Rushing water pushed me off the rocks for the third time, so I finally accepted a hand up the short waterfall. We were a couple of miles up Wadi Ghwayr in Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Preserve. Wadi refers to a valley, stream or channel that is dry except during the rainy season. In this case, it was a slot canyon. While parts of our upstream trek looked similar to Southern Utah, the multi-colored walls, teal water, and palm trees reminded me I was far from home…
Wadi Ghwayr was the first of two canyons we explored while visiting the Kingdom of Jordan. Just a few days later, we swam/hiked our way up Wadi Mujib near the Dead Sea. The second canyon was shorter, but required negotiating far more water. I’ll share that wet day shortly.
First a little background. I visited the Jordan with nine other athletes dubbed the #OmniTen. Twice a year Columbia Sportswear chooses 10 outdoor recreation media influencers for the program. After competing against current and previous #OmniTen members in Park City, Utah, our team was selected to travel to Jordan. While there, our adventures were filmed by a badass team of videographers and photographers for a documentary being produced by Columbia Sportswear and the Kingdom of Jordan.
Oh one more thing, our itinerary was kept secret. Each day we headed out only knowing what to wear and pack. My inner preparedness freak had a tough time accepting this twist, but I accepted that it was probably a good exercise in trust.
Hiking Wadi Ghwayr
The morning of our hike up Wadi Ghwayr began at Fenyan Eco Lodge located deep in the Dana Biosphere Reserve. We were told to plan on getting wet and to slather on sunscreen. With that, we followed a Bedouin guide out the heavy wooden doors into the desert.
Our guide had a ready smile and a peaceful demeanor. A few minutes into the hike, he pointed out a small compound of tents explaining that was his family home. I gathered his life was uncomplicated, but not easy.
Entering the canyon, we passed a herd of goats, another reminder we were far from home. By the way, goats don’t like flying GoPro drones (you never know when that information may come in handy). The walls grew taller and pushed closer to the riverbank, soon we were wading. Scrambling up rocks with water pushing against our legs was refreshing and fun. After a couple of hours we paused for a tea break. Bedouin tea had become the staple of every meal or snack and I wasn’t complaining, it’s spicy, sweet and delicious! We stopped for another tea and fresh baked bread break a few hours later, true pampering.
One of the most spectacular features were the multi-colored, striped walls. I’ve never seen such dramatic variations in stone. We later encountered the same patterns inside the carved sandstone temples of Petra.
The 15km trek upstream took most of the day and the shadows were long by the time we reached our ride at the top of the canyon. Cold and wet, we piled into a van outfitted with party lights and a driver whom I’m convinced was a bullfighter in a past life. As per normal procedure, we had no idea where we were going until we arrived at Rummana Camp, where we settled in for dinner. After our meal, we lounged on colorful cushions and rugs in a Bedouin tent while drinking yet more tea. It was dark so we couldn’t see our surroundings…which provided one of the most spectacular surprises of the trip when we stepped out of our tents in the morning. You’ll have to wait for my camping post to find out why. Sorry!
Wading Wadi Mujib
Several days later, we explored Wadi Mujib, east of the Dead Sea. This time we spent more time swimming than walking. In places, the current was so strong we had to pull ourselves along on pre-rigged ropes. While short, the challenge of scrambling up the short waterfalls was more demanding but it was a blast! A waterfall marked the end of our swim/hike. Returning downstream, we could relax and float the deep sections.
Before arriving in Jordan, I had no idea they had such an extensive network of scenic canyons to play in, but that was only one of many surprises the Kingdom had in store for us…stay tuned.
Choosing Clothes for Wet Canyoneering
Wet canyoneering can become seriously uncomfortable without the right clothes. I’ve tested different solutions both in Utah and while in Jordan. If the temperature are cool, a wet or dry suit becomes a necessity. Ask local guides for advice and about potential rentals. Here are a few tips on choosing the right clothes followed by specifics on what I wear:
Choose fabric wisely: Quick drying synthetics are critical, I’d even choose them over wool (I’ve tested both). This includes underwear….no cotton!
Long or short: This really depends on the canyon. In a non-technical canyon, where I won’t be chimneying, sliding or rappelling, I choose based on temperature. In a technical canyon, opt for heavy long-sleeves and pants. If it’s technical and dry, I’ll buy used jeans and sweatshirts from Goodwill and then cover the elbows, knees, and butt in duct-tape.
Shoes: Your feet need protection, but they might get wet. In a dry canyon, wear hiking shoes with a grippy sole. Wet canyons are more complicated, and the wrong shoes and tear up your feet. I wear a draining trail shoe designed for water-play paired with synthetic or wool socks. Some people skip the socks, but I’ve found that frequently leads to blisters.
Layers: I pack a light windbreaker at minimum to put on whenever I stop for a break. Wading in a wet canyon lowers your body temperature quickly, even on a hot summer day, trust me on this.
The purpose of our trip was to test gear, so nearly all of my gear was their brand. That said, I wear it at home too because it really performs.
Shoes – The Drainmaker II is an amazing shoe that I highly recommend. They protect my feet but drain and dry fast, perfect for wet canyons.
Underwear – Any of the Ex Officio fast drying models. I wear the Give-N-Go Brief.
Backpack – I used the Woman’s Vixen in the first hike and skipped carrying a pack on the second one because it was so wet. A dry-bag with shoulder straps is the ideal solution in a wet canyon.