Jordan Trail Dana to Petra solo hike

It is 3h00 when my alarm goes off in my hotel in Amman. I must have gone over it in my had more than a thousand times. The last couple of weeks, I could not stop thinking about this day: the start of my hike of the Jordan Trail. I checked and double checked my packing list. I made a list of Arabic words to use. I made a day planning and even a special water planning as the trail is remote and often without water. I know what to do in case of a snake bite and how to prevent it. I made a food plan. I collected tips from other hikers. Prepared for the weather. Have a backup for the backup for my GPS. I transferred the gear I did not need to my hotel in Aqaba. I even paid a last-minute visit to the Jordan Trail Association in Amman. But my Jordan Trail adventure was about to be a new lesson in humbleness, in letting go and that -as the cliche goes- life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. So, this is the story of my Jordan Trail Dana to Petra solo hike. 

As you will reading this post I will take you through the highs and lows of my Jordan Trail experience. I can in all honesty say, that the Jordan Trail is one of the most beautiful trails I have ever done (perhaps even better than Kumano Kodo and certainly in a tie with the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trails). The views are amazing, the remoteness and calmness of the environment is fantastic. If you are planning to do the Jordan Trail or part of the Jordan Trail (also read my more technical post on my learnings) – you will not regret it, just make sure you are well prepared.

I made a separate post on the more technical aspects of my hike (my planning, what went well, what went wrong, my key learnings). The post below reads more like a travel diary of my Dana to Jordan hike.

For readability purposes, I have chopped the post up in different parts:

Day 0 of my Jordan Trail Dana to Petra solo hike: A change of plans

As soon as my alarm goes at 3h00, I know something is not right. My bowels make noises, movements and give signals that are not comforting – especially when you know you will be on a remote trail for the next week. I have an hour until the driver will arrive that will take me from my hotel in Amman to the small town of Dana, where the start of my hike will be, but I will be spending more than half of that time on the toilet.

In between toilet breaks I try to eat something, but even the thought of eating vegetables or the pasta I prepared makes my stomach and bowels turn back into action. I force-feed myself at least some vegetables (150 calories, waaaaay not enough to compensate for the approximately 4000 calories I am going to burn today), pretty much like a parent force-feeds kids their veggies.

This is the moment I realize that achieving my ambitious goal of completing the Southern section of the Jordan Trail, from Dana, via Petra and Wadi Rum to the Red Sea will be very very very difficult (I wrote a separate post on the more technical learnings of my failed thru hike of the Southern section). I decide to adopt the pragmatic approach – I’ll take it as it goes. I have all the maps on my GPS devices (both my Garmin 64s and InReach Mini), my phone and have my printed and annotated maps. Let’s see how things will work out (omakase – I guess?!).

Day 1 of my Jordan Trail Dana to Petra solo hike: Dana to Jabal Feid

It is about 6h30 in the morning when we arrive in Dana. The highway itself is an experience: from leaving the bustling city of Amman with some amazing new architecture, we have gone onto a highway that seems continuously under construction. For countless times, we have passed through villages where we were forced to slow down because of the bumps in the road. The last few kilometers are dirt roads

I say a last goodbye to Mohammed, my driver and I’m off on my own.

Well … almost.

Like the whole morning the first stop is finding a hidden corner just outside the village that is slowly waking up to have one last toilet break before heading into Dana valley. The beautiful Dana valley because … wow … just wow. It is the first of many breathtaking memorable moments on the Jordan Trail.

Leaving Dana - view over the canyon as start of my Jordan Trail adventure
Leaving Dana – view over the canyon as start of my Jordan Trail adventure

The wake-up call

Occasionally stopping quickly to enjoy the surroundings, the morning is -above all- one big wake-up call.

The sun. Although it is early November (almost winter) and the kids on the streets in Amman the previous day had been seriously worried that that quirky white foreigner that was walking the street must have been freezing (I was wearing a t-shirt as it was a pleasant 17 degrees Celsius, while they were wearing a coat or a sweater) – from about 8h30 in the morning, I feel the sun burning on my skin. I am lucky that I am walking in a valley and that the hills/mountains offer some shade, but before 9h00, I have a thick layer of my factor 50 sun block sunscreen protecting my silky smooth skin against the many evils of the sun. The weather in Jordan can be brutal (little did I know then, it would get even worse).

Jordan Trail - the blazing sun at 08h30 in the morning.
Jordan Trail – the blazing sun at 08h30 in the morning.

My gear. From the first moment on, I struggle with the 26 kilos of material on my back. I ran over my packing list for the Jordan Trail over and over and over again. I checked it at home. Ten times. Twenty times. I check it in my hotel in Amman. At least another 5 times. But my new backpack just doesn’t feel right – it is heavy, bulky. I start to doubt – did I bring too much? What if … Should I … Wouldn’t I … I finally settle it must be the illness (and as I later the next day found out, during the transport that morning, two straps loosened up – after that it was waaay waay better).

The trail. The trail is tougher that I thought. A lot of rocks are on the trail, making sure you have to watch every step. The Jordan Trail is also more of a set of GPS coordinates than it is a trail – often times I will be checking and rechecking my GPS just to make sure I am on the right track. There are occasional cairns marking the trail, but it is often hard to decide if they are cairns for the Jordan Trail, meant for the Jordan Trail bust just placed in a strange spot, meant for another trail or are just mere pieces of art or evil-doings from a sinister group of hiker-haters who want to confuse hikers like me (I still haven’t figured it out).

My pace. I am quite used to covering 40-50km days with a 4,5-6km per hour pace. I have done and proven it it at the Nijmegen Four Days Marches, at the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trails, at the Kumano Kodo. But the Jordan Trail is different. I struggle to get in 3,5-4 km per hour. The terrain, constantly checking my GPS, my struggle with my gear and my illness are killing my pace. Another sign that it will be very very difficult to stick with my day planning. I will have to re-calibrate my ideas.

The landscape. It is surreal. The Jordan Trail is a mix between living in a movie set, that part of every zoo where they mimic the desert, every Western movie, the The Martian movie (which was filmed at Wadi Rum actually), the backgrounds in Mac OS and your Windows computer, the Karl May books I used to read as a kid and some messed up dream where you wake up next to a camel (more on that later). In other words: the landscape is amazing.

And, finally, my stomach and bowels. I’m just not well. I struggle to eat, need to go to the toilet way to much and start to feel weak. This. Is. Not. Good.

My first Bedouin encounter

Bedouin friends at the Jordan Trail
Bedouin friends at the Jordan Trail

I struggle through the morning and when it’s around lunch time and I arrive at Wadi Malaga, one of the designated Wild Camp spots along the Jordan Trail and around 23,5 kilometer in, I decide to take a long break. I ask the Bedouin women who are near the camp with their goats and camels if it is ok that I camp out in the shade for a while (well, this, sounds more smooth than it actually is – by means of gestures, some Arabic words I learned and showing pieces of gear I explain my plans). I take out my inflatable sleeping pad and try to get some rest. I wake up from a noise – about 3 meters from my head, a camel is trying to doing the same (without the sleeping pad obviously).

When the men – two adults and a teenager – arrive back at the camp with supplies about an hour later, I get invited by them for tea. We sit down around a fire and try to make some small talk about the Jordan Trail, where I’m from, how many kids we have, etcetera. They ask me if I have good GPS (I have) and where the rest of my group is. I explain I’m a solo hiker and their frowns make painfully clear that they think I’m a complete idiot for hiking this trail solo. It is best -they say- to at least hike with two.

I am taking mental notes (I really like to travel on my own), but before I know it, the teenager comes in with a large bowl of home-made Mansaf (a traditional Arab dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt). All three men and the flies in the tent instantly dig in, while I am still wrapping my head around what to do with this situation. I had multiple toilet breaks this morning, still not feeling too well, my bowels sort of kind of returned to semi-normal … on the other hand, these guys are amazing – I really do not want to insult their hospitality. So I explain I already had food and actually show them the wrapper of the lunch meal I had – not making much of an impression.

So, trying to be polite I at least eat some spoons of Mansaf before signaling I really can not any more. And the Mansaf is off, to the other tent, where the women get our leftovers (although this is culture and normal procedure here – I still have a hard time thinking about it).

After tea and Mansaf, I miraculously feel somewhat better and decide to get in at least some more kilometers in. The Wild Camp spot of Jabal Feid is only 4 kilometers from Wadi Malaga and will bring me closer to the start of the infamous climb towards Ras Naqb Shdeid (more on that later).

I say goodbye to the Bedouin family, the camels and sheep and leave for Jabal Feid. The trail again is beautiful. Beautiful but tough. The terrain is littered with rocks and I’m crossing wadi after wadi, while trying to do the best I can in sticking to the trail.

Another amazing view

Camping at the end of day 1 on the Jordan Trail
Camping at the end of day 1 on the Jordan Trail

But the view at the end of the day makes up for everything that happened in the day before. I set up camp with a panoramic view over the whole valley and the sunset, no living soul in sight. Only when darkness falls, small lights pop up in the dark – proof there are others preparing dinner, reflecting on the day and preparing to get to sleep (also read on my evening routine).

Day 2 of my Jordan Trail Dana to Petra solo hike: Jabal Feid to Qutla Ruins (sort of)

My alarm is set on 5h15. Civil twilight starts at around 5h30 and from that moment on it is light enough to hike. I try to eat some nut bars to at least have some calories in for the rest of the day. I pack and by 6h00, I am back on the trail (also, read on my normal morning routine).

First challenge is the infamous Ras Naqb Shdeid climb several hikers warned me about. One hiker had warned me that the climb was tougher than the Fimmvörðuháls climb and somewhat more than a week earlier, another hiker had to be rescued from the climb by the Jordanian armed forces.

For me -probably because I did the hike in the morning and was mentally prepared by these two stories- the hike was tough but ok. Not that I did not curse several times while seeing the boulders I had to climb or another twist and turn I had to take before reaching the top.

Ras Naqb Shdeid hit me on the way down. Descending into the canyon I felt weaker and weaker. I was more stumbling than walking – a clear sign that yesterday’s illness and not eating enough had cut into my reserves and that last night’s sleep hadn’t sufficiently replenished my energy. I had to sit for 30 minutes in the shade just to catch my breath.

The Jordan Trail equivalent of a five-star hotel

Hairclip to close pouch - cooking on the Jordan Trail
Hairclip to close pouch – cooking on the Jordan Trail

My forced stop was actually not that far from the last reliable water source before Little Petra (some 24 kilometers further on the trail): a peaceful little stream and small pond and it worked as the Jordan Trail equivalent of a five-star hotel

As my day- and water planning didn’t match my pace any more, I had to refill my Camelbak bladders and other water bottles for the next 1,5 day (until when I should be able to make it to Little Petra). I took the time to cook a proper lunch (note my hair clip hack?), wash and clean up, drink as much as I could (after purification of course) and be 100% ready for the rest of the day.

And just when you think you’re ready … there’s the Jordan Trail.

On the Jordan Trail you’re never 100% ready – Jordan Trail Dana to Petra

In the next 10 kilometers a lot of things happened that made a bad day even worse.

The dense vegetation. The trail description on the Jordan Trail Association had warned me for dense vegetation and an occasional stream that had to be passed. Well, the trail certainly lived up to that reputation. Navigating thick vegetation with a 26kg backpack is tough. Considering the trail, I am actually quite proud I only fell into the stream once (only with both feet), but enough to soak my boots.

Then the not-wadi. A kilometer later, a beautiful wadi opened up. Amazing rocks were the first time I got a glimpse of how Little Petra and Petra would look like. When I routinely checked my GPS to see if I was still on track (pretty much like a phone-addicted teenager keeps flipping through Insta), I didn’t see the track on my GPS – the sign that you messed up. So I had to backtrack through the beautiful wadi to the point where I lost the trail. Turned out the trail wasn’t following the wadi, but a hardly discernible goat path up the mountain.  When I finally found the trail, it took all my effort to keep on the trail.

These two things primed my mind. I was now used to difficult to navigate and difficult to walk trails – which set me up for the biggest mistake I made during my trail.

The big screw up

Following the goat trail up the hill, the trail became harder and harder. In my new plans I had hoped to get to Little Petra that day, but quickly realised that would be impossible. The path would take me on a difficult to walk goat trail on a slope.

Every step was tiring – continually balancing to not fall, choosing between the high path which was slightly more even, near a steep cliff where thorny trees were and a lower path where there was continually the risk of tripping and slipping on loose rocks. Only the recent goat drops and some vague foot prints from others assured me that there actually must have been people here before.

I saw my pace going down to 1,5-2 km per hour, sometimes even less. I was inching closer to Qutla Ruins, the Wild Camp I had to settle on because I didn’t seem to get closer to Little Petra. But as the sun was setting and I still had a few hundred meters to go to Qutla, I got very frustrated with the situation.

It is only then that I realize I messed up big time. While I was struggling to inch closer to Qutla Ruins, the real trail was 7-10 above me … on top of the cliff. I had been so occupied with the trail being difficult and trying to stick to the path, that I had lost sight of the overall picture.

As the sunset is closing in I try to find the best possible spot to set up camp, and decide on an overhanging ridge with plenty of space for a tent. Not ideal in the sense that there is no real flat piece of land, but it isn’t littered with rocks (like the rest of the slope) and isn’t a slope (like the rest of the slope). I try to eat something, but even the smell of my Adventure Food Pasta Bolognese (normally one of my favorites) makes me almost vomit.

I skipped my normal evening routine to just get some sleep. I would be fresh in the morning, hopefully better equipped to deal with the situation.

Spending the night on the Jordan TrailDay 3 of my Jordan Trail Dana to Petra solo hike: Qutla Ruins to Petra (sort of)

When I wake up, I instantly snapped back into the situation. So I did what I have learned from preparing what to do in case of a snake bite: sit down for 5 minutes and think – what is the plan.

The situation, the options

I’m in a tent on a slope with approximately 3 liters of water left. The Jordan Trail is above me – about 7-10 meters higher than I currently am. I have several options.

  • Down the slope. I considered this for a second, to at least be away from the slope. As I did not see any footpaths on my GPS or Gaia maps nearby, I ruled this out as an option – I had no idea of knowing this would get me in even more problems – without means to get out of the valley and without water. Not an option.
  • Turn back. I also considered this. But remembering the struggle I had the last several hours of the previous day, this does not seem a safer option. Another problem here is that I only have 3 liter of water, which would mean I would have to head all the way back to the stream/pond of the previous day to fully refill my water, losing a full day on the trail. Only last resort.
  • Go on. Although this wasn’t really my idea of a nice hike in Jordan, I could struggle on for another few hundred meters. In the far distance (about 400-500 meters), the cliff seemed to stop and turn into a more gradual climb.
  • Go up. Where I camped for the night, there was no option to climb out of the canyon. But there might be on other places. The earlier I could get out of the canyon, the earlier I was back into safety. I really did not want to risk spending too much time on the slope – it felt like a ticking time bomb waiting to detonate. Every step was a risk to slip and slide down the slope for at least a few meters (or worse). 400-500 meters are a lot of steps – a lot of opportunities to slip and fall.
  • Signal in help via my Garmin InReach or Personal Locator Beacon. As I did not feel I was in imminent and/or life-threatening danger, this felt like the nuclear option – to strong of a means to reach my goal of continuing the path. I could still do this if I got myself in even more problems (which of course, was certainly not my intention).

So I decided to move on and either try and climb out the earliest moment or struggle on – in about 400-500 meters (which would probably take me 1,5 hours), there seemed to be a less steep part of the ridge where I might be able to climb up.

After approximately 100 meter in 40 minutes, I found a spot that seemed fit to climb. Steep, dangerous and without certainty the opportunity to climb would extend to the top of the climb – but the first serious opportunity to do so. So I decide to go for it.

I strap my backpack extra tight, connect my trekking poles to my backpack and climb up. I take moment to breathe. I make sure my arms can keep my weight, make sure there are no loose rocks (or I remove them), make sure every step I take counts – that my feet are on solid ground and won’t topple a rock.

And finally after what feels like a 30 minute climb (but probably was only 10) …

Jordan Trail - my canyon climbYes.

I think I’ve never been as happy in my life to see a dusty trail. The Jordan Trail. I fall down, take a moment to get myself together and slowly move on.

As I heard later from Leif, another hiker (read his tips here or visit his website), he and his friend made exactly the same mistake here.

Getting liberation from the trail’s remoteness – Jordan Trail Dana to Petra

It is then it struck me as well I had not seen another human since meeting the Bedouin tribe at Wadi Malaga on the first day, about 36 hours earlier. The sheer remoteness that is sometimes dangerous (when you’re stuck in a canyon, alone), also felt liberating.

After that, the day went like a breeze, I was able to get back to my normal pace of 4,5-6 kilometers per hour. I felt the best I had felt in the last three days.

A small bummer was that the water source at Qutla Ruins (not too far from where I had spent the night on the slope), had dried up, making that there was only a small chance there was water 6 kilometers further on the trail at another Wild Camp site.

Jordan Trail - Dried out well at Qutla Ruins.
Jordan Trail – Dried out well at Qutla Ruins.

Faris and Awad, my new best Facebook friends – Jordan Trail Dana to Petra

As I kept my pace and flew over the trail like one of the many typical local birds you’ll encounter on the trail, I suddenly heard someone yell. Or at least I thought someone did. From the valley, some 40 meters below me, a Bedouin was waving from my tent, yelling if I wanted Chai tea.

The one who had been yelling at me turned out to be Faris, a 71-year-old Ammarin tribe Bedouin who lived there with his friend Awad. Faris spoke English remarkably well – something he learned over 40 years ago he said and only now, after all this time got to practice again with me. He gives me fresh water, Chai and offers me dinner, while we catch up like old friends.

Jordan Trail - tea with Faris
Jordan Trail – tea with Faris

We talked a while about everything – how sheep wool is the best thing in the world (I showed him my Icebreaker gear (“Yes, New Zealand sheep good sheep”), he showed me his tent), about Ruud Gullit and how the Dutch soccer team was amazing in ’88 and … how you shouldn’t do the Jordan Trail solo (okokok guys, you made your point now). I also had to make sure to tell all of you to visit him if you’re on the Jordan Trail – their tent can accommodate at least 4 guests.

After about 45 minutes, we take our photos (“you want selfie?”), connect on Facebook (“you have Facebook?”) and both go our ways.

Little Petra – Jordan Trail Dana to Petra

Jordan Trail - Petra back entrance.
Jordan Trail – Petra back entrance.

The next few kilometers again went fine. I got back to my pace and rapidly got near Little Petra.

The magical back door entrance to Little Petra is somewhat hidden behind a tree, while it is more obvious to follow the wadi. A steep climb will bring you to Little Petra which is -indeed- a very very small version of Petra, 10 kilometers further on the trail.

In Little Petra, my Arabic words and experience of the last couple of days clearly pays off. Where other tourists get continuously bugged and followed by the sales men and women in Little Petra, me smiling and telling them “Leh Shukran – Al-layla Petra” (Sort of phonetically “No, thank you – tonight Petra”) apparently helps them understand that a) I clearly spend longer than 24 hours in the country and b) that it is a waste of time bothering me as I want to make it to Petra tonight, another 10 kilometers.

At the main entrance of Little Petra, I do a Formula 1 pit stop in which I buy 6 liter of water to refill all my Camelbak bladders and had a quick Coca Cola for the sugar rush. Five minutes later I am back on the trail to Petra.

The sleepy guard – Jordan Trail Dana to Petra

Jordan Trail - security post at Petra.
Jordan Trail – security post at Petra.

The trail from Little Petra to Petra is rather unremarkable in that you just walk wide 4×4 tracks, cross a desert plane and get continuously bugged by local Bedouin tribes (especially kids) that either want to sell you stuff or want your food.

When approaching a small ticket post in the middle of nowhere I had to laugh a bit – who would put it here. I chuckle loudly and gear up to move on – I’m almost near Petra. A few kilometer and I will see one of the 7 world wonders.

There we go.

But seconds after I pass the ticket post, I hear a yell from the door. Apparently a guard had been sleeping, heard my chuckle and spotted me. While clearing his eyes, he tells me I can’t enter here because Petra is being evacuated.

There is no way I can continue.

There is no way I can sleep here.

And there is no way of knowing when Petra will be open again.

I can not believe him at first. He tells me 4 meter high floods are rolling through Petra.

I concede. Nature 1 – Polle 0.

By chance, a father and son Bedouin arrive with their 4×4 car at exact that moment and they offer to bring me to the nearby city of Wadi Musa. I can wait there till Petra re-opens. I book a hotel, take a shower (first decent wash in 3 days) and fall a sleep.

The end of my Jordan Trail Dana to Petra hike

Jordan Trail - damage in Petra
Jordan Trail – damage in Petra

Only the next day I hear that day 3700 people were evacuated from Petra that day. More than 12 people died in Madaba, North of Petra and Wadi Musa and as I am writing this a 5-year old girl is still missing. A strong signal to take flash floods in Jordan very very very seriously (always check the weather).

This also means the end of my Jordan Trail South thru hike plans. Because of illness, my adventures on the slope the second day and a 2-day wait in Petra/Wadi Musa, I lost too much time – there was no way I would be able to make it to Aqaba before my flight home would leave.

So I make the most out of it – eat, sleep, rest, contemplate on the amazing memories I made and wait for Petra to re-open.

Day 3b Petra to Petra – final part of my Jordan Trail Dana to Petra

The second morning after I got stopped at Petra, I got a call from the reception of the hotel where I was staying – Petra was open again and my driver to bring me back to the ticket post would be there in 15 minutes.

A bittersweet experience.

Legendary to enter Petra from the back door (I can recommend everyone doing that, even if you do not hike the Jordan Trail) and experience one of the 7 world wonders first hand. The Monastery, The Treasury, the sheer magnitude of the ancient city. Breathtaking.

But in all honesty, a bit of a disappointment as well. Although Petra is amazing, it is a typical case of where the road is better than the destination – the contrast between the remoteness and solitude from the last couple of days and the tourist masses in Petra is just too big for me at that moment.

But above all – rough to see the marks the flash flood left in Petra. Hundreds of local people are working tirelessly to clean up the mess and remove the traces of the disaster that made 3700 people evacuate and killed 12 people.

Looking back on my Jordan Trail Dana to Petra solo hike

Desert at the Jordan Trail
Desert at the Jordan Trail

While writing this from my hotel in Aqaba (The Intercontintenal Aqaba Resort), I’m longing back to the trail. It was one of the most breathtaking hiking experiences I ever had. And although I am super disappointed I did not make it from Dana to the Red Sea or from Dana to Wadi Rum, I will cherish all the amazing experiences of 3,5 days on the Jordan Trail. And I will be back.

I enjoyed every single bit of it. All the amazing views. My encounters with sheep, camels, flies but above all the amazingly friendly and hospital Bedouin families. The versatile landscapes – from moon-like desert to sandy planes and from dense vegetation to barren wadis.

I wrote a separate post with my key learnings from my Jordan Trail hike – how I planned for the trail, what worked out well, what didn’t work and what I would do differently the next time (yes, there will be a next time).

So, please, go and experience the Jordan Trail. But prepare well. Be safe. 

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