04-Dec-2004 -- We were having a look at getting 30N 28E via the scenic route from Matrūḥ to Cairo over the Qaṭṭāra scarp and into the depression. This raised the question of what are the lowest confluence points in the world, as the Qaṭṭāra depression goes as low as -133 m. Using the search engine on the Confluence web page, it was determined that 30N 28E at -35 m was the fourth lowest Confluence. We also found that the two lowest Confluences on the planet were both in Egypt, and these were 30N 27E at -60 m and 29N 27E at -75 m. Could we get 30N 27E and 30N 28E in one trip?
The access into 30N 28E is relatively easy as it lies only 1.2 km of a well defined track, but 30N 27E was guarded on one side by the formidable Qaṭṭāra escarpment, that guarded the Allies' flank at the battle of al-`Alamayn, and very nasty sabkha (salt flats) on the other. Commercial maps showed a track that ran alongside the bottom of the scarp but I have never met anyone that had driven it. Then a golden opportunity came up at work to scout the area that would bring us close to both Confluences, provided that these old maps that showed a crossing across the dreaded sabkha were accurate.
We set off from Ma`ādiy at 5:30, crossed the Nile as the fog started to come in, and it was thick enough to mask the pyramids as we passed through Gīza. Then out to 6th-October-City to fill up with diesel at the last available fuel stop, but this was a disappointment as the first 3 stations we tried all had run out of Diesel. By the time we found the fourth station and topped up we were well behind schedule. We then hit the road but soon encountered thick fog so we pulled over till the sun could burn it off. The sensible truckers had done the same but we watched in awe as one truck overtook another with visibility at about 50 m tooting his horn, presumably to warn oncoming traffic because they were surely not going to see him! We were glad we were parked up and waited till it cleared before heading down the Baḥariyya road now two hours behind schedule.
We reached the rest house halfway to Baḥariyya and were pleasantly surprised to find that the fuel station that had been closed for a long time had reopened. We happily topped up again before heading to the Abū Ġarādiq turnoff. There we turned west to follow an old track shown on most commercial maps and what we had used in our successful conquest of 29N 29E. This was a good track, difficult to follow in a couple of places, particularly as we headed west and surprisingly encountered quite a few areas of trees where there were lots of Bedouin tracks running between them. We carried on making good progress hoping to cross the sabkha before nightfall and get a sheltered campsite in the lee of the scarp. This was assuming the track across existed and it was with some trepidation we came down towards the crossing point as the sabkha looked nasty.
However, we picked out the track and discovered that the surface was hard and very rough. We bounced our way over in first until about the middle, where there was a clear change in color of the surface with a nasty looking schism between them, with bright white salt coming to the surface. However the track carried on and held as we crossed the schism and bounced our way over the remaining part of the sabkha. It was getting late now and we were worried would not make it the shelter of the scarp proper when a small scarp with a nice sheltered gully appeared. We gladly took the decision to stay there the night getting the tents up just before dark, followed by a nice barbeque. We had covered 530 km, 300 km off road, during the day and crossed the depression and retired very satisfied.
We were up and breakfasted before dawn, broke camp and headed north to intersect with the track shown on the maps. After the success the day before, we were confident of finding it but were getting worried until we came across it right at the bottom of the cliff. It was interesting to note that in addition to the well-defined vehicle tracks there was the well-defined ancient camel trail scuffed into the gravel by thousands of camel feet. We then headed north along the track and a spectacular track it is, the large impressive scarp with the banding of colors of the different layers, plus grove after grove of heavily laden date palms. The strange thing was that despite coming across lots of fresh tire, camel and even human footprints we had not seen a soul in 330 kilometers of off-road travel.
We came round a bend in the track and there was 30N 27E, only 900 m from the track. We headed out to it through a copse of bushes but the point was 200 m out on to the sabkha. We prudently walked out, but it seemed hard enough, and this was my fastest zero dance yet, as I switched from navigate mode to position screen the zeros were there. The elevation was reading -83 m, well below the -60 m estimated on the confluence page. Not sure what the elevation accuracy on the Garmins are but we had three plus a Trimble 4700SSE and all had a similar elevation. So we were lower than any other confluence hunter had ever been, so the team took the opportunity to look up at the thousands of other confluence visitors, confident we were the lowest of the low! It was then on to 30N 28E at the dizzy height of -35 m.