Learnings from my Jordan trail solo hike

I had prepared my Jordan trail hike as I had never prepared a hike: I had made a detailed packing list (and invested in new gear like IceBreaker, a Garmin GPSMAP 64s and a Garmin InReach), reached out to others hikers, collected tips from other hikers, prepared for the weather, for some heavy GPS navigation, to speak some Arabic words and snake bites (and how to prevent them), I made a day planning, food planning and even a water planning. Despite all these preparations, I got ill, made a grave navigation error which cost me a day and had to evacuate because of flash floods in Petra (see my full hiking story from Dana to Petra). And it was all worth it. So, these are the learnings from my Jordan trail solo hike.

What went well – learnings from my Jordan trail solo hike.

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

First of all, I loved the trail, from pretty much the first moment I set foot on the trail. It is remarkably versatile (desert meets mountains meets moon-like landscapes meets streams meets wadis meets Petra meets remote areas), with many amazing views. It is quiet and remote which makes it an extra magical experience. People you meet on the trail are amazingly friendly. I was able to really live in the moment and enjoy the many aspects of the trail.

And many things went well. I was very well prepared which made a lot of things easier. For example, when I noticed my average speed was way lower than I had anticipated, it was easy for me to adapt and change my planning accordingly while making sure I had enough water.

But …

What went not so well – learnings from my Jordan trail solo hike.

Spending the night on the Jordan Trail
Not the worst place to get stuck but still … I got stuck here for the night and had to climb out of the canyon the next day

Despite the preparations, quite some things did not go so well.

  • Illness. I had stomach and intestines issues for most of the first and the second day. I guess that’s just bad luck (I really had made sure to eat in 100% ‘safe’ places the days before in Amman) and also the ORS I took really didn’t help too much. Luckily, by the start of the first day, I felt way better, but by that time I had lost heaps of time.
  • Backpack. When transporting my backpack from Amman to the starting for of my Jordan Trail hike, apparently some straps had loosened up and it took me till the end of day two/beginning of day three to figure that out. I should have done a full backpack check earlier on the trail to spot the issue.
  • Navigation error. Somewhere on the second day, I took a lower path on a hill where I should have taken a path up on a ridge. I ended up on a slope with loose rocks and a lot of thorny trees. I lost insane amounts of time struggling to not fall off the slope, struggling to go on. I even had to set up an emergency camp on the slope as it was rapidly getting dark. End of story – I had to climb out of the canyon.
  • Flash floods. On my third and final day, I was stopped at the Petra entrance as Petra was flooded. Sheer bad luck as it had never happened before. I had been warned for rain, bad weather and even flash floods, but nothing prepared me for this. I lost over 2 days because of this, being stranded at Wadi Musa.
  • Speed. Because of all this, my speed was waaaaaay below my normal average. Even on the Laugavegur trail and Fimmvörðuháls trail in Iceland in the snow, on slippery mountains, I was able to keep an average pace between 4,5-5 kilometers per hour. On the Jordan Trail, there were hours I averaged under 2 kilometers. This massively impacted my plans.

What I would do differently – learnings from my Jordan trail solo hike.

I was very well aware before I started hiking that my 40-50km day planning would be impossible. I knew it in the back of my mind but got it confirmed when I heard the story of another hiker who had to be evacuated from the trail a week earlier. Despite that, I decided to just start as planned and see where I would end up.

So the key things I would do differently:

  • Make a more realistic/conservative planning – I knew beforehand that I would not be able to make 40-50 kilometer days, but I still proceeded. Better would have been to make a more realistic/conservative planning and over-perform. Better for morale, better to figure out where you do end up eventually.
  • Have more ‘buffer’ days at the end of the hike to make up for time lost because of illness, my navigation error and the flash flood evacuation.

Overall tips and learnings – learnings from my Jordan trail solo hike.

So, taking these experiences all in consideration, here are my overall tips and learnings from my Jordan trail solo hike:

Overall

  • Consider not-hiking solo. Every single one of the Bedouins I got into contact with during my hike, pressed me on why I was hiking on my own. They made very clear to me that the Jordan Trail should be hiked at least with two, just to be safe, to avoid navigational errors, etcetera. Not hiking with a friend? Consider hiking with a guide who can also help you circumvent navigational errors.
  • Be very well prepared (see next point for more detail). Plan and prepare well, read everything you can read about the hike, think of scenarios.
  • Be sure you have some hiking experience. The Jordan Trail should not be taken lightly. The remoteness, the sheer amount of gear you’re carrying, the fact that there is hardly any signage make it a pretty tough trail.

Planning and preparation

  • Take your time. Have more days than you’ll probably hike to have a buffer when hiking takes longer than you thought. Have different scenarios for when things do not go to plan.
  • Know how to navigate without signage. As there is hardly any signage on the trail, you’ll need to rely on GPS/compass and maps.
  • Your backpack will most likely be over 20 kilograms and most likely even over 25 kilograms, of which you will probably have 1 kg food for every day of hiking and -depending on your water planning– often between 5-10 liters of water. So think long and hard on what you’re going to bring (more details on that later).
  • Make a list of Arabic words and sentences to use on the trail.
  • Keep your friends and family informed of your plans and agree on a way to communicate even when there is no cell phone reception (see my post how I arranged that).
  • Plan for the weather on the Jordan Trail. Make sure you have up to date weather information and warnings, especially in areas of high flash flood risks.
  • Plan for days without cellphone reception. On large parts of the trail, you won’t have cellphone reception. Make sure you have other ways to communicate in case of emergency or if you need to keep your friends and family updated.

Water and food

  • Be sure to pack plenty of water.
  • Bring lots of gels and fast energy sources.
  • Bring ORS (salts and electrolytes) to recover from sweating.
  • Plan your food in a smart way. There aren’t too many places to resupply on the trail, but plan smart to maximse usage of these areas. I brought food for a week (7 * 1kg of food), which increased my backpack weight a lot.

Packing list

  • There are several things I would definitely recommend bringing:
    • Water filter to filter water from springs and streams
    • Really good GPS device (like the Garmin GPSMAP 64s) including detailed maps of the trail
    • Cash money
    • An emergency communications device like a Garmin InReach and/or Personal Locator Beacon
    • Good battery pack to charge your phone
    • Plenty of camelbaks/bottles to store water (depending on your planning, up to 9-10 liters)
  • Then, some things that worked very well for me:
    • One trekking pole – I brought two trekking poles, eventually ended up only using one.
    • Thermos bottle – I brought a thermos bottle that helped me store boiled water for other meals during the day. Although the bottle is rather heavy, it was totally worth it in time and morale.
  • Some things you might want to consider:
    • Camp super light. Consider bringing a tarp setup rather than your normal

So, what are your learnings from your Jordan trail solo hike?

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