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    The Madness

    Trip Report: Jordan Trip 2019, Bulletin 3 by Todd Swain

    Trip Report: Jordan Trip 2019, Bulletin 3 by Todd Swain

    Above: One of the facades carved into a sandstone cliff at Little Petra (note the stairs at left).

    Our last bulletin was written in a hotel room in rainy and snowy Wadi Musa. Once the weather cleared, we went to nearby Petra, Little Petra and did a beautiful drive north from Petra to a Neolithic village site. The walking approach to Petra via the siq (slot canyon) is as impressive as any of the narrow canyons in Zion National Park in Utah. Generally 20-40 feet wide and hundreds of feet deep, it makes for a very awe-inspiring approach to the carved stone facades of Petra. Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is of course immensely popular, but despite the hordes of people, it’s still amazing and should be on everyone’s life list. The carved stone facades are mind-blowing when you think that they were done without power tools (imagine Mount Rushmore times 100, being done solely with stone and iron tools). Wow.

    From Petra, we returned to Wadi Rum for six more days. We stayed five more nights out in Khaled’s desert camp and established three new routes on the wall directly above his camp. The routes went up this wonderful, varnished wall that looked like Swiss cheese. We spent over three weeks at Wadi Rum and could easily have spent three more.

    We left Wadi Rum in a rainstorm (our timing was perfect) and headed north to the Dead Sea. In addition to bobbing in the sea, Donette smearing mud all over herself and being pampered by hotel staff, we also went climbing on a very fun limestone slab not far above the Dead Sea (but still well below sea level; the Dead Sea is about 1,440 feet below sea level [Badwater in Death Valley is 266 feet]). While there, we ran into a group of “youth at risk” that were being taken rock climbing as part of their intervention program. We talked at length with the Jordanian climbing guides about the program and that Donette had done the same work for Outward Bound.

    Above: Donette rappelling down the wall by Khaled’s camp where we did three new routes.

     

    Above: One of Jordanian teenagers giving Donette a drink and cookie at the Dead Sea slab.

     

    From the Dead Sea, we headed a bit north to another World Heritage Site, the location of Christ’s baptism by the River Jordan. The site was quite interesting, in that the river is only about 25 yards wide and on the west bank (in Israel), it’s highly developed. On the Jordanian side, signs are posted prohibiting anyone from going in or near the water; on the Israeli side, lots of folks were in the water being baptized or re-baptized.

    From the baptism site, we drove north up the Jordan River Valley, which became more and more verdant. We ended the day in Jerash, the site of an ancient Roman city that we toured the next day. Not too long ago, archaeologists at Jerash discovered what is the oldest known machine in the world – a water powered stone saw. The machine was built circa 550AD. As we were going to dinner in Jerash that first evening, we were stopped on the sidewalk by two Jordanian men, who very much wanted us to know that they were Muslims and good people. They emphasized that bad actors like members of ISIS were the tiny minority of Muslims and that they (and Jordan) loved America. This interaction was typical of our encounters in Jordan. Local residents would ask where we were from, say “Welcome to Jordan” and make some comment about liking America. This, despite the hardships they have endured from the wars in adjacent Iraq and Syria.

    After Jerash, we continued to the very northwest corner of Jordan to another archaeological site, Umm Qays. The drive was beautiful – trees, hills covered in grass and copious wildflowers; so much so, that you could easily think you were in northern Italy or the Central Coast of California in spring. We really liked Umm Qays – it was a cool mash-up of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman architecture where each successive group re-utilized building materials from the previous occupants. From the hilltop site, we had wonderful views of the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee. Both were a short distance away.

    To get to our lodging for the night, we drove along the border with Jordan, Syria and Israel, passing through four military checkpoints and one police checkpoint. Everyone was friendly and our basic Arabic phrases of “hello” and “thank you” brought smiles to all the men manning the posts.

    We had planned to climb at a few cliffs in northern Jordan with some local climbers, but the weather was rainy, so we headed back south to the Dead Sea for our last days in the field. On our previous trip to the Dead Sea slabs, we spied a great looking crack right off the road. One of the guides with the youth at risk group had told us the crack was unclimbed and encouraged us to go do it.

    On the 30th, we went to the crack. I was about 2/3 of the way up when the police and a couple men from a nearby adventure center showed up. An adventure center guy told us it was illegal to climb on the cliff because of hiking fatalities that had occurred in the area in the past.

     

    I was mid-route and Donette (while still belaying me) tried to explain the easiest thing to do was for me to get to the top so we could clean our gear. The adventure center guy said the army, more police and "the entire government" were on their way and would be there in five minutes to make sure we came down.

    Donette then said we'd need to put an anchor in to get down and the adventure center guy said that was ok. Since I was mid-cliff, Donette explained an anchor on top would be better than one mid-face - less people would see it.

    The guy doing all the talking said I was to put in an anchor where I was and come down immediately. So, I drilled an anchor and rappelled off, cleaning our gear from the crack. The rock was great, the crack pure and in the future, folks will wonder why the anchor is just below a ledge at 2/3 height.

    We were then invited to tea at the adventure center, where we got to see the four sport routes they guide on. While it’s true that the terrible events they mentioned occurred, we're still unsure if there's actually a ban or if this is the adventure center protecting its turf. The police on scene left the talking to the adventure center guy and all was very amicable once I got down.

    The next day we climbed a new route on the slabs near the Dead Sea and then went to a very impressive castle in the town of Kerak. From the Dead Sea we went out to the east of Amman, toward Iraq, to see the World Heritage Site of Qasr Amra. This and another nearby historic building were very cool and worth the drive. Both were apparently built along the ancient caravan route across the desert from the Mediterranean to Iraq and were in use roughly 1,000 years ago. It was then on to Amman, to turn in our rental car and visit the city.

    Above: The ancient structure at Qasr Amra, in the desert to the east of Amman.

    We did a day of sightseeing in Amman, visiting the Citadel, Roman Theatre, Museums of Folklore and Traditions and the Blue Mosque (reportedly the only mosque in the city that non- Muslims can enter).

    Our six-week trip to Jordan was hugely memorable. We will always cherish our time with Khaled and his family, climbing with friends far out in the desert and interacting with the wonderfully friendly people of Jordan.

    Above: Camels grazing at Wadi Rum.

     

    Above: With Khaled at Wadi Rum.

    Trip Report: Jordan Trip 2019, Bulletin 2 by Todd Swain

    Trip Report: Jordan Trip 2019, Bulletin 2 by Todd Swain

    Above: Donette and Marin at the base of Desert Rats in the Shade (5.10+).

    Our friend from Bulgaria, Marin, arrived in Aqaba on the evening of March 3rd as planned. He had a direct flight from Sofia to Aqaba on Ryan Air for nine (9) Euros! The following day, we returned to Wadi Rum for more climbing. On this portion of the trip, we stayed in Khaled’s house in Wadi Rum village with his wife, Enzela, and their three sons (Zaid [7], Hamad [4] and Eiad [18 months]). It was a truly special experience to eat meals with the family and play with the boys. In most homes, we would never see the wife, let alone interact with her. We saw Zaid off to primary school each day, batted balls back and forth with Hamad and played peek-a-boo with Eiad. At one point, we shared a video of Olivia—our amazing grandbaby—with the family. Eiad took Donette’s phone and spoke to the video of Olivia, saying “baby, baby” over and over. At one point he kissed the phone!

    Each evening, we sat in the living room and talked at length with Khaled about a host of topics. Enzela would sit with us if she wasn’t too busy. As an example, from Khaled’s perspective, Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, but Iraq and Jordan benefited greatly from his rule. Under Hussein, Jordan received very inexpensive fuel, free university schooling and access to cheap materials and goods. This all ended after the US invasion and the Jordanian border with Iraq (and Syria) subsequently became extremely dangerous. Speaking of Syria, Jordan is currently housing more than one million (!) refugees from the war there.

    Khaled and Enzela and many of their siblings live in the village, but Khaled’s mom and Enzela’s parents prefer to live in their camps in the desert. They live in traditional goat-hair tents, tending their animals and enjoying a more peaceful (and spartan) life. The kids keep rooms in their houses for their parents and visit them often, picking up goat milk, bringing out water and supplies. Enzela made us a wonderful meal with some of the goat her mom supplied that day. Enzela also has a stand-alone 5-gallon yogurt maker that she uses to process the elder’s fresh goat milk into cheese, milk and yogurt. We ate those products frequently.

    We also talked about wildlife with Khaled, trading pictures of the various birds, mammals and snakes in Wadi Rum and Joshua Tree. I showed Khaled and Marin pictures of jackalopes and totally had them on the hook before eventually revealing the joke. We laughed so hard we cried.

    Each day we went
climbing. A few
days were spent at
the big cliff near
town (Jebel Rum),
but most days were
far out in the
desert – the real
reason to visit
Wadi Rum. One
day, we went to a classic climb called Desert Rats in the Shade, which is located about 24km south of Wadi Rum village. From the end of the 4WD track, we hiked about 45 minutes up to the route and did some very fine climbing (including a new two-pitch route). 

    When we returned to our gear at the base of the wall, we discovered that Marin’s wallet and phone were missing. We were in a really remote place and the theft was inconceivable. We triple checked all of our gear looking for Marin’s stuff, because it made no sense that someone would steal anything, let alone just his wallet and phone when ours were there too. As we hiked back to where we had been dropped off, we found some fresh footprints in the wash, so we knew that someone else had been in the area.

    When Khaled returned to pick us up and heard the news, he went into a frenzy. In his world, the theft was completely unacceptable and he vowed to get Marin’s property back. We then drove all around the area - checking washes for footprints, questioning Bedouin who were gathering firewood or grazing animals and stopping at the sole Bedouin camp for miles around. It was fascinating to watch Khaled’s interaction with the camp occupants. While a multi- generational Bedouin himself, to the herders who lived in a tent in the middle of the desert, Khaled was a village dweller. Khaled stopped short of the camp, exited the vehicle and waited for the elder herder to approach him. They then formally greeted each other and sat down to tea before Khaled broached the theft. The case was unresolved by nightfall and Khaled informed us that we would return with his brother and track the thief.

    The next morn, we returned to the area with Khaled’s brother, Hassan. We hiked back to the cliff and identified tracks, which we then all tried to follow for a couple of hours. From a saddle a mile or more beyond the cliff, Hassan spied a herder in the distance and took off after him. The rest of us returned to the truck and drove around the entire mountain to rejoin Hassan. Hassan caught up with the herder, who was a 17-year-old boy, the grandson of the elder that Khaled had met the previous day. According to Hassan, the young man was mentally deficient and despite Hassan’s interviewing efforts, would not admit to knowing anything about the theft.


    Above: Donette Swain climbing Bedouin Camel Boys

    We returned to the village and climbed nearby that afternoon, convinced Marin’s belongings were gone forever. The next day we did the excellent 500- foot (Bedouin Camel Boys) near the village of Disi. When Khaled returned at the end of the day to transport us home, he had Marin’s wallet and phone! During the day, Khaled revisited the Bedouin camp to speak again with the elder. The elder had spoken with his grandson and searched his belongings to no avail. Khaled then applied his interrogation skills to the youth, who eventually admitted taking the items. Once the confession was obtained, Khaled, the young man and the elder went back toward the climb to look for the items, which the 17-year-old had stashed under a rock. After two hours of searching, the items were found! No money was missing and the phone was in working order.

    On our last day at Wadi Rum, Marin and I did a great hike with Khaled. He took us to an area on the Saudi Arabian border, about 27km SE from the village. We hiked around looking for mushrooms (Khaled found three in the sandy terrain shown below; the mushrooms form underground and rarely reach the surface), eating various edible plants and enjoying the scenery. Khaled also brought the ubiquitous teapot and made Bedouin tea.

    While Marin and I were hiking with Khaled, Donette returned to Aqaba and went scuba diving in the Red Sea, a day that had been on her bucket list since she started diving. Her PADI Dive Master was a hijab-wearing (even in the water), Ray Ban sporting, rap sing-along, rock star gal named Wa’ed (“Promise”). When we reunited at the hotel in Aqaba, Donette was beaming.

    On the 14th, we went snorkeling in the Red Sea. The coral reef and sea life were great. I did a second snorkel over a Cold War era tank and C-130 airplane that had been purposely sunk by the Jordanian king as underwater attractions.

    We rented a car in Aqaba and will have it for the remainder of our time in Jordan. After some food shopping and a visit to a hardware store for climbing supplies, we drove to Petra yesterday afternoon. We are now in a hotel sitting out a cold, rainy day. We’ll spend 2-3 days here at Petra, then head back to Wadi Rum to put up some new routes that we discovered just before we left. From there, it will be north to the Dead Sea, some historic sites and Amman.

    This is yet another great trip for two of the very luckiest people there are.

    The 2,500 Mile Approach by Mad Rock Athlete Sonomi Imagawa

    The 2,500 Mile Approach by Mad Rock Athlete Sonomi Imagawa

    Above: Mad Rock Athlete, Sonomi Imagawa at Washoe Boulders, NV.
    Photo by: Nathan Ferreira.


    January 2018:

    Climbing on oversized volumes and dual-tex holds seem to be all the rage this year. Being 5'2" with a close to negative ape index never was an advantage for me on comp style climbs. But come on...who isn't up for a challenge? Climbing in my local gym one evening, one particular problem caught my eye. Starting on a low bat hang I contorted my body, stabilizing myself with a solid heel hook above my head. With a deep breath to calm my excitement, I cranked my upper body up and over the volume, leaving my left heel behind to maintain stability. I reached for a far left-hand Gaston, which I managed to tag with the first pad of my middle finger. As I crawled my fingers up the volume, I turned my right arm into a palm press. I was so focused, so determined, to get at least three fingers on this far left hold. Just then, my right hand slipped as pain exploded from within my shoulder.

    I fell to the ground, "BAM!" immediately I knew this wasn't just another fall. Unable to move my right arm I lay motionless, trying to contain the pain radiating from my shoulder, and tears of frustration mixed with sorrow. Having experienced a subluxation of the same shoulder before, it was obvious I was dealing with an injury much worse than anything in my past.

    As the issue for most other young adults in America, I was broke and covered by less health insurance than that hospital gown on the old man trudging down the hallway with his IV stand in hand. So, like many other twenty-somethings of this world, I sucked it up, neglecting to pursue any answers regarding the extent of the injury at my shoulder. And maybe similar to some of you, I was overconfident in my body's ability to quickly recover without the need for rest.

    Resting is definitely not in my nature. How many of you are the same way? Busybodies who cannot seem to sit down without their leg shaking, or become anxious at the thought of missing a workout. I spent hours in the gym each day, not climbing, rather occupying myself with core, ring, and bar workouts. I punished myself with leg lifts, sit-ups, squats, and any exercise that I could manage to do with my one good arm. I used my workouts as a means to drown out the voices telling me that I may never be able to climb again. I wanted to climb, I wanted to send harder routes...I let my impatience get the better of me - acting incredibly immature and reckless with regards to my recovery process.

     

    August 2018:

    My confidence level was shot and spiraling into a nosedive, as my shoulder was nowhere near even 70% of its pre-injury state. Adding to my angst, the desire to leave Hawaii in order to explore new climbing areas began to take root in my mind. The thought began to grow, and grow...it began to consume me...all I wanted to do was escape from this rock in the middle of the ocean. I was a prisoner in paradise. And then...as if the world itself felt my despair, an answer! One so crazy, the only response from family and friends was, "why?" My gut told me otherwise as I knew I had to regain my sanity. Just like that, I bought myself a one-way ticket to Reno, NV.

    "Reno?! You left somewhere as beautiful as Hawaii for Reno?!" I'm sure a few of you are asking yourself whilst shaking your head. As it turns out, though, there are climbing areas galore, both established and being developed, around Reno. Not to mention the endless outdoor activities including skiing and snowboarding, trail running, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and so much more! And, to top it all off, the pristine Lake Tahoe. I digress...back to climbing. The landscape is gorgeous as granite structures grab your attention driving down the I-80 highway, hiding a myriad of climbs just waiting to be discovered. It's no surprise since Lake Tahoe, alone, has more guidebooks than variations of the Bible.

    The highlight of my move, hands down, had to be the opportunity to work the sickest job, ever! I landed a position as a staff member at Basecamp Climbing Gym where I have the privilege of being a route setter. Did you know Basecamp is recognized by Guinness World Records as having the tallest artificial climbing wall in the world? Never have I seen an artificial multi-pitch wall. Immediately the sense of the "Keep the Country, Country," mentality from the local climbers reverberated with me. Their goal and desire to protect the climbing areas from getting trashed by visitors and want to preserve the area's natural landscape spoke volumes to me. Coming from Hawaii, where a similar way of thinking radiated with the residents, it was an easy adjustment for me that made me feel as if I was still at home.

     

    January 2019:

    At this point, I've managed to embody the typical Asian lady driving, in a foot of snow. I quickly learned that I did not like the snow. Having driven over black ice and nearly launched off of a bridge, I'd say I've experienced a few close calls. It was after nearly dying that I realized not all trucks are created equal. My non-4wd Tacoma had not only been a rear-wheel drive but a ONE wheel drive! She has thus earned the endearing name: Negative Traction.

    The Reno winter also brought along dangers outside of a motor vehicle. One night, after finishing a gym climbing session, in a desperate attempt to escape the bone-chilling cold I decided to make a run for the car upon leaving the gym. Let's just say there's a reason I remain physically active on a wall rather than on a track, as I rolled my ankle resulting in a fracture of the fifth metatarsal of my left foot. The whole incident was quite anti-climactic. I took three quick steps, rolled my ankle, tripped, and landed on the ground with the full weight of my sport-climbing pack against my face. Needless to say, I was not happy when I found out I had to dawn a less than stylish air-cast boot. I didn't wear it well, to say the least.

     

    March 2019:

    "Doyle is choss...it's overrated" -- common opinions of locals who unfortunately take such a beautiful place for granted. Yet to others, these opinions are terms of endearment expressed as sarcasm - an "inside joke" so to say. In my opinion, I identify with the latter group of individuals. Yet, it's difficult to write a blog about how awesome the climbing is around Reno without feeling a bit guilty that it may initiate the Bishop effect. Is it okay to rave about a climbing spot and say it's totally rad knowing the boulders may end up looking more like a Bruno Mars concert? The worst part is that if a popularity explosion occurs these bouldering areas will be completely trashed at the end of each season. This is an all too common occurrence with any popular climbing spot. This begs the question, is it possible for the climbing community to establish a common standard for maintenance and upkeep? Why do we even need to ask the question of whether or not people can clean up after themselves, anyway? So I ask you, the reader, what do you think? What do you think is the solution? Or is there even such a problem, in your opinion? I want to know what the vibe is within the climbing community.

     

    Above: BaseCamp Staff, 2018 Halloween Competition at BaseCamp Climbing Gym. 

    Reflections:

    Reno was the best thing to happen to me. Before moving, I was insecure, lacked confidence, and felt I was losing my identity as a climber because I wasn't climbing as hard as I was pre-injury. Now, I train and climb with people to achieve common goals: get outside as often as possible, climb as hard as our bodies allow us, and most importantly to have FUN. No judgments, no competition, no drama. I cannot thank the friends I have made here enough for helping me enjoy the path less traveled; a path toward appreciating and honoring my body's process.

    It took over a year to recover from these injuries (shoulder and foot) mostly due to mental blocks. Yet here we are again, overcoming self-imposed barriers, training my body to endure physical hardships, staying psyched with help from awesome friends, and looking forward to future seasons, each bringing new challenges to be conquered.

    For those currently recovering from injuries, I hope you too are able to take the path less traveled. Knowing that regardless of how hard you train there still may be a possibility you'll never climb again is a difficult pill to swallow. It's tedious, it's mundane, and finding the motivation to get to the gym may feel like the hardest part of your day. I'm not trying to foster the change in your life or be the reason you decide to become instantaneously motivated. No, I want to share my story as a "thank you" to those who have helped me to quit feeling sorry for myself, and to take control of my life by challenging and pushing me. I want you to reflect upon those in your life who you have looked to for help, for support, for that extra push that got you over the hump. Thank them for their efforts that made you who you are. And if you are still dealing with adversity, reach out...make a new friend...you never know who may be the spark to light your flame.

    Trip Report: Jordan Trip 2019 by Todd Swain

    Trip Report: Jordan Trip 2019 by Todd Swain
    Khaled was a climber and hence, knows where the remote climbs are located. On the 25th, we drove to within three kilometers of the Saudi Arabian border to do a climb called The Haj (5.9, 600 feet). Once Khaled drove away (promising to return at 4pm), we were enveloped in the vastness of the desert. We were far enough from camp that if Khaled didn’t return, it would be a challenge to make it back alive. This setting was why we came to Jordan. 

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