09-Feb-2008 -- We came within 2.7 km of visiting 22N 55E on the 3rd day of a 500+ km off-road tour of the Rub` al-Khāliy. This followed a successful visit to 22N 54E the day before. We turned back from our efforts on account of time constraints.
Departing 22N 54E we made good time crossing long stretches of sabkha, but in the late afternoon we encountered more challenging terrain. One of the vehicles bogged down on a soft sidehill, and lost the bead for 2 of the down-slope tires. It took more than two hours for recovery, thus it was dark before we headed to nearby flat ground for camp. En route, a couple of vehicles plunged into deep holes which were not readily visible in the dark, and it took another hour to dig and winch-out one of them. Afternoon of 9 February statistics: 151 km travelled; max speed of 85 km/h; moving time of 4:57; and average speed of 30.4 km/h. Our camp was located 16.3 km from 22N 55E. The temperature dropped to 6°C (43°F) in the evening and was a cool 3°C (37°F) the next morning.
We departed camp at 7:30 a.m. and by 9:30 had crossed 9 km. At this point we deviated south from our planned route looking for easier terrain. In hindsight, it appears that the planned northern route would have been the better way to go. At 10:57 we made our closest approach to the Confluence reaching 21°58.60'N 54°59.509'E, 2.7 km SSW. Numerous slip-faces on a large irregular dune blocked a direct approach to our target. We scouted for an easy way around to the East, but we did not find one before our turn-around time at noon. We were happy to have made it so close to the Confluence, but disappointed to have run out of time.
We had planned two possible routes for our return. One was to basically retrace our route back to Šayba and the second was to go westerly an extra 30 km connecting with the Kidan Trail and following it 80 km north to the tarmac at Šabita. Our experience had shown that it is often more difficult to cross the dunes going north. We chose to attempt the Kidan route as we believed it would involve less traveling against the grain into the large south facing slip-faces. With luck we would be able to step sabkhas to the south past dune ridges as necessary on our way west. We could not backtrack parts of our original path because we had gone down several large slip faces.
By 15:45 we had traveled 23 km, frequently adjusting our route due to difficult terrain. We were negotiating a steep side-hill route which 3 vehicles had crossed when the fourth tipped over on its side during the crossing at about 16:00. We worked well into the night emptying the tipped vehicle, winching it around and righting it, and then working on the engine to get it started again (spark plugs, timing, etc.). At 21:34 we started to winch the vehicle across the side-hill slope, using winches on 2 vehicles. We got it half-way across the hill, and then interrupted our efforts at 23:30 for some sleep. GPS statistics for the afternoon: 61.9 km covered; max speed 54.7 km/h; move time 3:21 hrs; avg. speed 18.4 km/h.
Sunday, 10 February. In the morning we completed winching the vehicle and made more adjustments to the engine before departing at 10:37. The rolled vehicle was plagued with inadequate power and limited climbing capability causing us to search out the "Goldie locks zone" for each dune crossing. We make good progress across long strings of sabkhas until late afternoon when we encountered impassable dunes to the north, south, and west. Backtracking 5 km we found a way to the next sabkha north and made camp just after sundown. GPS statistics: 124 km travelled; max. speed 73.9 km/h; move time 3:59 hrs; avg. speed 33.6 km/h.
Monday, 11 February. We began rolling at first light = @ 5:55. After traveling westerly for 35 km across mostly easy terrain we encountered difficulty in some soft, irregular dunes at 11:00. Reconnaissance from high ground showed our current rough terrain continued unabated to the West, thus we decided to go northeast and hook back up with our original route from Šayba. We rapidly got to within 2 km of our old track before being forced to make a large circular detour around an impassable steep dune. Except for one other detour, and minor deviations around slip-faces, we are able to reverse our old tracks from February 7-8.
We arrived back at our off-road starting point at 17:00, and finished airing up just before sunset. GPS statistics for the day: Trip: 147 km; max 68.8 km/h; move time 5:45 hrs; avg. speed 25.5 km/h. After dinner and rudimentary clean-up at the Šayba dining hall, and some fuel transfers, we began our all-night journey back to Ẓahrān. Most vehicles rolled into Ẓahrān between 4 and 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, just in time for the participants to shower and start their day at work. This was an incredible journey amidst the giant dunes of the Rub` al-Khāliy. It has given us significant insight on how to optimize future trips and we look forward to our next visit.
Video clips from this visit are here.