The main wall
The route type:
The canyon is dry all the year round but be wary about floods during winter rains.
Keep in mind that descending nahal Arnon is a serious undertaking suitable for competent groups only. Definitely not for large groups with beginners!
Because of the wall nature of the route having walkie-talkies is highly recommended!
Attention: this route is not on the list of officially allowed rappelling routes. Take it into the account while making your decision.
Drive on the road number 90 along Dead Sea till the Mitzpe Shalem junction where a side road leads to Mitzpe Shalem village and "Ahava" plant.
(There is no convenient place to leave
a car at the end of the route, but if the 4km return hike along the road is too
painful for you, you can try to find something. The road crosses nahal Arnon
2.8km south of the Mitzpe Shalem junction at a point with coordinates 31° 32'
09.2"N; 35° 23' 37.3"E (point 3 on the map).)
Anyway, for the starting point of approach you have to drive to Mitzpe Shalem village. Park your car in the village or nearby.
From here you have two options to get to nahal Arnon:
1. The shorter and the harder one: you can climb the Maale Hatzatzon ridge. From Mitzpe Shalem walk down along the north bank of nahal Hatzatzon looking for a place where you can get to the floor and then cross the wadi. Climb up the south bank left of an obvious ravine to a less steep terrain and then follow rujums (pretty few...) and common sense keeping generally up the south-east flank. Close to the ridge the trail becomes more obvious, than it turns right and leads around the ridge to a less steep terrain and then finally climbs onto the ridge. Follow the ridge. At the end you should negotiate a steep section (grade 2) with mostly good rock and you are there…
Once on the plateau follow a dirt road
marked with green marks until it crosses the wadi of nahal Sdakim. When the
road turns left sharply, leave it and continue south. The next obvious wadi is
nahal Arnon. We got to the bottom of the main wadi (point 1) by
descending through a small side ravine, but actually you can do it almost
everywhere in this section. May be it is possible to get down closer to the
start of the rappelling route - after a big bend of the wadi, but we didn't try
6.5km from Mitzpe Shalem and almost 600m of gain (mostly steep). Allow 3 to 3.5 hours for this approach.
2. The longer (by 1 to 2 km) but the less steep one: you can go around
nahal Hatzatzon. Take the obvious trail marked with blue marks that starts just
in front of the Mitzpe Shalem main gate and leads up to the main plateau and
then to the upper approaches of nahal Hatzatzon. Cross the nahal Hatzatzon to
its south bank and continue sought (for more details about crossing nahal
Hatzatzon see description of the approach to nahal
Sdakim).There are no obvious reference points on the plateau so GPS or
compass (a small ancient gadget with a funny dancing arrow...) would be
advisable. You can follow the 4x4 road, marked with black marks, till it
crosses the nahal Arnon bed (point J ("Jeep"...)) or to cut
directly to point 1.
Allow some 3.5-4 hours for this approach.
Ones on the nahal Arnon floor (at point 1), follow the wide bending wadi for 700m till the first big dry fall (may be 15m high). It can be bypassed from the right: from the central channel descent onto a wide ledge leading to the right, follow it and then descent into the canyon through a scree slopes.
Walk about 150m till another dry fall,
less high (some 10m) and much more narrow, which leads to the edge of the main
It is not so obvious, but it can be bypassed as well. Climb a bit to the right and then descent through a small rocky gully, partly covered with scree. Be careful!
Now you are at the edge of the main wall where the first rappelling station should be established.
There are 4 pitches to be abseiled (3 first of them are located on a 220m high single wall):
R1. 27m (sloped, with a ledge just before the next rappelling station. Keep a bit left (facing the wall) while descending)
There are two pairs of spit bolts with no hangers (“ears”): one pair in the middle of the channel and another one on the right side. We found only one of these spits to be fully applicable and one more - "conditionally fit". We left there 2 hangers, but it is pretty obvious that the next party will not find them, so it is essential to bring your own hangers and even then you can't feel calm: the bolts may be destroyed finally. The good news: there are some good possibilities for natural anchoring in the range of 4m to 8m from the edge. Bring a stock of ropes which not worth tears... *
The next station is found a bit left (facing the wall) from the line of the descent. It is a semi-hanging station with let's say "a tolerable" place for only one person. Take it in account while planning.
R2. 105m (50m vertical, then 20-30m overhanging, then vertical)
The station is "semi-hanging".
There are 4 spit bolts connected by ropes with a maillon. Be prepared to replace old ropes. *
There are lots of loose rocks on the wall! Be very careful while rappelling.
R3. 85m (overhanging)
There are two different stations at the end of the R2 descent.
R3a. A semi-hanging station, placed a bit left (facing the wall) of the line of the descent under a small overhang. We didn't see it and I suppose that it is located lower than R3b option. I called it R3a because it is the first historically. There are 5 spit bolts connected by ropes with a maillon (according to reports and photos).
R3b. A station located above a small foot-wide ledge and probably more comfortable than R3a. It is located some 4m to the right (facing the wall) from the line of the descent, but not protected from above. There are 4 spit bolts, the leftmost of them is equipped with a maillon. *
R3a rappelling station (the left-side option) (photo by Igor Yakovlev)
R3a rappelling station (the left-side option)
R3 rappel ends at a huge terrace, may be 30 to 40m wide. The next (and last) rappelling station is located in the middle channel on rights-side rocks.
R4. 47m (about 25m vertical, then overhanging)
There are 2 spit bolts connected by ropes with a maillon. Be prepared to replace old ropes. *
Walk some 300m through boulders till a wide U-shaped dry fall (approximately 10-15m high). It can be bypassed on the left side through a steep gully covered with a very loose scree. Climb down carefully and wear helmet (not as we did...)
Walk 450m till another very wide U-shaped dry fall (some 45m high) which is located very close to the main road. We bypassed it on the right side and then descended to the road along a scree ridge of the south bank.
***** - The only one of its kind. A "must do" trip!
**** - Very interesting, highly recommended!
*** - Pretty nice route.
** - Inexpressive one.
* - Do it if you have nothing to do...