Caught in diplomatic tensions and a stroke of luck.
A few days after arriving in Tel Aviv we bussed down to Eilat, the southernmost point of Israel that borders Egypt and Jordan on the Red Sea. Ilana had some family living there which we had a great time staying with before heading to the Jordan border the next morning. At the crossing we showed our passports, having used my Israeli passport to enter Israel I instinctively used that passport not knowing it would lead to me being denied entry.
I was basically told that in the past year diplomatic relations became a bit worse. I've not verified this but was told that on a few occaisions Israeli tourists had died hiking in canyons and that the Israeli government caused Jordan some trouble in response. I've no idea what that means but essentially if at the time I was there if an Israeli wanted to go to Jordan they had to hire a government accredited tour guide. Ilana was fine to enter, but I was not.
It was a huge bummer to get turned away, and we called Nir and Adva(Ilana's family in Eilat) to see if they had any advice. Nir had a friend, Elad, who did a lot of climbing in Jordan. Elad sounded pretty upset when he heard we were turned away. Turns out he has been climbing there since the early days of traditional and bolt climbing development in Rum(Bedouins have been climbing there for long before). He was pretty upset at the new border rules and told us it was a pretty recent change and that it had really been hurting the businesses of the climbing community in Rum.
He made a call and told us to head back to the border where we would hear from his friend Muhammad. At the border the guards were reluctant to let us through, they wanted to search us and were asking for all sorts of documents but Muhammad showed up, literally grabbed us from the guards, argued with them for a few minutes, then we were on our way to Rum!
We had been messaging someone named Muhammad on whatsapp who ran a sort of homestay for climbers. We asked to be taken to Muhammad's and drove the hour or so from the border to Muhammad''s. Later that night I got a message from Muhammad asking where we were, this was the moment we learned that most men are named Muhammad here.
Goldfinger - East Face of Jebel Rum
Muhammad recommended Goldfinger as a good intro climb for our level. We had a great time on it and was a good intro to climbing here on this rock and in this environment.
At Index(my local crag), you have the train. The train goes by, its super loud, shakes the ground, and when you are cruxing out it can add some extra spice to the ordeal. Here we had the daily prayers. Five times a day, like in many Muslim nations, the community gathers for prayer at the mosque. The prayers are broadcast over megaphone and echo throughout the desert and valleys. The prayers are sung in a beautiful way and calm the nerves when things are getting spooky. I recall a few occasions, being on lead, getting far above my pro on potentially unstable rock, with not much in sight then all of a sudden this calming sound would echo through the valley, the feeling of these moments is indescribable.
The Beauty was one of the first routes we heard about when we arrived. When we got back from our first day we meet Erik Weihenmayer and Timmy O'Neill, two pro climbers. Erik is blind and has some remarkable climbs under his belt, many which most skilled climbers will never do. They had just returned from climbing the Beauty, heard we were thinking of doing it and told us we definitely should. The approach sounded a bit complicated but Timmy drew us a map(see below). His directions started with walk along the cliff, when you hear a dog barking walk towards the cliff and into the canyon. At some point we would see a runway, Timmy sounded quite proud of the runway then we would walk in that direction up some small cliffs and through some canyons.
In the end we never found the climb, but we didn't really care. It was a wild adventure, some of the canyon scrambling was pretty sketch. Knowing that Erik had done a similar approach to our adventure, then also climbed was astonishing.
The next day we went to climb Merlin's Wand. For this we needed to get a cab ride out to the route which we assumed would be like a 20 minute drive through the desert but ended up being an hour long drive through the desert sands and cliffs.
By the time we reached the route we had no idea where we were or how we had gotten there. The cab driver was going to leave us and asked when to return. Our lives were fully in his hands, there was no getting out of there on our own so as he was leaving I asked if he had a lighter we could borrow just in case. The desert nights in late december are very cold and a lighter could mean survival if the driver didn't return for some reason.