11-Oct-2002 -- Our first overnight camping trip of the 2002 season was to include a possible visit to three confluence points, in the northern tip of the Rub` al-Khāliy (The Empty Quarter). The 3 confluence points were planned based on our first attempt at confluence hunting which was a piece of cake and we soon realised how wrong we were!
Normally on such trips, we have planning meetings on a Monday night (which is a midweek for us, since Thursdays and Fridays are our weekends) in order to sort out the itinerary and logistics (who brings what – we have a defined list of individual items and shared items). On Wednesday evenings, we pack our VXR Landcruisers (except for the cooler boxes, they go in last), fill up and make the necessary checks so that we are ready for action for the next day.
We gathered once again at 7:00am on Thursday morning at our usual spot in the car park of the Ramada Hotel on the Abqayq Old Road. Soon we were on the Dammām-Hufūf highway. At the split of the highway at Ḥaraḍ, we headed east towards the UAE border, this is a fairly new highway, which our friend Marc had told us about. It was as straight as a typical Roman road. However it was running about 20 km from the 24N latitude. At the start of this road, only flat desert plains were visible as far as the eye could see. After about 60 km on this highway undulated dunes made their emergence on both sides of the road and at times covering parts of the road. Some dunes alongside the road were covered with asphalt to prevent it from moving and blocking the road by the wind. Soon we were smack bang on top of the 50E longitude.
We stopped by the highway, deflating our tires, then we headed south towards the confluence point, which we thought was a mere 20 km away. But within 2 km we hit some very soft powdery sands, as soon as we got out of one patch we were stuck in another, we just could not get the momentum to ride the soft patches. We covered 1 km in 2 (two) hours! We used all the different methods available to us for each different circumstance, which included winching, towing, sand boarding and of course pushing! We decided to retrace our steps and headed back towards the highway, we were completely exhausted with effort, the temperature was around 39°C and avoiding dehydration was our main concern. We scouted the highway slowly (heading back towards Ḥaraḍ), looking for a track between the small dunes. We soon found one.
The drive over and between the dunes was both exhilarating and wonderful, as we passed some dried up wādīs (river beds). Although most of the wādīs had dry bushes, some were surprisingly covered with green bushes. As we inched towards our target and with only 5 km to go (at around 3 o’clock), we stopped for a rest and had a nice picnic, and also combined the Ẓuhr and `Aṣr prayers. The wādīs gave way to the sand dunes again, and we were finding it very difficult to get around them without getting stuck. We were exactly 3 km away from the Confluence, when we decided to stop, as the light was fading very fast. We set up camp on a hard surface, protected on one side by sand dunes. After the Maġrib and `Išā’ prayers, we sat out on he top of the dune, and watched the night sky as it revealed the stars one by one, as if someone was switching them on. Soon we could see the Milky Way and a handful of satellites and shooting stars. We had an early night, as we decided to hike the 3 km the next day.
We were up at Fajr time; having prayed the morning prayers, we set off with our GPS and walkie-talkie and a couple of litres of water towards our target point. We hiked over the dunes in almost a straight line and soon after 40 minutes we were at the confluence point. We were totally jubilant. We dug in our red flag at the spot and after the photo shoot, we started to head back. We were in contact with the rest of family all the time.
The families were waiting for us, when we appeared on the last dune. We had a hearty breakfast, and then started breaking up the camp. We were all in high spirits. We tracked back on the route we came in, and stopped here and there to pick up some very interesting looking stones. We hit the highway at 10:30am and being low on fuel, stopped at the first petrol station, which was about 50 km from Ḥaraḍ.
We decided not to attempt the other confluence points (23N 49E and 23N 48E) as the time was against us. We stopped at Ḥaraḍ at the "Indian Restaurant" and had a very tasty and filling lunch. The journey back to al-Khubar was uneventful, though we talked about the events of the past two days; soon we were back at home before Maġrib and the end of yet another excitement-filled weekend.