The Traverse of Jebel Rum

Vast deserts on the West side of Jebel Rum

So after our epic adventures on Rijm Assaf we needed an easier day, so Amy and I headed for the South Ridge of Jebel Mayeen whilst Carol and Ian went off to climb Jack Daniels (a 6 pitch VS) on the East Face. Amy and I had a very relaxing day out scrambling along at a leisurely pace, it only took us a couple of hours to get to the summit, so then we lay down to sunbathe for a bit and admire the stunning landscape, whilst contemplating life, the universe and everything, or something like that. We got a little chilly, so made our way unhurriedly back to the village and then sat around all afternoon drinking tea, and discussing route options for the next day. Meanwhile Ian and Carol had a slightly less relaxing day on Jack Daniels, the top two pitches having been affected by an Earthquake a few years ago which had made route finding difficult and they had to descend in the dark again!!

But anyway by that point Amy and I had already had a nice relaxing afternoon and decided that we were all ready for another big adventure the next day. We decided that we would attempt the classic traverse of Jebel Rum from West to East, climbing the Thaumudic route to the summit, bivvying on the plateau and then descending the next day. One of the top 50 climbs in the World, apparently. We already knew the way down, having already descended Hammad’s route and this time we would be carrying our bivvy stuff with us, which would give us plenty of time for the ascent and descent. What could possibly go wrong?

So early the next morning we experienced our first taste of desert jeep travel as Musalam drove us around to the West side of Jebel Rum. Once out of sight of the village, all we could see was miles and miles of desert, so it felt pretty remote. As Musalam dropped us off, we reassured him, “don’t worry, this time when we don’t come back, when it gets dark, it’s deliberate!”

Vast deserts on the West side of Jebel Rum

We headed up towards the base of a big canyon loaded down with a ridiculous quantity of water and gear.

The start of the Thaumudic Route

The route lead along the side of the canyon and then down and along the bottom of the canyon where we had to test out our canyoning skills for a bit, the penalty for failure would have been immersion in some rather revolting lurid green water pools! Unfortunately nobody fell in.

Evading the lurid green pools

So we continued on to where the route changed direction following an incredibly exposed ledge back along the side of the canyon, past some Nabatean rock inscriptions. Apparently it was ok to scratch ‘I was ere’ into the rock in the first century AD, but nowadays that kind of thing is frowned upon in the protected area.

Rock inscriptions

We had to climb an exposed step at the very end of the ledge to move into the gully above, and then a short crimpy wall, which was quite hard in trainers with a heavy rucksack. Then we moved out onto the face to ascend it for about a hundred metres, it was easy scrambling, so we didn’t use ropes, but you could see all the way down the canyon below you, and out into the vast deserts so it was very dramatic. I was enjoying it until I stopped on a ledge and noticed quite how nauseatingly exposed it was.

It was still quite early when we emerged out onto the summit domes. The guidebook gave a much more detailed description for how to get to the summit this time, all we had to do was find a hidden juniper tree. Unfortunately there were hidden juniper trees everywhere. After much debate we finally decided on a course of action that lead upwards along a line of domes, and then up a short steep corner onto the next line of domes. The domes went on and on for a bit, but then the summit finally came into view.

Approaching the summit of Jebel Rum

We scrambled up the final steep approach to find ourselves on top of a Jordanian flag painted on the rock.

Summit of Jebel Rum

It felt even more rewarding to be on the summit, having not made it on the first attempt, and the views out into the desert were spectacular. So we took some time to enjoy the view, take some photographs and eat our slightly meager rations for lunch.

The sky had been looking slightly suspicious for a while, it was cloudy and much chillier than the previous days, so we decided to head down the North ridge towards our planned bivvy site in a small desert on the plateau that Musalam had recommended and where he had stashed some supplies for guided ascents of Jebel Rum.

It was still pretty early by the time we arrived at the desert, so we had plenty of time to select a bivvy site, explore the desert (we even found some Ibex tracks), gather some wood for a fire and contemplate how hungry we were. (I only had one pitta and a cheese triangle left for both dinner and breakfast.)

The Bivvy

Not long after we set up our bivvy some french climbers arrived and set up bivvy right next door. It got cold really early, so I began to think it might be a long cold, hungry night and Carol, Amy and Ian had decided to hold back on lighting the fire until it got dark. Fortunately the French had more sense and light theirs early, so I defected camps and joined their campfire, and eat my pitta as slowly as I could to make it last. (Just so everyone knows, I am never disloyal, unless there is food or warmth involved!) In the end we all joined together round the fire and it got dark and even colder and then something I really didn’t expect in the desert happened, it started to rain…

The French had only sleeping bags and no kind of bivvy or plastic covers so they found a large overhang and we decided to move our bivvy site to the overhang opposite, to keep us drier and then tried to get some sleep. But the rain got heavier, and small rivers and cascades of water were springing up everywhere. We were quite worried because our planned descent down Hammad’s route took us through the Great Siq, which would be impassible in a storm. So unless it stopped raining by the morning and the waters receded we would be stranded on the plateau. I had only 1/4 of a pitta to sustain me, and some small emergency rations which Musalam had stashed near where we were bivvying, it was not a thrilling prospect!

Now the river that had sprung up just a metre or so away from our sleeping bags was growing and so we had to squeeze up close against the rock, and keep watch in case we would need to move should it grow any more. We didn’t have any spare dry clothes or sleeping bags so it was important to stay dry. Fortunately the rain eased off, and so after waiting for a bit we decided it was safe to go to sleep, so I shut my eyes, hoping that when I opened them again the sky would be clear. I slept lightly and was awoken again by another heavy downpour. I switched on my torch and watched as the river grew again and crept closer to our sleeping bags. Carol and Amy were awake and started building levies to divert the river away from us, but Ian was fast asleep and the water looked like it was headed his way, so I shouted to warn him. I got a rather rude response, fortunately I’ve known Ian for a long time so I didn’t take offence, and it was a good source of amusement which made us all laugh. Luckily again the rain eased off, so we could go back to sleep.

The next time I woke up the sky was blue and the sun was just creeping up over the horizon. I was disappointed that we hadn’t got to see much of a sunset or the night sky, but the sunrise made up for it. Watching the sunrise over the desert from such a high vantage point was dramatic and memorable, especially after the turmoil of the night.

The sunrise

We packed up camp pretty quickly and set off to descend, the prospect of food and a (cold!) shower luring us on. We made it down to Jebel Rum in no time at all, having already got to know the route well during our descent in the dark and headed straight for the cafe for some emergency sustenance.

Abseiling off Jebel Rum

Musalam completed the traverse later that day with some clients, climbing the whole route in a day and found the French climbers, who had packed away more leisurely, lost in the Great Siq, they had been stuck there for 3 hours trying to find their way out, which goes to show how lucky we were to have been able to find our way down in the dark!

Series - Wadi Rum

  1. In the footsteps of the Bedouin
  2. The Traverse of Jebel Rum

4 thoughts on “The Traverse of Jebel Rum”

  1. Looks like another amazing trip! I can’t wait for our chance to get to the Wadi Rum… I have a couple of climber mates who live near Jerusalem who said they’d join us for some of the best climbing. It was a couple of years ago that we met though so I’ll have to check if they are still up for it.
    Maybe you fancy a return trip sometime? What guidebook(s) did you guys get?

  2. I would def be up for a return trip if flights were still cheap. I was trying to think of somewhere that could be better than Jordan and we couldn’t think of anywhere!

  3. I have got the Tony Howard treks and climbs in Wadi Rum guidebook, we had the Jordan scrambling guide as well, which had more detailed descriptions of some of the Bedouin routes. Laetitia, I didn’t cope very well, but I did eat lots when we got back down!

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