Caroline George finds adventure on La Guerre Sainte in Wadi Rum

Photo by Jim Surette/GraniteFilms.com

Girly Guide and First Ascent athlete Caroline George continues to find adventure – the latest in Wadi Rum, Jordan! Read all about her latest climb from the place she credits for starting her passion for climbing. Thanks to our sponsors, First Ascent, for the share!

La Guerre Sainte (“The Holy War”) is much to Jordan what Lord of the Thai’s is to Thailand. It’s the local, 400-meter long, 5.12b multipitch (12 pitches) test piece. But unlike Lord of the Thai’s, which climbs up perfect overhanging limestone, la Guerre Sainte – also known to local Bedouins as “Jihad”  – climbs up a perfectly vertical wall that offers less than perfect sandstone and really sporty – ready sparse – protection. La Guerre Sainte proved to be both physically and mentally challenging. Quite the adventure. This route is also the first of its kind in Wadi Rum.

Route setters always look for weakness in the rock to climb up a face, which often materializes in cracks. Cracks take traditional gear – friends, camalots, nuts, etc. –  enabling the climber to progress safely up a line. Once the potential for such obvious features have been exhausted, people look at climbing straight up walls. With no cracks at hand, bolting becomes the only way to protect a climb. Although Wadi Rum has a pretty strict no-bolting ethic, an exception was made for La Guerre Sainte in 2000, when prolific route setters Arnaud Petit, Benoit Robert, Guy Abert, Philippe Batoux, Herve Bouvard and Alon Hod decided to tackle one of the biggest faces in Jordan: the east face of Nassrani. They bolted the route ground up in five days, which is an amazing feat.

Our ride dropped us off at the base of a massive, red sand dune, which encircles the bottom of the face. A quick scramble got us to the base of this massive sunbathed wall. I zipped up my Sirocco jacket to shelter me from the wind, which blasted the face throughout the duration of our climb. The first pitch climbs a right-facing layback finger corner to a huge ledge system. The climb continues up wild Hueco-like formations. The rock is red and sounds really hollow for the most part, and it feels like both foot and hand holds could break at any time – Not a great feeling when the protection is so sparse. I don’t like that much on sound rock, but it took that feeling to a whole new level. A fall here, in remote Wadi Rum, would have pretty dramatic consequences. With that in mind, the mental aspect of this climb felt overwhelming. Pitch 7 offers a 40ft runout on a sustained 5.11c pitch, so you’re looking at an 80ft fall, a couple hundred feet above the ground, with no means of communication in case of an emergency.

The crux pitches are concentrated on the headwall, where the rock turns to a whitish orange color. During the first ascent, the route setters had many doubts: “There were many light rock areas on this wall, which triggered a lot of doubts regarding the success of this undertaking, mainly in regards to the headwall which was almost fully white… It was an immense relief and one of my greatest joys as a climber when, after a few meters of the headwall, I yelled out to my partner:  ‘The rock isn’t good… it’s excellent!’” wrote Arnaud Petit.

Indeed, the headwall proved to offer the best rock on the wall. With three pitches of 5.12b, back-to-back, it was also the most committing and most difficult section of the route. Adam did an amazing job leading those pitches, which although didn’t go free, felt like some spicy French freeing (read pulling on quick draws to get through). Still, the obligatory rating felt like a solid 5.12a.

We topped out as the wall went into the shade and immediately starting rapping down. When faces are this steep, it’s a full core work out to abseil with a pack on. A local Bedouin and his family awaited us at the base. He said: “Not many climbers do this route. You must be good!” That was a very nice compliment, although I didn’t feel as such on the route. He drove us back to Wadi Rum, a 20-minute ride away, with his son steering the wheel and his 12-year-old driving his other car!

We are now moving on to another adventure: Finding a possible new line to climb. Stay tuned!

Keep up with all of Caroline’s latest adventures here on the First Ascent blog. Also check out her website Into The Mountains, where she and her husband Adam George share their passion for climbing with others by offering guided trips and instruction on rock, ice, and alpine climbing in the European Alps and North America.