding and complex; some mix walking, scrambling and bold, challenging sections of climbing on exposed crags and others count as more sustained rock climbs, beginning to end. Collectively, these routes stand as a monument to the extraordinary explorations of Wadi Rum's Bedouin; they count as some of Wadi Rum's finest climbs and show the depth and antiquity of their home region's mountain heritage to the world. 


Climbing grades on the WRT

The Wadi Rum Trail is the first of the Middle East's long-distance hiking trails to integrate rock climbing into its main route. As well as rock climbs scrambles with serious exposure and technical descents involving multiple long abseils are involved too. Grading systems have been developed around the world to help quantify  the difficulty of climbing routes. The UK, France, the USA, Brazil, Poland and many other countries have their own grading systems, some of which have been widely adopted in other regions of the world and sometimes internationally. Reflecting the demographics of the first international climbers to arrive in Wadi Rum from the 1980s the UK and French numerical grading systems came to be used most widely in the region, with the French system dominant now. The French and British grading systems have broad overlaps in the qualifying criteria used to define their first few grades; grade 1 counts as an easy scramble in both systems, grade 2 a more vertical, perhaps exposed scramble, with grade 3 the level where real rock climbing begins. Rock climbing on the Wadi Rum Trail ranks no higher than grade 3. The highest grades reached by most traditional Bedouin climbing routes in Wadi Rum are grade 4 although some have been reported at the lowest levels of grade 5. A rough outline of what can be expected at each grade in the commonly used British and French systems along with the UIAA grading system which will have more international relevance is given to the right. 

Climbing in modern times

Tony Howard, Desert Rats, Wadi Rum Trail

After several millennia of more traditional styles of climbing a new era dawned in Wadi Rum in the 1980s when British climber Tony Howard arrived with a small team of climbers. They used ropes, harnesses and other modern safety equipment for the first time, widening the scope of what could be safely attempted in the mountains and introducing altogether new styles of ascent. Whilst the Bedouin had typically developed longer, more complex routes seeking out the easiest way up any given crag the new climbers ascended bolder, more technically challenging lines on vertical cliffs and big walls, usually abseiling back down at the end. Jebel Rum's spectacular eastern face was an  early focus area, along with the western crags of Jebel Um Ashreen and outlying massifs like Jebel Barra. Other climbers soon arrived from across Europe pushing climbing to higher grades and making first ascents of unclimbed summits, such as Jebel Nasranaya. Wadi Rum has continued to grow ever more popular with climbers from around the world and many hundreds of routes of every kind, from the easiest to the hardest, most technical grades of modern climbing have been established. Climbing with different objectives and equipment to the Bedouin, climbers of recent decades explored the most inaccessible parts of the mountains never trodden before them, enriching the region with hundreds of new routes and adding a proud new chapter to Wadi Rum's ancient climbing heritage. 

Climbing Grades Wadi Rum.jpg
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