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    The Madness — Climbing

    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.

    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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    Haywire wins OUTDOOR AWARD!

    Haywire wins OUTDOOR AWARD!

    Our engineers have devised a way to make sticky climbing-grade rubber flow into the molds. This will be the first ever climbing shoe to utilize this technology for the entire toe box. Using this method has many benefits for climbing. While downturned shoes are prone to delamination or will lose their downturn shape over time, the Haywire will not. Also, by using the molded parts the foot has less material between it and the rock for greater sensitivity and the ability to articulate the shoe for better grip. Combining this with the knit fabric allows this shoe to fit various foot shapes and sizes.

     

    Outstanding in the following evaluation criteria

    • Degree of innovation

     

    Jury Statement

    An exciting and sustainable development. The Haywire rock shoe has the entire toe box made of one piece of rubber thanks to a new molding technology. We think this is an important breakthrough.