Length: 171mi (275km)
Days: 16-18 southern half from Aqaba to Dana (+20 to complete the northern half)
Difficulty: Expert (no maintained trail, extreme temperatures, supply scarcity)
Gear: Standard gear + GPS and extra containers for water
Completed: April / May 2019
In summary: If you consider yourself a desert rat or an aspiring anthropologist, then the Jordan Trail is the perfect thru hike for you. An unmarked, GPS-based trek through the entire country, the relatively new trail system provides trekkers a chance to embrace the Bedouin culture while venturing across holy land. The journey is challenging, but the unforgettable opportunity to ‘discover’ the Lost City of Petra the way the ancient caravanners did is well worth it. There is no better time than now to hike the Jordan Trail, as it remains one of the best kept secrets in trekking.
Preparation / Know Before You Go
Buy a reliable GPS with a PLB: The Jordan Trail is largely unmarked and unmaintained, with the exception of some rock stacks in tight canyons. To find your way, I would recommend using a true GPS (as opposed to a phone) that allows you to chart your own course and position relative to the advised path. As parts of the trail are extremely remote, I would also suggest bringing along a personal locator beacon, or GPS with PLB-capabilities, to ensure you can get help if something goes wrong.
Download coordinates ahead of time: Maps and coordinates can be found in a number of formats here.
Prepare for water scarcity: The Jordan Trail traverses a desert, so it should be no surprise that water is hard to come by, especially towards the end of the trekking season (November – April). The trail association’s GPS coordinates mark potential water sources, but we found a number of them to be dried up. Even during the peak season when the climate is wetter, it can be over a day between refill sites from Aqaba to Wadi Rum. We carried 7-8 liters of water each, and even then had a couple of close calls. It should also go without saying that filtering water from old wells and wild springs is recommended.
Take advantage of the Bedouin hospitality: While hiking, you are sure to come across the Bedouin people, usually herding goats or camels and living off the land. In my experience travelling, I have never come across a friendlier or more welcoming bunch of people. We were invited to tea countless times and provided dinners at which no payment was accepted. Enjoy your time with these people, as it is part of what makes the trekking experience so special. It is worth noting that most abide by a code of social conservatism, so please be respectful of their beliefs and customs. For example, if invited to spend the night in a Bedouin camp, know that it is commonplace for men and women to sleep in different spaces.
Decide your hiking direction, section and distance: The JT is divided into 8 distinct regions, presenting hikers with 9 potential entry/exit points. While it officially runs from north (Um Qais) to south (Aqaba), it’s common for hikers to head in either direction. One thing to keep in mind is that the southern portion of the trail is drier and hotter, so take that into account when timing the trip and selecting your direction. Since we had ~3 weeks and wanted to cover Petra, we elected to hike from Aqaba to Dana.
Day One: Aqaba to Final Camp (11.4mi)
The morning of our first day on the trail began with an early cab ride from our hotel in the city of Aqaba to the trailhead a couple of kilometers south. There we stopped at a local inn for a continental breakfast and then departed from a signpost on the nearby beach. Given that Aqaba is officially the ‘end’ of the Jordan Trail, the day’s hiking was relatively unremarkable. It would have been incredible, coming from the north, to finish the grueling trek by jumping in the Gulf of Aqaba, but since we were just getting started there was no swimming for Ben and me.
Slowly, we worked our way across the foothills by the shore, passed some industrial parks and highways, and then climbed into a shallow set of mountains from which you could see across the gulf to Egypt and Israel. The primary terrain was sand or loose gravel, so our movements were labored and in the heat of the day we thoroughly exhausted ourselves. We were also carrying 15 days worth of rice, orzo, oatmeal, and beans, so the extreme pack weight compounded our struggles. After a midday siesta in which we took shelter from the direct sun, we continued onwards, anxious to reach camp before nightfall.
We cut it close arriving well after dusk, but succeeded in making camp on a windy hilltop just before the sky went pitch black. We went to sleep exhausted, but looking around, we could tell we had better days in store. Civilization had disappeared and we were immersed in the desert landscape, a great backdrop for trekking.
Day Two: Final Camp to Wadi Waraqa (16.1mi)
Slated to be one of our longest days on the trek, we made sure to get an early start to our second day. Almost immediately, we were tasked with working our way up a narrow canyon in order to cross over a tall hill. Though the going was tough, the scenery was much improved from the day prior and that lifted our spirits. Our remaining issue was that the sun rose early, and despite starting the prior day with 7.5L of water each, we were in need of a refill.
Around noon, we reached the town of Titen. To our dismay, it looked like a ghost town. Most of the residences were built like compounds with high walls, and we saw no signs of life. Eventually, we spotted what looked like a gas station a half mile down the town’s single road and opted for the detour. When we arrived, we were greeted with open arms by a couple of Jordanian soldiers who informed us that we had stumbled upon a border checkpoint near Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, they were friendly and it appeared we had broken up what was a monotonous day. The whole barracks came out to greet us while the commanding officer ordered our waters filled and tea served. We had lunch with the men and rested before heading back out into the barren desert.
We didn’t make it far into the latter half of our journey before needing to take a second siesta. Around a mile or so outside of Titen we happened upon a large, solitary tree, the first we had seen with a dense enough canopy to offer shelter from the sun. We learned pretty quickly that in late spring, the heat would make hiking between 1-3pm unbearable. Once the air had cooled, we powered through the remainder of the journey feeling refreshed, stopping only to admire herds of camels, or to tell the Bedouin in a beat up Toyota pickup that we were walking by choice and did not need a ride.
By early evening we came to Wadi Waraqa, a great sandy campsite in a shallow valley that is likely a riverbed during the short rainy season. Sites were well positioned, with each having its own well. We had an initial scare, as the water level was too low for us to reach in each well, but after some exploring I found a rusty bucket on a rope that had been stashed in a bush nearby. A long drink of water and a sponge bath went a long way for us, and I felt we were starting to settle in to life on the trail.
Day Three: Wadi Waraqa to Wadi Rum Village (12.8mi)
Day three was a definite turning point for us on the trail, and we rose at 5:00am with a new sense of confidence. Our first two days had been harsh, but we learned to make adjustments (starting before dawn, resting in the afternoon, leveraging the locals for water) and felt that we now had a game plan for success in the unforgiving desert.
We started the day wandering the famous Rum desert, weaving around picturesque sandstone mountains, or ‘jebels’ in Arabic. Due to the way in which these jebels abruptly stood out from the otherwise flat expanse, most better resembled enormous boulders. As we approached, we marveled at the soft stone walls, naturally sculpted into ornate honeycomb patterns that glowed with red and orange hues in the soft morning light. Before long, the sun rose and so did the temperature. However, we were in search of a water source marked Qattar Spring on our GPS so we decided to push further into the afternoon than usual.
Finding the spring turned out to be more challenging than we thought. It was marked as being somewhere on a massive jebel, and after climbing around the cliff for 30min. in the heat of the day, we gave up and redirected towards a small tree growing horizontally from the rock. Just as we reached the shady spot, we noticed a small hose, protruding from a crevasse in the rock that was filled with water. This made for a wonderful siesta. The next couple hours were spent sleeping and reading; we could see our destination of Wadi Rum on the horizon so we enjoyed our little oasis knowing we didn’t have far to go.
Eventually, it was time to push forward, so we climbed down and made our way to the village. Wadi Rum is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Jordan, so as we walked we observed Toyotas zooming by, taking visitors to the luxury Bedouin camps in geodesic domes around the desert. Upon arrival, it was almost dusk and we found the backpackers hostel that was on our map had closed. Alternatively, we identified a large dirt lot with space for our tents. We tried to ask some locals nearby if we could camp there, and though they spoke some broken English they didn’t seem to understand. We later recalled that land ownership is tenuous in Bedouin culture, and they probably couldn’t see why we needed their permission. After settling, we walked the town and purchasing some sodas and Jordanian ice cream, which immediately became a trip staple.
Day Four: Wadi Rum Village to Al-Shakriya (7.5mi)
As our sleep was frequently interrupted by a pack of stray dogs fighting outside our tent, we got off to a slow start to Shakriya. Ben also found in the morning that one of the dogs had taken his left boot. We couldn’t find it anywhere, but the crisis was averted when the presumed culprit dragged it back into camp as we were packing up.
As for the walking, it was short but memorable. The same pack of dogs that was tormenting us at night, decided to be amicable in the morning and followed us out of town. As we walked along the road to the Wadi Rum visitor center, more and more joined us from nearby houses. Before long, we were shepherding 15 or so dogs on our way. The visitor center offered a quick respite, and gave us a chance to read up on the local history featuring Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab Revolt.
After a couple more kilometers, we arrived in Al-Shakriya. Similar to the villages we had encountered before, it was very sleepy. The compound-style houses made it difficult to find anyone, but eventually we chanced upon a group of kids that were thrilled to see us. We asked them if there was a shop nearby, and they took us to their home where the patriarch of the family treated us like honored guests. We sat for an hour or so, talking and learning about the Jordanian and Muslim culture. The father was a game warden at the nearby park and tasked with protecting rare oryx, but like so many other men he also ran a small shop out of his garage. We stocked up on treats for the evening, then walked to some sand dunes a hundred meters outside of town. Before long, the energetic kids found us again. It was nice to have some extra hands as we collected scrap wood and built an open fire hot enough to cook our tougher beans and lentils.
Day Five: Al-Shakriya to Rock Bridge of Kharaz (9.9mi)
Our fifth day on the trail would end up going down as one of the most memorable days of my life. We woke early, and after a quick oatmeal breakfast we hit the road. The prior day had been very hot, so we were hoping to knock out the full 16km before lunch and our daily siesta. The scenery was beautiful. For miles all we could see were untouched sand dunes and ruddy brown jebels rising sharply above the orange dunes. We didn’t see another soul for the whole journey, and it was surreal to have the silent desert to ourselves.
Though our progress was slowed by the terrain – while marvelous to look at, the deep sand dunes made for strenuous walking – we were able to accomplish our goal of reaching camp just as the afternoon heat bordered on unbearable. As we arrived, coming around the corner of a large jebel, we were abruptly faced with two surprises: One, there was a massive rock bridge providing an impressive backdrop for what our GPS showed as the campsite. And two, a small crowd of Bedouins were camped out, sitting in the shade with their camels, smoking hookah, drinking tea, and watching the day go by. They enthusiastically waived us over, so we obliged and learned that one of the group members was an American trekker headed south on the trail.
After a long afternoon of drinking tea, riding camels, and talking (sometimes about heavy topics like Jamal Khashoggi, King Abdullah, and US-Arab relations) in the shadows of the arch, we started to set up camp. Just as we began to unpack, one of the men named Omar reappeared with three camels and invited us to join him for the evening. After a little discussion, Ben and I decided it was too unique of an opportunity to pass up. We said goodbye to our new American friend, climbed onto Omar’s camels, and took a bumpy ride across the desert. A mile or so later, we arrived at a nondescript jebel. In very elementary English, Omar told us we had arrived and led us through a narrow passageway to the middle of the mountain. There we found two other men and a whole camp replete with goats, dogs, chickens and camels.
We dropped our packs and Omar led us to the other side of the mountain where a small kinked hose seemed to be hanging from the jebels summit. It was explained, mostly through gestures, that water from the rainy season was trapped in the jebel, and the Bedouin knew the location of these secret pools where water was stored. We drank as much as we could and got the closest thing to a shower that we would have on the trail. When we returned to camp, we saw Omar’s tent-mates Muhammad & Abu Suleiman were preparing a feast of chicken, rice and mystery stew in a below-ground pit fire. After sharing the delicious meal over a fire and tea, sleeping mats were rolled out for us and we went to sleep in the open air, under an incredible canopy of stars.
Day Six: Rock Bridge of Kharaz to Humeima (11.8mi)
As we slept without tents, both Ben and I rose early to the morning light. To our surprise, our new friends were also awake and they appeared to be taking apart the camp. Omar brought us some bread, and explained they were moving another 2km. or so, to a new site. They had already released the camels and goats, fixed with bells so they would later be able to herd them back to the new, yet temporary home. He even showed us how they had tied the camels front legs together to shorten their stride and prevent them from going too far. After breakfast and another trip to the watering hole, Ben and I set out to New Humeima. We had strayed from our intended course, but to save time decided to beeline for the town, rather than backtrack to the trail recognized by our Garmin.
The unchartered course turned out to be no problem at all. Like the days before, deep sand taxed our bodies, but we made good time and felt fueled by the high of the day we had just enjoyed. Around lunch, we arrived in New Humeima. It was a small, roadside town that served as a refuelling station for travelers and truckers taking the long highway from Amman to Aqaba. We stopped for a long rest there and of course got some ice cream. As the afternoon heat passed, we pushed onwards and crossed an immensely flat and barren landscape in search of the Old Humeima ruins where we planned to camp.
After what felt like an eternity of walking, we spotted the ruins and did a little exploring. There wasn’t too much to see in terms of the ruins. All we found were some old aqueducts, wells and a couple of rubble piles that indicated former buildings. We would later learn, however, that the ruins were a very important archeological site for clues as to what life was like in the Nabatean, Abbasid and Umayyad periods. After perusing the ruins for 20 minutes or so, we noticed a truck approaching from a settlement not too far in the distance. Before long it pulled up to us, and two boys no older than 15 got out. They told us they were friends of Abu Sabuh, and would take us to to his homestay. We had been told Abu Sabuh was a supporter of the Jordan Trail, so we followed orders and climbed into the back of the truck. We were soon greeted by an old toothless man who spoke good English. He was friendly, but things got a little dicey when he tried to charge us $70JD for two people. It seemed extreme given the local exchange rate, but after showing him we only had $50JD left and needed some emergency funds, we settled on $40JD for the night. If he was frustrated by our inability to meet his fare, he didn’t show it, and we enjoyed a pleasant, traditional dinner. We also felt a little better about the value we received, as his wild stories of snake bites and kooky thru-hikers from around the world were worth at least a few dollars.
Day Seven: Humeima to Wadi Aheimar (16.3mi)
Setting off on the Jordan Trail, we had expected to come across serene desertscapes, and humbling ancient ruins. What we encountered on the road to Wadi Aheimar however, came as a great surprise. After a quick breakfast with Abu Sabuh and a water resupply, we were on the road again. In no time, we completed a short stretch along a rural road, and found ourselves descending into a narrow canyon, undetectable from our previous position above. Over the next couple hours, we wandering through an ever narrowing canyon. The slim gap above often coming within a foot or two of closing entirely.
The route was unlike anything I had ever hiked before. Ben likened the day to the Zion Narrows, but remarked that the lack of a crowd made Wadi Aheimar even better. Smooth sandstone walls lined an undulating, ribbon-like path worn away by centuries of flash floods. Even as afternoon approached, the narrow passageway kept us sheltered from the blistering sun above and treated us to a spectacular light show as the few rays that were able to pierce through the gap highlighted to orange, red and yellow hues of the worn rock. It was impossible to tell what was going on at sea level 150ft. above, but in our private canyon we were enjoying a spiritual calm.
As is always the case in nature, a sense of balance was restored to us by the end of our day. Perhaps due to the excessive load of water we were carrying, about 2/3 of the way into the day, the chest strap on my backpack burst and my waist buckle concurrently failed. This immediately concentrated the immense weight I was carrying onto my shoulders. After a failed attempt to rectify the issue, we high-tailed it through the rest of the day. Exhausted, sore, and short on expletives, we made it to camp just before dusk. I hardly ate dinner as I spent most of the evening working over my straps with my multi-tool, When my chest strap clicked into place after an hour of work, I screamed for joy and went to sleep with a renewed sense of anticipation for the next leg of the trail.
Day Eight: Wadi Aheimar to Wadi Gseib (9.7mi)
Despite our very best efforts to ration supplies, the 16 mile day prior put us in a tight spot water-wise. We commenced the day with a quick Snickers bar breakfast in order to avoid cooking oatmeal and hit the road. The day began along a riverbed before we skipped over a pristine, yet challenging sand dune. Around midday, the alarm bells really started to ring as we were each down to our last liter or so, and the temperature was steadily rising. Soon after we decided to push the Garmin SOS button if we reached camp without a refill, a Jeep was spotted on the horizon. We took off on a jog and found a couple of workers who had no water. Miraculously, as we tried to convey our concerns to the them in hopelessly broken Arabic, a lone Bedouin approached with his donkey. We turned our attention to him, and kindly, he offered to take us to some “maiy”.
After a detour of 20 minutes or so, we discovered a small camp where our guardian angel had a large cistern full of water. He patiently watched as we stuffed our packs and stomachs with as much as we could carry, then refused to take any payment for his services. Nevertheless, we showered him with as much gratitude as we could, before bidding our farewells and continuing on. The remainder of our day took us through a maze of white sandstone canyons. We had a tough little uphill section, but as it was concise and the adrenaline of the day was fueling us, we elected to push through the heat of the day and into camp. The highlight from the final leg was when we saw a large snake which fortunately did not look venomous, and fled immediately.
In camp it was still sunny, so we lounged beneath a couple of trees and read to pass the time. Before long a group of three Bedouins came by, and enthusiastically invited us to tea. This evolved into them showing us how to extract freshwater from the seemingly bone dry riverbed by digging down with pickaxes and shovels. We shared some good laughs all together, and soon after we were invited to dine with them by the leader of their hunting group, referred to only as “The President.” We watched with interest as they prepared a great feast of Bedouin bread (similar to naan), potatoes, and chicken, all cooked underground. Ben was even given the honor of finishing the bread by flinging the hot embers of the fire across the dough. It was another great meal and night of sleeping under the stars with unexpected guests.
Day Nine: Wadi Gseib to Wadi Al-Saif (7.7mi)
The hiking on day nine was scheduled to be short, so we took our time in the morning saying goodbye to our new friends and filling our water bottles from the muddy hole we had dug yesterday. We had learned the hard way that in the Middle Eastern desert, it is essential to be an opportunist when it comes to water. The trekking was similar to the day before. We navigated our way through some tight canyons, which proved to be a challenge given our GPS path was not the most precise at a micro-level. Fortunately, every time we thought we had finally gotten lost, one of us (usually Ben) would spot a delicate rock cairn that got us back on track. After climbing out of one of the canyons for what appeared to be the final time, we were treated with a view of the sandstone peaks all around us. It was remarkable how much the scenery differed from the open desert we had become familiar with pre-Humeima.
We stopped for a great afternoon lunch of Nutella tortillas before making the final push into Wadi Al-Saif. We ran into a couple hunting parties along the way, consisting of men with large rifles and their weary donkeys. It didn’t look like anyone was having much success. Our friends the night before had told us that they were in search of gazelles, but we hadn’t seen any from our time in the area. After an unexpectedly strenuous final push into Al-Saif, we were stunned to come over the last hill to see 8 or so green tents pitched in the site below. As we approached, we were greeted by a tour group consisting mostly of French Canadians. We planned to keep our distance from the scattered group, but just as we were settling for dinner, their Jordanian guide came to our site and compelled us to join them for dinner.
Originally, we politely declined. We explained that we did not want to crash their evening, or steal the meals that the Canadians had likely paid handsomely for. This excuse did not fly with the man in charge however, and after explaining that the Bedouin culture called for hospitality, community and the sharing of resources no matter how scarce, we gave in. For the second night in a row we had a feast and good company! I think it did both Ben and I a lot of good to socialize freely, in English, with people other than each other.
Day Ten: Wadi Al-Saif to Wadi Sabra (10.9mi)
Our 5:00am wake up call proved to be well worth it as we finished packing up just as the French Canadians were sitting for breakfast. We had another wonderful meal and afterwards spent an hour or so sitting and talking with the lead guide. After counseling us on what to expect from the next couple of days, he filled our water bottles and sent us on our way. The sun was up and the day’s hiking led us through and over some more spectacularly colorful canyons. The rock was distinctly layered, almost white in some areas and orange like the Wadi Aheimar narrows in others. Even better, some of the canyons were still a little wet, and the colors of the rock were accented by verdant green bushes and bright pink wildflowers.
Not too long after a long lunch break in which we, for the tenth day in a row, enjoyed Nutella and tahini tortillas, we left the canyons. They were replaced by a stretch of road walking in which we crossed over a series of desolate hills. Over the course of this section we encountered two cars, both of which stopped and offered us a ride. The drivers appeared confused by the concept of backpacking, but as we repeated “almushi” and mimed walking symbols to indicate our intent, they let us be. As we reached the top of the final roadside hill, a small town came into view. It was the first sign of civilization that we had received for a couple of days, but it disappeared as quickly as it came when we bent towards a dry riverbed and continued our journey.
Around 3pm, we reached our intended campsite near Gaa’ Mriebed. However, the GPS waymarked site was unimpressive and as we had both daylight and a long day scheduled we pushed on a little further. A few miles down the road there was a marking for the Wadi Sabra pools and dreaming of being able to bathe, we set that as our destination. Despite the gradual re-emergence of wildflowers and large bushes that stoked our expectations, our dreams of swimming were eventually dashed. In early May, the Wadi Sabra pools were small and bug infested. Still, they provided plenty to filter and allowed us to cook some of our more water intensive lentils and pasta for dinner.
Day Eleven: Wadi Sabra to Petra (11.7mi)
Expectations were high for our eleventh day on the trail, and the thought of reaching Petra lifted our spirits significantly. Wanting more time amongst the ruins, we left early and did not stop for a rest break until we reached what we thought was the site of an ancient amphitheater halfway to our destination. There was little to see other than what looked like a couple of large rectangular, and human-cut stones, so we we made the stop quick. No more than 5 min. beyond where we originally stopped, however, we came upon the actual amphitheater. It was stunning, set directly in the massive cliffside and remarkably well preserved. We dropped our packs and immediately started exploring. After walking around a bit and taking in the same view the ancients enjoyed, we stumbled upon a placard that indicated the amphitheater was Roman and built in the 6th century as an event space that could hold up to 800 people.
Energized by our find, we continued on to Petra at a rapid pace. We powered through a grueling hill in the midst of the morning heat, and at the top, the modern city of Petra came into view on a distant hillside. We knew we were closing in, but still, despite the unobstructed view, we could see nothing of what was to come. We soldiered on across some open plains and over time grew to understand the wonder’s “Lost City” moniker. Finally, after another hour or so of walking, we noticed a small hole in a large cliff that resembled a doorway. Naively, we mistook the simple structure for the waymarked “Snake Monument”, and took off directly for it. When we arrived, we found the structure to be filled with goats and unheralded by any historical markers so we used the cave as a shady lunch spot and place to gather our bearings. Around 15min. into our lunch a truck appeared out of nowhere, and some park rangers got out to greet us. They were very friendly and just wanted to check in as they had spotted us entering the monument from behind. After flashing our permits, they explained to us the best way to proceed and took off. We finished our lunch and then continued as we had been instructed to.
As we edged closer to the park, we started to notice more and more hill carvings that signalled the nearby city. To our surprise, it appeared a large community of Bedouins were still living just outside the main park boundary, having repurposed a number of the less spectacular tombs, caves, and facades as homes. We admired these unique dwellings until, seemingly out of nowhere, Petra revealed itself. After rounding a corner, we were suddenly faced with a series of sandstone cliffs blanketed in remains of the ancient city. Following our Garmin, we weaved our way into the thick of the park by climbing up to the High Place of Sacrifice where we could truly marvel in the sheer size of Petra. We were anxious to explore further, but given the steep climb, high heat, and weight of our packs, we elected to get some rest and save the exploring for our next day. Still, the walk to the city was marvelous, taking us past the grand Treasury and through the famous Siq, a narrow 2km. road that led the ancient Nabatean caravans through thick sandstone walls and into the heart of Petra.
While downing some cold drinks and ice cream at a local convenience store, the shop’s proprietor asked us if we needed a place to stay. We said we were interested, and he called down a man who said that he could offer us board for 15JD a night. Ben stalled while I price checked a couple more legitimate establishments, but after finding nothing cheaper than 120JD we accepted. The man led us to what turned out to be 3 room private hostel. The accommodations were modest, but we couldn’t have cared less. They had a functional shower and after eleven days in the dust and dirt, that was all that mattered.
Day Twelve: Petra
Taking an extra day to explore Petra is a must for any thru-hikers taking part in the Jordan Trail. Though the GPS route does a great job of planning a relatively comprehensive path through the monument, I would recommend setting aside AT LEAST one full day in order to properly soak in the magnitude of the ancient site.
There are a myriad of great resources for learning about Petra, so for brevity’s sake I won’t go into detail about our time there. Perhaps I will save the pages I assure you I could write for a future post, but I will at least share some photos and two pieces of wisdom that I would want all visitors to have in mind:
- Visit the Petra Museum: Just steps from the entrance to the park, the Petra Museum is a remarkably well executed exhibit that succinctly conveys the rich history of the city from the Edomite era through to that of the Byzantines. If possible, view the museum before touring the park, as it really sets the stage for what you are about to see.
- Come early, stay late: As one of the seven wonders of the world, Petra is by far the most popular attraction in Jordan and probably the whole Middle East for that matter. Getting an early start or a late finish helps you not only avoid bustling crowds, but also see the monument in a new light. The park managers are also relatively lenient around closing time if you are respectful and don’t appear suspicious. By stopping for an evening tea at a small hut overlooking the Treasury, I managed to enjoy a leisurely exit through the Siq in almost complete solitude.
Day Thirteen: Petra to Little Petra (7.8mi)
I cannot say that on Day 13 we were happy to be leaving Petra, but we understood the necessity and were looking forward to what was in store the rest of our journey. Thus, we rose early and entered the park for the third and final time. The GPS had us exiting the park via a new route that took us through a nice canyon just off of the Siq. The path turned out to be a bust however, since no more than a hundred meters from where we were supposed to exit, we encountered an insurmountable rock wall. Slightly discouraged, we backtracked and took the standard way to the Monastery, through the Siq and across the Colonnaded Street.
Though delayed by our earlier mishap, we still couldn’t resist the chance to spend a little more time in the presence of the Monastery so we stopped for a long drink of tea before exiting the park from behind. This new leg of the journey wrapped us along a narrow mountain pass and spit us out back in the rolling desert foothills. Just like that, all signs of the historic site and bustling tourist attraction disappeared. Ben and I continued on for a couple uneventful miles before pausing for a long lunch break at an early Edomite excavation site. Here we found piles of stone formed into makeshift huts that a sign indicated were from 6000-8000 BC and indicative of man’s first attempt at a village lifestyle. In no hurry, we poked around before continuing on to Little Petra.
Upon arrival at the entrance of the park, we had our first and only unpleasant experience with locals. A couple men claiming to be affiliated with the park, tried to convey to us that we should stay with them in an Abu Sabuh-style homestead. We were interested, but really didn’t have the money they were hoping for. When we politely declined, one of them became upset and tried to intimidate us with threats we may be arrested for camping inside the park despite our insistence that our site was beyond the boundary. After a little back and forth, we decided to grab our things and hurry through the monument. The park proved to be a worthy stop with ornate Nabatean tombs and facades, but we were admittedly de-sensitized from our time in ‘Big Petra’. After a quick hike at a brisk pace, we exited the site via a demanding set of stairs and arrived at a gorgeous hilltop campsite.
The remainder of the night was pleasant. We had a natural fire and watched a breathtaking sunset that seemed to paint the sandstone hills in gold. The mood was slightly disrupted however, when Ben went to move a rock for the fire that broke in half and revealed a monstrous yellow scorpion beneath. It was safe to say that we slept with our boots inside our tents this night, and that turned out to be a prudent move. A week later, when consulting a hotel copy of Lonely Planet, we learned that we had encountered the particularly dangerous Deathstalker scorpion, and that they were common in the Little Petra area.
Day Fourteen: Little Petra to Ras Al-Feid (14.3mi)
A longer day on the trail got off to glorious start as we hiked a scenic ridge down to a pretty well constructed dirt road. For the first time, we spent a majority of the day working with established trails. This made the walking smooth and fast, even with close to a full load of water. The climate was also shifting, despite another day of intense sun the air felt cooler and the landscape was getting greener. We even passed a couple commercial reservoirs that gave us hope our water supply would be less of a concern over the last stretch of trail. Soon after we left the road, we were surprised to encounter a couple Americans and their guides hiking the opposite direction from Dana to Petra. It turned out that this was a much more popular section of the trail, as we would encounter a couple more trekkers over the next couple of days.
We stopped for lunch at an idyllic spot and as we had been making great progress, spent much of the day there. We held a vantage point that allowed us to see out of the mountains and down to the flat desert stretching for miles below. Far in the distance we could make out a couple of small Israeli settlements just across the border. Post-lunch, we took advantage of the cooler weather and spent a little time reading and trying to even out our incurable farmer’s tans. When we continued we were in good spirits and enjoyed great conversation as we comfortable traversed a series of ridges.
By Day 14 of our journey we had become well aware that luck never lasts too long on the Jordan Trail and that manifested itself again over the last 1.5 miles of our journey to Ras Al-Feid. The waymarked campsite turned out to be well off the beaten path, and to get there we had to make an onerous descent down a steep hillside and then an equally challenging ascent to the top of a large hill. The only positive of the taxing, 1.5 hour detour was that we stumbled upon a small water source along the way, though even that was cloudy and filled with larvae. Once situated, we found the hilltop to be incredibly windy. Even with some solid stones to anchor my pitch, I had some apprehensions about leaving my tent should it decide to take flight. Nevertheless, our stakes proved secure and the exertion of the evening made it sleep possible despite the racket from the wind pounding at our tents.
Day Fifteen: Ras Al-Feid to Wadi Malaga (8.5mi)
What we imagined to be a shorter, easier day on the trail in the end turned out to be quite a challenge. The day started with the reverse of what we had ended the previous evening with, a long backtrack to the main road with a layover at the secluded larvae pool we had discovered at the base of a stunted, gnarled tree. As mentioned previously, the water was quite off-putting, but we were running low and at this point knew much better than to pass up an opportunity to refill our HydraPaks. The refill put quite a strain on our filters, which were filthy, and altogether the process of straining and sterilizing the quantity we would need to get us through to Dana took just under 2 hours. By the time we were finished and back on the trail the sun was up and much hotter than it had been the day prior.
The real trekking for the day began in a canyon that soon turned quite lush and was fed by a small stream and series of pools. In hindsight, we wished we had gathered water from this idyllic spot, but never once did we regret our conservative approach. Too many times we had been let down by waymarked water sources that were dry or too difficult to locate. Reluctantly, after a short time in this oasis we were directed straight up a hill and out of the canyon. In such a tight spot, the GPS was very unclear regarding the best path out so the result was a free scamper up the hill. This proved difficult as the rabble was very loose, and larger rocks were frequently breaking away. Eventually, we reached the saddle, but not after overcoming a couple falls each.
Frustration persisted as we reached the the ridgeline and found ourselves facing a steep, long descent down the same tenuous rockfield on the other side. Our knees and ankles were certainly tested, and I was fortunately to come out uninjured from a decent forward fall that crunched my right elbow and wrist pretty good. When we finally reached the bottom, we were disappointed to find a slow, uneven walk the rest of the way to camp. By the time we arrived at our destination the sun was approaching the horizon. As we hastily unpacked, we were greeted by a German fellow who was coming from Dana and asked to pitch by us. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. We greatly appreciated the company after a hard day, and he was in need of the coordinates for water sources. It was fortunate that he ran into us, as he did not seem fully prepared for what was in store.
Day Sixteen: Wadi Malaga to Dana (14.6mi)
The final long push to Dana got off to a fast and early start as we wanted to make sure we made our 6:00pm pickup with plenty of time to spare. I had struggled with the campstove the night before as well, and after having fallen asleep with a half portion of exceptionally crunchy rice in my belly I was greatly looking forward to a proper meal. By 5:30am, we were loaded up and walking, just as the sun peeked over the eastern mountains to cast a soft blue glow across the rocky plains. We made quick work of the morning stretch as we found the ground leaving Wadi Malaga to be much more stable than it was coming in.
By midday, we had already passed the Edomite ruins and the posh Feynan Ecolodge, a popular respite for weary Jordan Trail travelers. Eventually, we bent our way back towards the hills and found ourselves at the base of a long, narrow canyon that was the last thing standing between us and our finish line, the old city of Dana 2.5 miles away. Even from this distance however, we could see a massive set of switchbacks at the end of the gorge, so we decided to take a break to recuperate before this final test.
After an hour or so of lounging in the shade and drinking what water we had left, we set off determined to cap off our adventure. In an hour we had reached the switchbacks and were tantalizingly close. It was a soul-crushing vertical climb, but after 30min. or so of numbly putting one foot in front of the other, we reached the top! The town was quiet as it was the first week of Ramadan and all the locals were fasting, but fortunately there was a hotel nearby and a couple of employees welcomed us with open arms. They made for good company as we recounted our journey with them until our ride showed up. Generously, they opened a nearby convenience store just for us so that we could get a bite to eat despite the local restrictions and best of all, we got a camel’s bath as they sprayed us each down with a loose garden hose. It was a unceremonious, yet memorable conclusion to an incredibly challenging but rewarding trek.