A group of young climbers as part of the Rock Adventure Programme (RAP) from the French Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing (FFME) came back from Jordan in Winter 2020 with the impressive achievement of establishing a new multi-pitch route in the Wadi Rum massif. Here are the accounts and interviews with the young ex-competition climbers looking to make the transition from hard sport and indoor climbing to bigger, wilder challenges, as well as the talented coaches, Arnaud Petit and Jonathan Crison, who guided them along the way.
Aged between 20 and 24, these former or current male and female climbing competitors can boast redpointing and onsighting routes of at least 8b+. However, climbing is not all about competitions and indoor gyms. This is why the FFME started the RAP with the idea of widening the horizons of motivated young climbers.
A similar expedition happened in 2017-18, when another team of climbers went to Madagascar to climb on the walls of Tsaranoro. Two years of training lead to the establishment of a multi-pitch route with 7c+ max on the Tsaranoro Atsimo. This was a great team success for the six young climbers who started at the bottom of a cliff with little certainty of establishing a route and came out on the other side. In 2019, a new team was picked to go to Jordan in February with the goal of establishing, if possible, a new multi-pitch route on the Jebel Rum.
Taken under the wing of guides Jonathan Crison and Arnaud Petit, with support from Gaël Bouquet, guide and cameraman, the team embarked on a big-wall project in Jordan. Although the east face of Jebel Rum is a 20 minute journey from the village, the impressive sight can be seen with its huge, seemingly smooth, orange and black walls.
The Jebel Rum is a real big wall that mixes the challenge of venturing into the unknown with a quality of sandstone that is great in most parts, but also chossy in others. The objective was to equip the route so that sections could be reached where it was impossible to place gear and this posed a real challenge, with each pitch having its particular difficulties.
The goal is to give young climbers skills in all disciplines of climbing, not just in bouldering or sport. Jonathan Crison.
With a ton of experience and many multi-pitch routes established, Arnaud Petit understood that the wall had potential, but there was still a lot to do. And especially a lot to learn: starting at the bottom with a drill attached to your harness, hauling up bags and camping on the wall. Jonathan Crison, coach and team trainer, told us about the objective of the training programme: “The goal is to give young climbers skills in all disciplines of climbing, not just in bouldering or sport. We therefore focused on what they didn’t know how to do alone, this being multi-pitch climbing, and/or equipping the route, which are quite different skills”.
Jonathan specifies that there are two sides to opening these routes. This consists of re-bolting the crag, like in the previous training course, and training the young climbers how to establish new routes themselves. “As well as being a great experience for them, it also teaches them how to be artists in the world of climbing“. This is why the team went on a re-bolting course in the Pyrenees, on the Arguibelle cliff. With this experience – in the service of the community – the RAP team could pack their bags for Wadi Rum… and take on this old project envisioned by Arnaud Petit.
“It’s the face that looks out over the village. There are other routes, but none of them are right in the middle. It’s quite a scary route”, explained Jonathan. “It took us around 11 days to clean and equip the whole route, which is 450m [1476ft]”. Each day, one climber and one or two coaches would climb a new pitch, while the other climbers would do the classic routes and rest. This is because opening routes on Wadi Rum’s sandstone is earned and the overhanging parts of the route were totally unknown.
How does a guide and coach manage a group of young climbers in such a scenario? “Of course, there are times when we loosen the reins, but you mustn’t go over the top and you need to find the right balance between getting frightened and successfully opening and completing a pitch”. Ideally? “All the pitches were opened without the need to pull on the quickdraws. The routes were also well equipped so that future climbers could enjoy the challenge”. There’s always been the idea of sharing and passing on, including outside of climbing, as we saw with the unforgettable bivouac on the eight anchor. “It was a fantastic memory, and not one we were expecting, as we camped on a ledge that couldn’t be seen from the ground”, said Jonathan.
It was good team work. You needed to be aware of the risks and manage fatigue day after day. Éline Le Ménestrel.
What do the young climbers, who finance a third of the trip by themselves, have to say about it ? For Éline Le Ménestrel, it was an amazing experience. “We’re a very close knit, unified team. But it’s the first time that I was aware of such crucial risk management”, Eline told us, whose experience on rock includes the Nose on El Capitan climbed in 2018. “If you make a mistake, if you let rocks fall on your friends below, or if you put in a poor bolt, it has repercussions for the whole team. Therefore, everyone has to give it their all. Be careful, be aware of the risks and manage fatigue…”
What were the highlights ? “When I went to open the third pitch, on slab, without really knowing where to go and knowing this was one of the main pitches of the route at 7c+”. But the most memorable moment for Eline was “getting through pitch 8 just like we had imagined. We saw two large holes that we had planned to climb through when checking out the rock face from the ground. I found myself on this bridge of rock, taken aback by where I was, and it was the same part that we had planned to go through from the village. It was amazing !”