Wadi Rum: Climbing in the land of Dune
Climbing in a land of fantasy
by Xavi Coll · Tue 1 Mar 2022
Climbing in the land of Dune
The first time I traveled to Wadi Rum was for a video project. We were going to film the climbing of the area's classic routes and then paragliding from the flat, rocky summits down into the desert valleys. The project was for Epic TV, and the opportunity to travel to the land of Dune-slash-Star Wars began to feel real.
When I was a teenager, I always dreamed of traveling to this magical land surrounded by myths and adventures worthy of Indiana Jones and Adam Ondra. I remember having a VHS of a couple of British climbers who ventured through the labyrinths of Djebel Rum and Barrah Canyon climbing, descending and walking against the clock. Since then I always wanted to travel to this inhospitable land.
Descending Hammad's Route after climbing the Pillar of Wisdom
The moment I had the opportunity to explore the valleys and domes combining film making with climbing, a distant dream of my adolescence came true and I began to plan what would be a discovery that marked me as a person and as a climber.
Everything they tell you about Wadi Rum is true, and yet it still falls short of the real thing. No matter how many photos and videos you see, the moment you enter the valley your head will explode from the incredible beauty that is this place.
Our contact at Rum Village is Ali Hamad, a Bedouin who for years has been running a desert camp and some houses in the village. Ali offers accommodation and infrastructure to tourists and climbers who travel to the area. His hospitality is overwhelming, and you can only expect good things from him (in fact, from the entire Bedouin community in general). Without them, we would be lost and there would be no way to move through the desert.
The Bedouins know the most beautiful corners, the Bedouin routes accessible to hikers and some of the most complex descents after climbing classic routes.
Some of the routes we had in mind were Merlin's Wand (6a+ 150mt), Le Bal des Chameaux (V+ 100mt), Beauty (6b 200mt), Lionheart (6b 350mt), The Pillar of Wisdom (V+/6b 350mt) and some less-known climbs.
The first thing that struck us is how remote the place is and the feeling of solitude that you get on each of the climbs. Climbing is really reserved for expert and autonomous climbing parties, since help is far away and you cannot depend on a rescue service to come in case something happens. All this makes it magical and you really need to commit. Something that personally attracted us a lot.
Kayleigh Carlson on the second pitch of Le Bal des Chameaux (V+) in Barrah Canyon
Climbing here is mostly in sandstone cracks, where cams of all sizes fit (don't forget cam number 5 and even 6 in Beauty for the upper offwidth pitches) and where there are almost no bolts. Sometimes we found pitons scattered along the routes and at some belay stations, although most of them are made with cordelettes that sometimes had to be changed due to the passage of time and the abrasion caused by the desert sand. It is highly recommended to bring a knife and spare cordelettes, as well as a head lamp in case you finish your climb at night - something very common. We ended up almost every day under the stars walking to the lodge or to our Barrah Canyon campsite where we camped.
The climbs here are surreal. But they require good orientation and correct reading of the routes, as there are next to no bolts to guide you.
Climbing the rock-face, it was so easy to go off route and get lost, something we did not want to happen...
Xavi in Merlin's Wand (6a+)
I would recommend taking extra time for the approaches and returns. They are often longer than the book guides say and - again - it's very easy to get lost. The descents are just pure labyrinths. For example the descent from the top of Djebel Rum (after climbing the Pillar of the Wisdom) was very long and tricky. We followed the famous Hammad Route - a path that was not very visible.
Staying in desert camps
One of my personal highlights of the trip. Sitting around a campfire with new friends, under the stars, and with dunes spreading all around. Helps you dream of upcoming adventures...
Kaleigh Carlson on the second pitch of Beauty (6b)
Night fire in Barrah Canyon, the best way to end the day