Jebel Rum: the traverse
Jebel Rum represents the most challenging ascent on the Wadi Rum Trail. It is more technical and exposed than any other section and is typically undertaken with full backpacks of food, water, sleeping gear and climbing equipment. The massif is traversed west to east, with hikers starting in the depths of a foreboding, shadowy gorge known as The Great Siq and ending in the main course of Wadi Rum. Short, steep scrambling steps are climbed in the lower parts of The Great Siq to a terrace that rises gently up its southern cliffs. This terrace involves a mix of walking, scrambling and a single pitch of grade three rock climbing up a vertical chimney and some sections of it are seriously exposed, meaning a head for heights is essential. Hikers follow the terrace all the way to the end, emerging in an area of colourful domes and juniper-dotted hollows below Jebel Rum's summit; one awkward grade three downclimb is involved shortly after finishing the terrace, but without any real exposure. Afterwards an intricate, winding route that can be hard to follow, but which nevertheless counts mostly a straightforward scramble, leads to the peak. A descent is made from Jebel Rum's summit to a basin in which most climbers camp. A shadowy crack in the high cliffs around this basin harbours a perennial spring from which water can be drawn. Getting from the camping spot to the first abseil involves tricky routefinding over sandstone domes. After this, everything is more obvious. Five or six abseils are required to descend Jebel Rum's eastern face, depending on the length of ropes carried. The first is the shortest at 5m; the last, the longest, at around 45m. From the bottom of the last abseil down Jebel Rum, it is an easy walk out of Wadi Shellali to Wadi Rum, where the Wadi Rum Trail ends.
Overnight on Jebel Rum
Jebel Rum is usually traversed in two days. Heavy packs with overnight gear make climbing harder so take essentials only: a sleeping bag, warm layers and water, plus food, perhaps a stove, a first aid kit and climbing gear, between the group. With a perennial spring at the camping spot it is generally safe to carry one day's water. If anything has spoiled the spring water filter it with a shemagh and boil it or use an alternative system for purification. Jebel Rum's traverse can done in one day by fit, experienced climbers in small parties, but early starts, steady progress and light packs are key. Do not cut trees or uproot plants for fires on Jebel Rum. Only use the spring for drinking and keep it prstine.
Bedouin climbing guides
Bedouin climbing guides are essential on the traverse of Jebel Rum. Go with the most experienced, highly qualified guide available. Take one climbing guide for every four people in a group and always be aware that climbing guides are in high demand, especially in peak season. Climbing guides are only required for the traverse of Jebel Rum and perhaps Jebel Birda on the Wadi Rum Trail. Jebel Rum is typically done on the last two days of a 10 day hike so make sure your operator is ready to transport your guide onto the trail at the correct time, to meet you at an agreed rendezvous. Guides typically have their own harness, belay device, carabiners and ropes but often not other gear.
Other Bedouin routes
Alternative routes exist for traversing Jebel Rum west to east at the end of the Wadi Rum Trail. The most accessible is the Thamudic or Nabataean Way. Ancient inscriptions in Thamudic script etched into its crags give this route the rare distinction of being one of the world's oldest known rock climbs. It is similar in difficulty to Sheikh Hamdan's Way but more open and exposed. Another option starting from the west, but harder and more exposed, is 'Sabbah's Way'. A sketch map and description of 'Sabbah's Way' is given in Tony Howard's 'Treks & Climbs in Wadi Rum Jordan' & one of the 'Thamudic Way' in 'Jordan: Walks, Treks, Climbs, Caves & Canyons' by Tony Howard & Di Taylor.
Anchors & protection
Most but not all of the route can be safeguarded. The first scrambling steps in The Great Siq are bolted, if protection is required. An obvious natural anchor is found above the grade three chimney climb, requiring a single large sling. Natural anchors are found on other exposed steps on the terrace but some traverse sections can not be protected. On the descent of Jebel Rum's eastern crags, every abseil anchor is bolted. Holes have been drilled through the sandstone above some abseils, offering threads beside the bolts. Check all anchors carefully and do not use slings found on them. Sun and windblown sand weaken these and it is often unclear how long anything has been in place.
This equipment is suitable only for the climbing route outlined above on Jebel Rum. Different routes may require additional items. Whilst many experienced climbers traverse Jebel Rum with fewer slings, carabiners & no climbing nuts what is outlined below will ensure the party is fully equipped to protect the route in any eventuality. Check if your guide has any equipment when arranging a trip & ensure it will be reserved for your use on arrival.
1. CLIMBING HARNESS: Every hiker should have their own & it will be essential for both the ascent & descent.
2. BELAY DEVICE: Or other suitable descending device for abseils on the way down e.g. figure of eight.
3. 6 x SCREW CARABINERS. 1 for personal use if using a belay plate to descend. At least 5 extra between the party.
4. 2 x 50m ROPES: One rope is enough for shorter abseils; but two will be required for the longer ones.
5. 5 x SLINGS: 3 x 240cm, 2 x 120cm for making anchors. Never use old slings left on anchors by previous climbers. Be prepared to use what you have & leave it behind.
6. CLIMBING NUTS. Assortment of differently-sized climbing nuts for making extra anchors if necessary.
7. HELMET: Optional, but recommended. These routes can get busy & other parties may be moving above.
Modern climbing classics
Alongside Bedouin climbs hundreds of modern rock climbing routes can be found across Wadi Rum, all established since the 1980s. There are routes up long cracks, huge pillars and big open walls and others that lead all the way to high summits. Wadi Rum is one of the Middle East's great climbing hubs and exploring some of its routes with a Bedouin climbing guide can be an excellent way for anybody who enjoyed the Bedouin climbs on the Wadi Rum Trail to try some more challenging rock climbing. A selection of some of the region's best as seen by Tony Howard, a founder of the Wadi Rum Trail, who led the first early climbing exploration, is given in 10 Classic Climbs.