Jordan Trail is go!
20 years after they first conceived the idea, Tony Howard and Di Taylor report on the official opening of the 650 mile-long Jordan Trail…
It started as a chat round the embers of a campfire as Di Taylor and I sat in our sleeping bags sipping tea beneath one of Jordan’s impeccable crystal clear star filled nights. It was the late 1990s and we had been exploring the many blanks on Jordan’s map on our annual spring visits, finding superb trekking and canyoning in preparation for a guidebook. Suddenly it occurred to us that our treks were the pieces of a jigsaw. If we could link them, we could make a country length trail along the western spine of Jordan above the Dead Sea Rift Valley.
The more we thought about it, the more obvious it was, but could it be done? It would be over six hundred kilometres long and there were some big obstacles along the way, in particular the 800 to 1000 metre deep Dead Sea canyons. We had been through them all, but could we cross them? If it was possible the trail would not only benefit numerous remote communities but would also pass through world famous archaeological sites like Petra plus, of course, Wadi Rum, which we had discovered back in 1984, writing the guide to its world class desert climbing in what is now a World Heritage Site.
Twenty years on, assisted greatly by our close friend Mark Khano, the last pieces of the jigsaw were put in place together with a group of Jordanians who, through our guidebooks had, in their own words, discovered the beauty of their country and its superb outdoor adventure potential. Our dream came true. We not only had our line on the map, but the Jordan Trail Association (JTA) was formed and a funding obtained from USAID and other corporate sponsors to assist in developing and waymarking the trail, gathering GPS data, creating a website, training guides and locating homestays and potential water sources and campsites.
Having heard about the trail, two Bedouin from the Hidan Gorge area, Mohammad al Homran and Mohammad al Zayadeen took everyone by surprise and set off to walk it. They became the first Jordanians to complete the through-trek, much of it supported by the JTA. Leon McCarron also did much of the route as part of his Middle East super-trek starting and finishing in Jerusalem and including the Sinai Trail. He met Susan Elliott along the way who did much of it unsupported raising funds for the War Child charity. The JTA team did the full route in autumn 2016, checking the GPS trail in preparation for the official inaugural through-walk in spring 2017. It was now a 650km trail starting from Greco-Roman Um Qais on Jordan’s northern border and finishing at the Red Sea south of Aqaba and not far from Saudi Arabia. The event was launched in Um Qais in the presence of Ambassadors, members of USAID, and Her Excellency, Lina Annab, the Minister of Tourism, a keen walker and prime mover in putting the trail at the top of Jordan’s tourism development agenda supported by Hakim Tamimi, one of Jordan’s top climbers, canyoners and trekkers, who had recently been appointed to the Jordan Tourism Board.
Di and I had been invited to join the through-walk but were surprised and honoured to receive a presentation for our efforts to develop Jordan’s adventure tourism. Muna Haddad, the President of the JTA, Andrew Evans of National Geographic and Olivia Mason, a JTA volunteer walked the full 44 day trek which included four rest days. Others joined for a day here and there along the route. Some joined for a week or more. Her Majesty Queen Rania joined us to walk into the ancient cliff top village of Dana thereby giving her official support to the trail. Di and I did most of it. We were familiar with it anyway, even variations of it, so part way along we took an opportunity to spend essential time with our many Bedouin friends in Wadi Rum. We also explored a new route through the mountains to the Red Sea with Sabbah Eid, a climbing and trekking guide from Rum, as our original route had involved a long descent of loose scree.
When we returned to the trail and finally arrived at the coast with the through-trekkers in mid-May, the temperature was approaching 40 degrees. We were greeted by a celebratory band on the beach before plunging into the refreshing Red Sea under the eyes of the TV and Press. This was followed by a party at the Aqaba’s Ayla Resort and a couple of days later the Jordan Trail was the talk of the show at the first Adventure Travel and Trade Association (ATTA) Event to be held in the region, at the Dead Sea Kempinski Hotel.
In the meanwhile, we weren’t the only ones who walked the trail that spring. Mohammad al Homran and Mohammad al Zayadeen were with us as guides and we were soon joined by Mahmoud Bdoul who was born in a cave in Petra, and is one of Jordan’s top trekking guides. Others had found the trail on the web. American John Vogel walked it in 34 days with six rest days. A Scottish girl of slight build, Vix Harris, clocked 707km on her GPS walking it unsupported in 23 days plus two rest days, fund raising for Médecins Sans Frontières – no mean feat when some days are waterless and the temperature is in the high thirties. Stuart Skinner from England walked it in 25 days plus eight rest days. A Californian couple, Molly and Kyle Nixon did it in 32 days and a Polish couple, Katarzyna Bobola and Piotr Dziewaltowski-Gintowt, walked it south to north in 29 days plus four rest days. Our campfire chat all those years ago had come of age and if further proof were needed we were guests at a surprise party in Amman given by our many trekking companions before flying back home, job done!
To beat the heat, the official 2018 through-hike will start a month earlier, on March 1st.
The Jordan Trail www.jordantrail.org
Jordan Trail Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheJordanTrail/
Video on the Jordan Trail: www.facebook.com/TheJordanTrail/videos/1318129668308719/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE
Author’s website www.nomadstravel.co.uk
Author’s books on Jordan:
Treks & Climbs in Wadi Rum
Walks & Scrambles in Wadi Rum
Walks, Treks, Caves, Climbs & Canyons, Jordan
Walks, Treks, Climbs & Caves, Al Ayoun