[A] BRITISH climber has become the first person to solo climb Jordan’s iconic 350-metre-high Pillar of Wisdom.
Leo Houlding, from Cumbria, scaled the giant sandstone tower in Wadi Rum – also known as the Valley of the Moon – in the south of the country.
The breathtaking natural structure is notoriously challenging for even professional climbers and stands higher than the Eiffel Tower, which tops out at 300 metres.
The 35-year-old carried out the ascent as part of Conquer the Uncharted, a new series launched by PlayStation to mark the release of critically acclaimed action adventure game Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
The game follows the globe-trotting adventures of Nathan Drake, a fortune hunter who comes out of retirement to track down the long-lost pirate colony of Libertalia and its legendary treasure.
Drake’s latest escapades take him from Madagascar to snow-capped Scottish peaks – and helped inspire Houlding to head to the Jordanian desert for his solo climb.
Leo said: “To celebrate the launch of Uncharted 4, PlayStation asked me to come up with my own epic Uncharted Adventure.
“I came here a few years ago with my dad and did this amazing route, and I thought whilst I was doing it, it would be amazing to do solo.
“One of the really unique things about Wadi Rum is just how complex it is. Inside these big rocks is just these networks of canyons.
“There are still summits here that very few people have ever been to and vast areas of it are still uncharted.”
The ethos of Uncharted 4 and Conquer the Uncharted is ‘every treasure has its price’ – and the British daredevil took every step to ensure that price was not his own life.
Renowned as a ‘free climber’, Leo’s initial plan was to scale the Pillar of Wisdom’s immense cliff face without ropes – but the crumbling sandstone rock meant it was simply too dangerous.
Leo said: “Pulling over the top, bearing in mind the last section is the very hardest section, was extremely scary and then there’s a perfectly flat top and the view from the top is epic – it’s up there with the top 10 views I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world.
“I free soloed most of the route, but I used a rope on a few sections where the rock was really loose or really hard.
“Being up on a face like that so big and so remote, so exposed, alone, not tied into the cliff it’s a really powerful feeling.
“To be out here in this ancient landscape it really has an authentic feel to it and connecting to that environment and being up there, up on that huge wall, it’s a lifetime accomplishment.”
Leo is also at the forefront of the new discipline of Para-Alpinism, which involves climbing up a mountain and then parachuting down, but says his thirst for thrills has been with him from a very young age.
“The spirit of adventure has just been innate within me since I was born, even when I was really little I was always the kid that would climb the highest in the trees. I just love being outside.
“I grew up in the countryside so I’d always be out playing in rivers, climbing trees, climbing over barbed wire fences and I’ve been super fortunate in that now it’s my job and I get to go on really big boys hardcore adventures like this.
“In this day and age very few people get to go places where no one’s ever been before. I mean deep-sea divers, cavers and climbers – we’re the only people that get to go into truly Uncharted territory.”
‘Conquer the Uncharted’, is a new series launched by PlayStation to mark the release of third-person action adventure game, ‘Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’, out now.