A high peak rising in the easterly districts of Wadi Rum, Jebel Birda's name is derived from the Arabic word baarid or cold, after the strong winds that sweep through its wide, exposed surroundings. It was to this region the Bedouin once migrated seeking cooler climes during hotter periods of the year. Jebel Birda has three distinct peaks, with the northernmost the most accessible for hikers and also the highest of the trio at 1574m. A spectacular panorama opens up from Jebel Birda's summit; broken sandstone massifs rise in the rugged deserts to the west, with Jebel Rum, Jebel Um Ashreen and Jebel Khazali all towering high. The spectacular pyramid peaks of Jebel Barra rise in the northern skies. Vast, desolate tablelands known as the Juloof stretch out to the east, with the southerly horizons dotted with the remote peaks of Jordan's frontier with Saudi Arabia. The stand-out highlight of Jebel Birda for most hikers is not its high summit, but a natural rock bridge about half way up that can be crossed and even integrated into a technical rock climb to the peak. After leaving the Jebel Um Ashreen area the Wadi Rum Trail strikes out over the vast, sweeping sands of Khor el Ajram before following narrow passageways through majestic massifs to the western foot of Jebel Birda. It is a trail section of great beauty for which most hikers will require one full day. Another full day is best given solely to Jebel Birda's ascent and descent. This ascent represents the borderline between scrambling and rock climbing and can be avoided if necessary by circling around the northern or southern sides of the mountain on easier walking routes. Jebel Birda stands on the eastern margin of Wadi Rum's sandstone heartlands, with a tract of quieter, more remote plateaulands entered soon afterwards.
Khor el Ajram
Jebel Birda: rock bridge
A grand, natural passageway of rippling red sands, Khor el Ajram divides well-known massifs such as Jebel Um Ashreen, Jebel Barra and Jebel Abu Jadayda in the north from others in the south including Jebel Khazali, Qabr Ammar and Jebel Birda. At its western end, Khor el Ajram connects to Wadi Rum; the other way, it runs into remote tableland country in the east. Ancient artwork, footprints and Thamudic script are etched on outcrops along Khor el Ajram, showing its age-old importance as a byway for travellers in these deserts. The Wadi Rum Trail runs south over Khor el Ajram, entering the wider region around Jebel Birda via a narrow sandy chasm known as Siq Abu Khashaba.
Jebel Birda: the summit
After Siq Abu Khashaba, the Wadi Rum Trail follows a succession of narrow sandy passageways east to Jebel Birda where camp can be made on the second night. A popular attraction in Wadi Rum, its rock bridge is usually approached via the mountain's north ridge. The Wadi Rum Trail takes an alternative route from the west; quieter and more direct, but requiring a sustained, exposed scramble up a long crack in steeply-angled crags to start. The northern and western routes meet in a gully below the bridge, rising up steep ledges on its northern side. The Wadi Rum Trail backtracks after this to take a scrambling route to the peak. For more information see Jebel Birda: The Scramble.
Other highlights & routes
Jebel Birda's 1574m north summit can be scaled directly from the rock bridge with a 20m pitch of grade three climbing but the Wadi Rum Trail's main route follows an easier scrambling route instead. This begins near a shrub dotted basin roughly 100m below the rock bridge to the west, ascending a succession of steep rocky steps in a watercourse rising south. Jebel Birda's south ridge is descended from the peak, giving a more serious challenge; the route is intricate, loose, poorly marked and exposed in places and care is needed to stay on-course. This ridge leads to the head of a gully which is descended to the eastern foot of Jebel Birda, where a camp can be made for the night.
Jebel Birda stands in the grand, sandstone heartlands of Wadi Rum and many natural gems stand in the wider region around it. The greatest of all is perhaps Jebel Khazali; a massif once sacred to the early peoples of these deserts and one that is richly-fabled in Bedouin folklore today. Its northern flanks harbour a shadowy canyon etched with ancient inscriptions and old Bedouin climbing routes lead to it summit domes. A rock bridge known as Um Fruth - easier to reach than its counterpart on Jebel Birda - also stands in this region, along with pretty massifs such as Qabr Ammar, which literally means Ammar's Grave. Other routes lead more directly from Jebel Birda to Jebel Um Adami.