WADI RUM'S CLIMBING: A MODERN TIMELINE
The first definitive evidence of climbing in Wadi Rum comes in the form of Thamudic inscriptions on Jebel Rum's high crags, dating from around 800BC. These inscriptions qualify the routes as some of the world's oldest known rock climbs. Climbing was almost certainly continued by the nomadic peoples of these deserts in the next millennia with the Bedouin tribes present in the region today inheriting the tradition and keeping it alive. As a nomadic people whose culture was almost entirely unwritten, the Bedouin of Wadi Rum never recorded their climbing ascents like peoples of the settled world; stories of climbing achievements were communicated verbally within the Bedouin community, some of which have passed clearly between generations, with others becoming more hazy over time and sometimes lost entirely. Founders of the Wadi Rum Trail are currently working on projects to gather the spoken climbing histories of Wadi Rum's Bedouin, hoping to make a largely invisible part of the region's mountain heritage more widely known. What follows is a entirely modern timeline of climbing in Wadi Rum, covering only the era in which clear, written records of climbing were made.
1947 - Three members of a British delegation to Saudi Arabia pass through Wadi Rum. Marvelling at the crags of Jebel Rum, they become the first non-Bedouin team to attempt its ascent. They start from the springs of Ein Shellali, on Jebel Rum's eastern side, with one of the trio, St John Armitage, stopping part way up. The other two, Major Henry Coombe-Tenant and a Lance Corporal known as ‘Havabash’ Butler reach Jebel Rum’s south summit.
1949 - A British survey team arrive in Wadi Rum, a few of whom summit Jebel Rum. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Auwad of the Zalabia guided this team up a route now known as Sheikh Hamdan’s Route, in his memory.
1951 - Tom Longstaff, a member of the 1922 British Everest Expedition, and one of the great early Himalayan explorers, arrives in Wadi Rum aged 77, with his wife, daughter and her husband. With a young Bedouin guide, his daughter and her husband climb half way up Jebel Rum looking for ibex. The family returns the next year, with Longstaff's wife and daughter ascending Jebel Rum with Sheikh Hamdan Bin Auwad on the same route as the British Survey team.
1970-80 - Over the course of a decade Bedouin climber Hammad Hamdan of the Zalabia, the son of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Auwad, repeats most of Wadi Rum's established Bedouin climbs, mostly solo.
1984 - A new era dawns for Wadi Rum, with exploration beginning for modern tourism. A small team of British climbers led by Tony Howard, including Di Taylor, Mick Shaw and Alan Baker, arrive with the backing of Jordan's Ministry of Tourism. With Bedouin of the Zalabia including Sheikh Ateyiq Bin Rubayeen and his sons Mohammed, Sabbah, Defallah, Mazyad and Eid, along with others such as Sheikh Krayyim Eid, Hammad Hamdan and Mohammed Musa they climb widely, recording old Bedouin climbs and making many new first ascents. Modern climbing equipment is used for the first time in Wadi Rum.
1985-6 - Climbing exploration continues widely, with old Bedouin climbs and first ascents being recorded. Tony Howard's British team return with Wilf Colonna of France, also recording hiking routes. Swiss climbers Claude and Yves Remy make first ascents of the unclimbed north and south summits of Jebel Nasranaya. In 1985, the first modern climbing hardware is inserted in Wadi Rum's mountains: oversized angle pegs in hand-drilled holes for abseils.
1986 - With news travelling fast, Wadi Rum's first real climbing invasion begins in autumn. Climbers arrive from all over Europe and higher grades of climbing difficulty are reached. Tony Howard and Wilf Colonna record a route called Merlin's Wand with a French 6a+ crux. British mountain guides Rowland Edwards and Brede Arkless push the grades even higher, with first ascents of a route called Ziggurat, graded 7a; the hardest climb recorded in the region at this time.
1987 - Rowland Edwards returns with his son Mark, raising the climbing grades again. Climbing together, they make first ascents of routes called Sandstorm and Warriors of the Wastelands; 7a+ and 7b respectively. Spanish climbers make a big mixed free and aid route on Jebel Rum’s East Face, The Red Sea, which ranks as Wadi Rum’s second climb above 6b.
1988 - Austrian climbers Wolfgang Haupolter and Albert Precht begin exploring Jebel Rum and Jebel Um Ashreen, setting a style for fast, imaginative and most importantly clean climbing in high grades above 6b.
1989 - Climbs are bolted for the first time in Wadi Rum. About 20 holes are drilled with a power tool to assist in placing 10 bolts on a new route graded 7a on Jebel Khazali, with the team led by Wilf Colonna.
2000 - The route La Guerre Sainte - The Holy War or 'Jihad' - is climbed by well-known French climber Arnaud Petit and friends. This was the first route in Wadi Rum's mountains to be entirely equipped using bolt protection. The route, on the East Face of Jebel Nasranaya's north summit is 450m, in length and graded 7b.
2000+ - More than 600 climbing routes have been recorded in Wadi Rum since the 1980s and this figure may be a conservative estimate of what exists. Climbers continue to arrive, with grades now recorded up to 8b+.