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Desert Poles: Short Sport in the Wadi Rum

David Kaszlikowski on Pitch 2 (7a+ [5.12a]) of Kicia (7c [5.12d], 6 pitches, 130m), Barrah Canyon, Wadi Rum Massif, Jordan. He and Eliza Kubarska, his wife, established this relatively short sport line and an easier, nearby traditional route in April 2008. After climbing numerous longer classics they spent a week in Barrah–their campsite is visible on the right–enjoying untapped, shorter, sportier stone. [Photo]

The Wadi Rum Massif, in southern Jordan, is home to 500 square miles of desert, from which rise some 1,500-foot-high, steep, red sandstone walls, culminating in rounded domes. Since the discovery of its climbing potential in the mid-1980s by Europeans, the Wadi Rum has seen much activity, resulting in over 300 routes. The towers have attracted some of the world’s strongest climbers, and though the ethic leans toward clean climbing, bolted routes are accepted where no other means of protection is possible.

Eliza Kubarska and I arrived in the village of Wadi Rum on April 4, 2008, and we set out to repeat the most famous classic routes in the range: Merlin (6b [5.10d], 150m), The Beauty (6b [5.10d], 200m), Lionheart (6b+ [5.11a], 350m), Inshallah factor (6c [5.11b], 450m), which offers a memorable unprotected crux pitch, Raid with Camel (7a [5.11d], 450m), said to be the most interesting line on Jebel Rum, and Guerre Sainte (7b [5.12b], 350m), which I fell on when a hold broke.

These classics allowed us to get acclimated to the desert and used to its sandstone. We then used the services of a local 4×4 Jeep to shuttle our base camp from Rum Village to a remote setting in Barrah Canyon, about 20 kilometers away. With over a hundred liters of water, we set up camp for the next seven days.

We immediately left on a reconnaissance hike to seek out novelties on the nearby walls. In the third canyon south of Abu Iglakhat and directly across from the classic route, Merlin, we discovered a small “siq,” a term for canyon in the Beduin language, which held the promise of potential new lines.

Our first objective was a natural line–our only traces were three drilled holes for slings, which were removed by the second. The new three-pitch route, Abu Ali (6b, 130m) we climbed ground up via a series of cracks, using cams for protection. At the top we walked along the top of the dome to rappel our main project.

From below we had viewed the friable but exquisite line that smooths its way up a big, black water streak. For this ascent–and for the first time in our career as multipitch route setters–we had to compromise our own ethic: we had to abseil into the route. The rock in this area is very questionable, and therefore the only way to find a line with proper sequencing is to check out the route from the top. Each time I rappelled over the climb, holds broke, forcing me to search for more solid options.

Kubarska laybacks lightly in Barrah Canyon. [Photo] David Kaszlikowski

Most of the time I was bolting the route Eliza sat underneath feeding a sick, newborn kitten who had been rejected by his mother. No one would care for him so we were forced to take him to the desert–to Barrah, along with baby bottles and special milk–but he didn’t survive, and we buried him under the wall.

After cleaning and bolting we worked up the black water streak, following it up everything from small overhangs to slabs, to establish Kicia (7c [5.12d], 6 pitches, 130m)–“kitty” in Polish–in honor of our little friend. The climb is mostly vertical and quite nice, certainly worthy of seeing repetitions, we think.

Though these shorter climbs are nothing special compared to the huge walls of Wadi Rum, they offer an alternative to most of the area’s adventure climbs. But, of course, every route is special for those who climb it first–why not live your own adventure on the other endless walls?

We thank our sponsors for their support on this expedition: Hannah, Tendon, Nepa, Se-Mar, Meindl, Uvex, Kong and Yeti.

Editor’s Note: David Kaszlikowski and Eliza Kubarska are among the most active Polish climbing explorers. They have established routes all over the world, including Mexico, Morocco and Greenland.