05-Apr-2004 -- The Easter break gave us an opportunity to do a last long trek of the camping season before the desert summer set in. The trek was a combined affair for the first three days and then the party split up into two different trips. The initial stage took us 1000 km from Riyāḍ through north Burayda, into the volcanic fields southeast of Ḥā'il, to Ḥā'il itself, and into the granite mountains northwest of Ḥā'il. The second stage that I was a party to, took us 1700 km northeast of Ḥā'il, north into the frontier region, southeast along the Dahnā' sand dunes, and then home to Riyāḍ. During this trip, our party managed to bag seven new confluence points – 27N 44E, 27N 41E, 28N 42E, 28N 43E, 29N 43E, 29N 44E, 28N 44E.
From the boring 28N 43E confluence point, we backtracked to a small town where we refuelled and tried to find the substantial road heading eastwards that our maps and GPS told us was there. Sadly we never found it (or rather, the information was incorrect), despite making several enquiries, and had to satisfy ourselves with a very corrugated dirt road that seemed to be it.
We thankfully left the teeth-jarring road and headed cross-country towards the Dahnā’ dunes again, where we wanted to intercept the Darb Zubayda. This is the pilgrims route from Baġdād to Makka that was built by Queen Zubayda during the times of the Arabian Caliphs many hundreds of years ago. She financed the building of safe settlements one day’s march apart, together with the wells and reservoirs to water the caravans. This allowed less wealthy Muslims the chance to visit Makka, although a great number were killed along the route by raiding tribesmen who, on one occasion, reportedly slaughtered fourteen thousand pilgrims in a raid.
We found the Darb but were running out of daylight. So we found a high horseshoe sand dune for shelter and camped for the night. The following morning surprised us by being very cold for the time of year. We broke camp and started along the Darb, comforted by the warmth of the vehicles. We immersed ourselves in the history of the Darb during the day, and visited many ancient wells, reservoirs and a beautiful oasis. We also found some modern day concrete reservoirs that had been built in the same design as their older predecessors, and served the same purpose.
We happened upon an uncharted tar road, which we slowly followed until it led us to a welcome fuel stop. Unfortunately, the combination of hot tar and deflated tyres resulted on one of our tyres disintegrating (thankfully we always carry two spare tyres each).
The Darb continued north, but we needed to turn westwards towards the confluence point. We made heavy work of the initial section, as there were only a few faint tracks to thread us through the bushes that grew on the undulating sand. We finally found a substantial track that followed the bottom of a dune line in the direction that we wanted.
This track was great, as we needed to speed up if we were to make the confluence before sunset. In any event, the track took us very close to our destination and we only needed to travel another two kilometres to reach the confluence point. It was situated on some stony hills that lay north of the dune line. The wind obviously blows sand over the stones as the hills were a lovely red in the sunset.
Continued at 29N 44E.