Hiking Wadi Assal, Mistakes and Lessons Learned

Friday 2nd  of September, 2016
“15 km/ 10 hours, one way moderate route, near Karak; a narrow sandstone gorge with luxuriant vegetation and six falls, demanding abseiling skills.” Itai Haviv
Covered approx 19 – 20 km two ways in 10 hours.
Not an easy hike.
My third canyon in Jordan/ The Middle East after Mukheiras and Hidan.
Scrambling Skills Needed.

I arrived at Ghor Assal in the Jordan Rift Valley around 8:15 am. All I could see ahead of me were dry mountains and a dry path; a very usual scene in Jordan prompting a by passer to mistakenly think that there is nothing ahead. Behind me was the last portion of the Dead Sea divided into salt ponds, still providing a beautiful scene of glistering water and salt in the sun.
Where does the water come from, I do not know yet, but I do know where it goes and it’s not to the Dead Sea. From what I understood, the waters of this canyon are sold to the Potash or Bromine companies operating in the Dead Sea to clean their machines from salt, and to the local villages nearby. So nothing arrives to the Dead Sea to replenish it, which is very sad in my opinion as we only have one Dead Sea in the entire world and it’s drying up.
I walked a good hour before the vegetation and the stream picked up and from that point most of the trekking was done in water. A good solid pair of shoes will do miracles here as they minimize chances of slippery. Lately, I invested in a La Sportiva Gor- Tex Ortholite Mountain Hiking pair. This line of shoes uses a breathable Nano-Cells structure of the uppers which works in synergy with the innovative and exclusive GORE-TEX® SURROUND.
As I said, Mountain shoes but I wanted to try them in canyons. They were really cool in the stream and no water got in until it became too deep, even then, they didn’t become heavy and my feet were firm on the ground. They did feel like a sponge soaked with water but no water was retained.
The hike was not easy and a good trekking pole would have come in handy here since it gives support and you can use to estimate how deep the water is before stepping in. I didn’t have one so I ended up using a bamboo dried up stick as an alternative and there were plenty on the way. The stick was a burden at times; I didn’t know what to do with it when I was scrambling on rocks so I threw it away but when I hit the streams again, I regretted the decision and started to look for a new one which posed a Dilemma; to keep or not to keep the stick 🙂
Hiking in the stream among the bamboos was problematic for me. They were high and much entangled. To move forward, I needed to clear a path with my hands while paying attention to the ground. The leaves of the green ones cut through my skin cuz I was wearing short sleeves, Never Again, and the dried ones gave me a good jab in the arm. The ones on the ground clutched my feet like the thinning arms of an old witch reminding me every minute that if I am not careful enough, I will end up flat on my face. Adding to all that was an internal voice of worry and fear reminding me to be careful not to step on a cute crab, a cute frog, or god forbids a snake. The water was murky and algae were everywhere; you can imagine.
My shades were another issue! Most people think a good pair of hiking sunglasses is good here, but I felt that they dimmed the scene and I needed to look at the ground and ahead of me carefully. I regretted not bringing my Clear Safety Eyewear I bought from a construction hardware store. They provide a full eye protection and no shade and at that point, it was exactly what I needed.
The hike outside the water was not easy either. You literally step on gravel. The gravels do not provide solid ground for your foot and your feet feel like sinking which is strenuous for the legs and knees.
Then you have the rocks. I could see signs of recent rock avalanches throughout the trail suggesting that any kind of rappelling here is a grave mistake so beware hikers!
Scrambling was a must for me ascending the canyon, I think it’s either because I am short, not flexible enough, overweight or tired that I did a lot of it. I HAVE SEEN some guys jumping from one rock to another like mountain goats 😦 Anyway, I ended up with a bruised knee. I also relied on scrambling while descending the canyon, but the other way around; more of a sliding on my behind with the help of my hands. I suppose hiking in grace is yet to come for me.
Now alternating between streams, rocks, and gravel paths while scrambling, crawling, sliding, whatever you call it, is something! But wait until you hit the real falls after long hours of the above, now this is where strength and endurance are needed, but mainly some bad ass abseiling skills.
Three guys and I were the first to reach the fourth fall of six. It was 4.15 m created by a huge boulder. As the guys started climbing and securing the rope, I thought to myself now here is the difference between amateurs and professionals. In the face of a heavy incoming flow of water, they managed to climb up with no equipments and secure a rope for the rest of us.
I watched as one of the hikers struggled with the rope and the strong incoming current and decided this was too advanced for me. With no rope around my waist to secure me, I was certain a fall will do major damage so that was the end for me. I managed, however, with the guidance of the trip leader to climb to the highest point of this fall using my hands and legs only, no rope at all, and to sit in a small enclave as the water came down pouring on me. That moment was my greatest accomplishment in this hike. Next time, I will come equipped with better climbing skills and cross this fall.
The group made a decision to head back and the descent began. You might imagine that it’s easier going down since you’re not walking against water but it’s not. I needed the same level of attention and effort on the way down as the way up, adding to all this are the increased chances of slipping on algae covered rocks.
We made a stop to have lunch, a typical Jordanian dish Qalaya; tomatoes with onion, garlic and chili pepper. I had Qalaya many times before, but that one was over peppered. One bite reminded me of a Vietnamese dish I tried before and I felt my throat immediately locked so I stopped. Instead I had a cucumber, a piece of bread and sucked on a lemon as I watched others sweating, with eyes turning the color of the dish they were eating.
On the way back and around the last hour of the hike my water finished. I managed to survive so far on 2 liters of water, one bottle of Shaneneh “a Jordanian Yoghurt drink”, and a cup of tea. A bad judgement call since the suggested amount is 3 liters each fall. I didn’t try to drink from the stream as I have heard horrors about water in Jordan and I didn’t bring a filter or purification tablets. One of the hikers gave me some water and all was well.
I finished the hike around 6 pm and managed to enjoy sunset over the Dead Sea gratified, satisfied, and humbled by Mother Nature. With every part of my body hurting, even my uterus pulled a muscle, I headed back to Amman with a list in my mind to make hiking this canyon a more pleasurable experience that I want to share with you.
  • But before, here is a list of what I packed for this hike:
2 liters of cold water · Sunglasses · Hat · Buff · Gloves · Headlights · A knife · A compass · A camera · Rope · First Aid Kit · Pepper Spray · Whistle · Torch · Fruit · Energy bars · Tissues · Sanitizer · A sandwich · An insulating cover just in case · Energy powder to dissolve in water as needed · Extra pair of tights. · Light Jacket · Lighter · Some money and an ID · Sunscreen ·
  • What I also needed and did not have for this adventure:
Extra water; I was jaded by the weight. · Synthetic long sleeves shirt · More Fruits and vegetables. · Wet wipes come in handy for everything. · Insect repellents; there are plenty of relentless flies in the Jordan valley and they sting too 😦 · Trekking Poles · Clear glasses. · Waterproof bag or cover · Waterproof clear bag for the camera and cellphone or you will have no pictures in crucial moments. A water proof camera is an amazing option. · GPS devise would be great. · Water filter just in case. · Abseiling equipments and skills. · Helmet
What I wore for this hike:
  • A long pair of Regatta outdoor pants that can turn to shorts; the zippers, however, malfunctioned on me, couldn’t climb well as they hindered the movement of my knees, they were good in water, dried fast and the extra pockets were really useful.
  • My gym T. shirt,
  • 5.11 Tactical gloves.
  • BlackHawk Hydrastorm Tsunami Backpack
  • La Sportiva Gor Tex Shoes
It is always wise to inform local police or someone about your plan and location. Keep in mind that you lose signal in the canyons so you can’t communicate with the outside world by phone. It is also very wise to finish hiking during day time.
 wadi Assal Video
Samar M. Salma

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