29-Apr-2008 -- Egypt had 3 holidays in one week presenting an ideal opportunity to get south and further explore the area between Kharga and Aswān following on from our trip in December when we bagged 24N 31E.
This time we planned to start from Bārīs south of Kharga and try to follow the camel trail that goes from `Izbat Dūš to Bi'r Nukhayla to Dunqul to `Izbat Karkūr and then out to Aswān. We knew from the previous trip that the camel trail covered some very rough country with sharp limestone outcroppings, so we planned to try to pick our route around the old trail but avoiding the roughest areas.
We drove to just south of Kharga on day one, arriving with enough time to look around Qaṣr al-Ġuwayṭa and Qaṣr Zayyān, two Roman temple forts. The next morning we set of south through Bārīs and to the military checkpoint. Our permits were good and we were allowed through on the road to Abū Simbel. We stayed on the road for 20 km until it curved to the West and we carried on south aiming for a sand chute I had identified from the satellite imagery that would get us up the escarpment.
The going was initially good-going firm sand but we soon encountered large patches of soft Fish-Fish, which we struggled to power our way through on the tire pressures we had. We wanted to keep our tire pressures hard because of the sharp rocks ahead and pressed ahead slurping the diesel alarmingly. Because of all the tire problems on the last trip we had planned on a one night camping trip without carrying extra cans of diesel, etc. to keep the vehicles as light as possible and hopefully less susceptible to tire problems. After a break Eddie decided he would try a spot of driving and promptly got stuck in the Fish-Fish. So we made him get out and push and we made it to the sand chute which was an easy climb up onto a ledge of some of the sharpest, nastiest limestone I have yet encountered. Long ridges of sharp edged limestone as much as 30 centimetres high just ready to shred our tires, but we went with the grain and rather surprisingly got both vehicles over with no damage.
We came across an old track of sorts that led in the rough direction of Bi'r Nukhayla for a while before we branched off and headed directly for the trees at Bi'r Nukhayla which we could clearly see across the plain. We had our first puncture battling an odd patch of Fish-Fish and we found two jerry cans of diesel at the bi'r which showed that it is still visited from time to time, but no recent tracks. We then followed the camel trail, it ascended the scarp and we followed the valley past 24N 31E to look for an easier spot to get up this second scarp. This time the route I had picked was not as good but we got up and headed for Dunqul trying to go with the terrain. Shortly after we had our second puncture crossing an area of not very bad broken limestone. It was only 2 p.m. and we had a lot of bad country ahead of us before Dunqul, most of which I had already driven. So we decided to return to Bārīs, fix the tires, and drive around to Aswān on the blacktop and come in from the East and the oasis instead.
We made it back out with only one more puncture and managed to get all three tires repaired in Bārīs before heading back to the same hotel we had stayed the previous night. Although I was rather disappointed on not completing our planned route, the blacktop from Baġdād (Kharga) to Luxor passed within 10 km of 25N 31E, so it was out with the imagery to plot a route in. The area looked like it was mainly the broken nasty limestone but there were contours of pinkish terrain on the imagery that I imagined was good going. There was also what appeared to be a track that got part of the way there.
We set off early next morning and were soon on top of the scarp where we looked for the track. It was a small gatch road that led west, then north. I was using Ozi Explorer on my mobile phone with the satellite imagery loaded to guide us as we went for the first time this trip and it had worked well the day before. However the Confluence was on the border between two frames and it would always seem to pick the wrong image, so we had to work from the digitized track I had planned. It became obvious that the good going pink areas were in fact covered in brownish football-sized boulders and almost impassable. However the areas of white limestone were reasonable, if slow going.
We left the track north of plan and followed the edge of the bad terrain until we were just north of the point where we decided, the best plan was to stop for a tea break while I and whoever was interested would walk in. As expected, Riḍā and Halīm had no interest in walking 1 km to photo some rocks in the middle of nowhere and thought that getting the kettle on was a far more worthwhile task. Eddie, although not quite sure why I wanted to walk to the point was game for it and off we set.
About 500 m in, our progress seemed slow until I discovered that the Garmin I was using was set for miles and we had 1 mile walk. This did not phase Eddie and we pressed on and reached the point where Eddie watched a bit non-plussed while I did an extended zero's dance, but he twigged as soon as he saw the zeroes on first my Garmin, then his.
We took the photos and then noticed that we were not the first to reach the point. The point lay in a strip of limestone between rougher areas and just as we finished taking the photos, we noticed the old faint tire tracks running east to west and directly over the point. The tracks are visible in the photo with the easterly view.
We were back at the car just in time for the kettle to have boiled and to have a well deserved coffee break before returning to the blacktop and on to Luxor satisfied with this unplanned bagging.
Continued at 24N 32E.