This was the moment where you curse yourself for not bringing a 100+ meter rope or at least a bolting kit.

Itay Yelin
Jordan Exploration
December 2016

The familiar old “why am I doing it to myself moment”: After 2 abseils and having passed the no return point, we found ourselves in a narrow canyon, standing at the head of the waterfall whose accumulated height was about 100 m, surrounded by high steep walls. From the waterfall edge we could discern a small horizontal ledge in the middle of the abseil, but we were unsure about how big was it and whether we would be able to find a natural anchor there or build one ourselves.

This was the moment where you curse yourself for not bringing a 100+ meter rope or at least a bolting kit. You think wistfully of quitting that exploration nonsense – why the hell should we try to go down a canyon where no one has have gone down before?


The Syrian-Arabian rift passes along the west most part of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, causing the creation of dozens of steep canyons. Those canyons usually bridge a 1000 – 1500m vertical gap across no more than a few kilometers and on their way down, they tunnel through some breathtakingly beautiful sandstone. Some of these slot-canyons start at plateau, snowy on winter times (1600m above sea level) while some descend all the way to the waters of the lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea (at -400m below sea level).

It is a paradise for canyoneers. Some of these canyons are well known and appear on books; some have a perennial stream and hanging gardens, a few even have hot water flow naturally through them. Many others though are narrow slot canyons still unexplored, so slotty and narrow they are almost undetectable on satellite imagery and so vertical and technical that no one had ever descended them before – these are our favorites.

This time we checked out a slot canyon about 20 kilometers south of the famous ruined city of Petra. We went to an unknown tributary which later flows to a beautiful canyon called Smeima we’ve already been to before. We went there without any beta or topo, not knowing whether the canyon will be beautiful or not. We started at first light, at temperatures close to 0 Celsius. The wind was furious, subsiding only when we were deep inside the canyon. The canyon was a full day’s work. We passed the next hours of short winter time by hiking, down climbing, building belay stations and abseiling 20 waterfalls, including the high 100 meter one. We did manage to pass it on 2 separate abseils of 45 and 55 meters. Although on the second part of the waterfall the rope snagged and it was almost impossible to retrieve it.


Finally, after 8 hours of hard work we’ve reached a familiar section. We’ve joined the main canyon of Smeima. Two more hours and some scrambling, abseiling and so on and we’ve reached a good place to camp, with sandy floor, a full pothole nearby and enough firewood for the night.

On the next day we finished the canyon without difficulty, not needing more than a few easy abseils and with short walking parts. Happy to be out, happy to do a first descent in an never explored before canyon and joyous because it turned out to be much more beautiful than we expected. The adventure was over, at least till the next time.