Steve & Judy Pardoe's Jordan & Wadi Rum Page


Jordan, February - March 2001

A bilingual Jordanian number plate
(which we've manipulated a bit, we weren't quite that lucky)

Revised 9. November 2011 (additional link to Rum Guides)

Part 1: Wadi Rum

Here is our trip report from an amazing ten days in Jordan, including three in the legendary splendour of Wadi Rum. This page carries just a brief flavour of the Rum part of the trip: a secondary page has some logistics and some details of the rest of our holiday.

If you're hoping for descriptions of hard rock routes, sorry, but that wasn't our reason for being there. Another time, perhaps (in my dreams). We just scrambled (on separate days) up the Burdah Rock Bridge and Jebel Rum itself, by their easiest routes.

First, let me thank Kate Ness, Herman de Kegel and others for all their help with logistics and so on before we went. These "infos and intros" were invaluable. We also relied on the "Rough Guide", which we found much better than the "Lonely Planet". There are some new links in the reference section below.

Wadi Rum is a desert valley in southern Jordan, an hour or so north-east of Aqaba, though the name is often taken to refer to that whole area of mountains and valleys. We'd spent a few days sightseeing in the north, based in Amman, before heading down to Petra for the usual touristic orgy of gawping at allegedly rose-red buildings, carved out of the living sandstone by the Nabateans some 2,000 years ago. You can't stay in Petra itself, so we found a hotel in Wadi Musa, the "portal" town from which you can easily walk into the ruined city. Although it serves one of the Middle East's greatest tourist attractions, it would be flattering to call Wadi Musa ("Valley of Moses") anything better than a scruffy dump.

A bus is supposed to leave Wadi Musa for Wadi Rum at about six o'clock every morning, so we booked seats on it, but for some reason it didn't run, and, not wishing to spend another day in Wadi Musa, ever, we resorted to a taxi. This got us to Wadi Rum, and its only permanent village of Rum itself, in nice time for a late "packed breakfast", which our hotel had thoughtfully provided. We decided to do the orientation bit, and that took all of five minutes, as there isn't much to Rum.

Ata's "Wadi Petra" Restaurant
Rum village

What there is is a Resthouse, Government owned but privately run; a couple of restaurants, and a small shop. The Resthouse has no hotel rooms, but there are tents set up on a patch of sand behind. If you don't like their tents (which are OK, old-fashioned canvas affairs barely 2m square, with sensible side walls) you can pitch your own. A rented tent with mattresses and a bit of bedding costs 3 JD (Jordanian Dinar, pronounced "jaydee") per person per night, though it may be more in high season. 1 JD was worth almost exactly 1 sterling (say US$1.50) when we were there. We hadn't brought sleeping bags with us, so we wore thermals, and still shivered. There are reasonable toilets and showers, and the water is safe to drink, so it's all quite civilised.

The Resthouse has a restaurant, which seemed to be of good quality, if a little pricey. On Kate's advice, though, we ate at the Wadi Petra Restaurant, which is now owned by Ata (also known as Abu Shadi), formerly of the Bedouin Cafe on the corner opposite the Resthouse. The Wadi Petra is at the end of Rum's first sidestreet, beyond the Bedouin Cafe.

A word about alcohol: Jordan, like most Islamic countries, is notionally "dry", though it's possible to buy and consume alcohol in some private establishments, including the Resthouse. Drinking it in public is taboo. We happily deferred to local custom, and didn't drink alcohol at all during our stay. They don't do drugs, either, so in addition to the prospect of visiting a very unpleasant prison, you'll risk seriously upsetting your hosts if you decide to use any. There are further taboos on public displays of affection, too (even a husband and wife holding hands in the street get funny looks), and being overtly gay is a no-no (though you see plenty of men holding hands, just as friends). Worth remembering.

Back to the topic. Ata is a fixture of Rum (though he's really from Aqaba) and very hospitable to climbers. He charged us only 2.500 JD for an excellent evening meal, usually based on chicken and rice, with a starter salad (hummus & all that stuff) and loads of bread, and threw in bottled water and unlimited tea. He also offered us karkadey, a hot infusion apparently based on hibiscus flowers (think of a cross between bitter cherry and cranberry) and another minty kind of drink which I think was called baramia. He wouldn't take any money for these.

Sadly, Ata wasn't doing much business, so Judy and I managed to persuade five others from the campsite to eat at his place one evening, instead of at the Rest House, and he laid on a real banquet, still at only 2.500 JD a head. He is just the most friendly and hospitable chap one could meet. You might want to avoid his toilets, though.

While sipping coffee on Ata's terrace we bumped into Attayak Aouda, one of the Bedouin Guides mentioned by Kate and Herman, and also by Tony Howard in his guidebook. He's a neat young man, vaguely reminiscent of The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, and after a bit of a chat we happily signed up for an afternoon's transport to, and guiding on, the Burdah Rock Bridge.

This is an amazing, er, rock bridge, high above the desert floor a few miles south-east of Rum. Attayak called in at a canyon on the way, ostensibly to show us some old carvings and the interesting water-worn bowls, but I think really to see whether these two geriatrics who'd hired him were up to the Burdah route. We also called in at a much smaller rock bridge, which we easily scrambled up to, and from which Attayak found it necessary to go and "rescue" a German girl he'd taken a shine to.

Attayak Aouda al Zilabia and his colleagues have an updated website at RumGuides.com

Attayak Aouda, our charming Bedouin Guide

Then it was on to Burdah, and the scrambling route to the Bridge. It started off as it meant to go on, easy-ish moves on perfect, bone-dry rock, with mostly good holds where you needed them. I don't really know how to relate the difficulty to climbing grades: most moves were quite easy (a lot of it was just padding up and down slopes), say around what you'd find on a Diff or VDiff, but the exposure was sometimes absolutely sensational. The occasional flake was iffy, and Attayak showed us where one had broken off, sending a French climber (who was off-route) to his death in the canyon, hundreds of metres below.

Where there was a combination of harder moves and a big drop, Attayak popped a bight of rope around our waists and belayed us one at a time. It may have been a bit superfluous going up, but there were a couple of times coming down where I was quite glad of the security. Judy didn't seem so fazed by it.

Judy on the approach to Burdah Rock Bridge

Attayak and Steve posing on the Burdah Rock Bridge

Once at the Bridge, Attayak led us one at a time onto its span, insisting on our striking a pose with one leg raised for the camera, more scary than you might imagine. Although it looked quite high enough when we were approaching from the west, the drop on the east side is all the way to the desert floor. Either way, you wouldn't be writing any TR's after a fall, though you'd have plenty of time to dictate one on the way down. Even with stops for photography, we were up and down the route in 1 hour 40 mins, well inside guidebook time. A grand half-day out.

Next day we just had a lazy wander around and above the desert floor, visiting the Nabatean temple ruins, Lawrence's spring, a camels' graveyard, and finding a nice airy ledge for a picnic and a read of our books. This was of course to psyche us up for the big one, an ascent of Jebel Rum, the vast pile to the immediate west of the village.

To take advantage of the shade, Attayak proposed a 7 am start, and it was deliciously cool as we jeeped round to the far (western) side of the massif to the Thamudic Route up the Jebel. Although we'd read Tony Howard's route description beforehand, I think it would have been very difficult and time-consuming to find it on the ground. Attayak, on the other hand, has climbed it hundreds of times, and knows every step, hold and pebble. It's a rather more serious undertaking than the Burdah Bridge, so he brought a thin 50 meter rope (actually a 100 meter one, which he borrowed my knife to cut in half before we set off) and a few slings and krabs, but didn't bother with harnesses.
This time there were quite a few occasions in both ascent and descent where he felt it was prudent to tie us on (with a Dulfer arrangement) and belay us, and I couldn't disagree. In other places he would just offer a hand, drop us a sling to grab, or walk with us one at a time.

This optimised approach led to a respectably fast time of just over three hours for the ascent, and a little less coming down, including breaks for food, drink and photography. I started off carrying five litres of water for the two of us, though Attayak (who had initially declared no need of drink for himself) soon "borrowed" one of our bottles. In return he produced bread and cheese for lunch, supplementing the superb dates we'd bought from the shop in Rum.

Attayak belaying Judy on a typical sandstone section. A slip might otherwise be fatal

I won't try to describe the route in detail, but its start winds up and around a deep red canyon which cuts into the west side of the massif. There was a tricky section fairly early on where a water-worn bowl had to be bridged, and I took off my rucksack for the squeeze out of the chimney above. Most of the harder moves are, fortunately, not terribly exposed, but there are plenty of places where the old sphincter tends to pucker a bit. Some of the most exhilarating sections are during a superb airy traverse along the canyon rim, where a slip would (after a decent interval for contemplation) certainly be fatal, so you have to be constantly on the lookout for patches of sand or the odd rogue pebble. It's as easy as walking along the kerbstones of a pavement, except that the gutter is a few hundred metres deep. Near the top, the sandstone becomes almost white, and the summit "plateau" is a vast arena of domes, all looking remarkably similar in descent, and definitely justifying sunglasses.

Judy and Attayak on the summit of Jebel Rum, 1,754m

The summit is marked by a large Jordanian flag painted on the dome, and some mainly Arabic graffiti, much of which has been ground away but has left scars. I reset my altimeter, and was surprised to see that the height gain seemed less than the 750 metres claimed by Tony Howard, though I may have made a mistake somewhere. Attayak, meanwhile, wrapped his head in his Bedouin scarf and promptly fell asleep.

Coming down was great fun, much of it just padding down long sandstone slopes in the glorious sunshine, with "interesting" bits to keep us on our toes. The exposure always looks worse going down, and we were extra-careful not to let our euphoria, or the sensational views, distract us from our footwork.

Once back at the canyon mouth, Attayak bounded on down to the jeep in search of ciggies, and we plodded down the huge granite scree behind him at a pace more consistent with Judy's remaining knee cartilage. Later, at Ata's cafe, mint tea never tasted better.

Attayak giving Judy a guiding hand across one of the more exposed traverses

Apart from the Rough Guide, an excellent reference for walking in Jordan is "Walks, Treks, Caves, Climbs & Canyons" by Di Taylor and Tony Howard (Cicerone Press). It has a very useful section on Wadi Rum.

Here are some external links (new window):
RumGuides.com Wadi Rum Mountain Guides
JordanJubilee.com Ruth Caswell's updated site with loads of excellent links and data
Kate Ness's Wadi Rum Forum

And here's our logistics page.


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