11-Aug-2011 -- With only a couple of confluence points left to complete in the Kingdom, most of which are in danger zones or right on state borders, Grant Scroggie and I decided to tackle the last and probably most difficult accessible one left on the map.
A careful study of Alistair Rausch's previous incomplete visit and detailed high-resolution views in Google Earth confirmed that this point is on the side of a steep cliff, about 1.2 km away from the nearest point you can drive to. Not easily deterred by such a challenge, the two of us flew down to Abhā from Jidda, rented a Landcruiser, and drove immediately down to the area nearest the point. Having left Jidda at 38°C it was a delight to find the temperature in Abhā a comfortable 25°C, with light mist drifting softly through the mountains.
We drove quickly around Khamīs Mušayṭ and headed south on route 15 towards Āl al-Dāḥis, turning off right just before the village and heading into unknown, low-resolution Google Earth territory. After a short while we found the same settlement and the probable location from which Alistair had taken his pictures in 2002 and parked the car.
Equipping ourselves with plenty of water, stout walking shoes, two GPS devices, food, batteries, and all the other items essential for our safety, we set off for the point at approximately 10 a.m., slightly apprehensive about what lay in store. We quickly reached a gently sloping, boulder-filled landscape, followed immediately by the sandy plain plainly visible on Google Earth, before arriving at a rocky precipice overlooking the valley, the floor of which was over 800 metres below.
What had been merely images on a computer screen suddenly became very real, as the breathtaking beauty of the mountains, the valley and the stillness of it all hit us.
We began our cautious descent with a distance of 'only' 700 metres remaining. Each step was measured and careful; each rock was tested for foot-firmness before steadily advancing; each breath grew heavier and more laboured as these two rather aging gentlemen inched ever closer to their goal.
After over three hours of descending in this way, with frequent stops for drinks, some lunch and further planning our way forward, we reached a point where we determined that the climb back to the car was going to take us a good deal of energy and time still and, with the confluence point remained a distant 285 m away over two more steep, rocky ridges; we reluctantly agreed to call it a day and head back to the car, returning finally to the car at around 4:30 p.m.
The return trip was tiring, requiring every ounce of our concentration to ensure we made it safely to our vehicle. At more than one spot we were reminded just how exposed some of the scrambling was, missing our footing was not an option. Once back, we started a post-mortem as to how we would have done it differently to succeed and concluded that you must leave the car at around 7 a.m., latest, during the cool of the day and descend steadily over a period of probably five hours to the point, returning in approximately the same time to be back by 5 p.m., allowing for frequent stops and a margin for safety. Although peak physical fitness is not required, it is preferable that you should be in good shape. Having a good head for heights is also needed.
On our second day, we visited the city of Abhā itself, discovering old Ottoman watchtowers on the way, followed by a drive out to the highest point of the country at Jabal Suda at around 3,000 m and a descent by car to the village of Rijāl al-Mā'. With its houses with their traditionally decorated windows in the village, this was the perfect place to conclude another marvellous weekend in this fascinating country.