03-Dec-2002 -- On 2nd December 2002 (UAE National Day) our group left from Dubayy in four vehicles, to meet a 5th over the border in Oman. 600 km later, we filled our fuel tanks at Mintirib, the last stop before entering the Āl Wahība Sands.
Our crew comprised Dave Aldis (Prado), Gordon 'Sharky' Smith, his wife Sau Chun Mah and daughter Yanni (Discovery), Kate and Paul (Prado), S. H. Wong, his wife Lily and son Winston (Patrol) and Ian 'The Dog' Barker and his wife Sheila (Supercharged Prado).
The Āl Wahība Sands represent a unique desert ecosystem, separated entirely from the Rub` al-Khāliy further west and north. Parallel lines of dunes run North to South, separated by valleys of scrub vegetation, most of which have sand tracks used by the local Bedu population. They eke out a living from sheep and camels, trading in the market towns on the fringe of the sands. Heavy dewfalls provide much of the water which sustains the animal and plant life, and the sands overlie large deposits of aeolianite and a substantial water table.
We picked a route into the Sands, charted from a friend's earlier visit and camped at 22°16.870’N, 58°51.247’E as the sun was setting around 17:30 hrs. Although we were only some 35 km from the Confluence, we were significantly to the west of the ideal line, and we soon realised that progress to the east would be difficult. The dune lines are almost continuous, and we would have to navigate against their steep slip-faces.
On waking the next morning we found tracks of jerboa, lizards and beetles around our tents. We broke camp at 09:00, and continued south, in the hope that the shallower dunes further south would allow easier access to the east. After some 20 km we were able to find a route through the first ridge without too much difficulty. Ian and Dave alternated in leading the convoy over the subsequent ridges – some 5 in total. They became progressively more complex and challenging, and vehicle recoveries more frequent. On the penultimate ridge, Gordon's vehicle became hopelessly mired, and the difficulty of the location was such that we needed some 40 m of ropes to enable Ian to effect a recovery. We eventually reached a point only 600 m from the Confluence before Ian's lead vehicle shed a tyre and we decided to continue on foot.
Finally, at 16:00 hrs on 3rd December 2002, we arrived at 22N 59E. The confluence point is on a dune ridge typical of the surrounding terrain, from which no sign of habitation is visible. We camped nearby and celebrated our achievement. 35 km (straight line) had taken us 7 hours!
The following day we continued south, emerging on the coast of the Gulf of Oman near the village of Šāriq, where a reception committee of village children posed for photographs. Our route took us north to al-Aškhara, where we said goodbye to Wong and his family, who headed back to Dubayy. We remaining 4 vehicles continued to Ra's al-Junayz, where we spent the evening watching Green Turtles laying their eggs, and hatchlings making their way to the sea. On our early morning return visit, the predations of the local foxes were very apparent – for each 1000 eggs, maybe one or two turtles will reach adulthood, surviving foxes, gulls, crabs and man.
December 5th saw us travelling west along the coastal track via Ṣūr, a dhow-building port and former centre of the slave trade, Ṭīwiy (where we walked up the scenic Wādiy al-Šābb), Bimma (visited a famous sinkhole, where the water is tinted blue by the copper deposits from the nearby Ḥajar Mountains) and on to Qurrayāt. From here to Masqaṭ we took the highway, and treated ourselves to a night of hotel luxury. We'd earned it!
On the 6th Dave, Paul and Kate continued to Nizwā, and another confluence hunt (see 23N 56E), while the remaining vehicles took the 450 km trip back to Dubayy. The 5-day round trip amounted to 1766 km.