17-Feb-2002 -- For a number of years, while the moving `Īd religious holidays have fallen in the winter season, lovers of Saudi Arabia's desert countryside have taken the opportunity to organise 4x4 holidays to the less accessible areas. This `Īd (Ḥajj 1422 = February 2002) a group of us planned a trip to near the mid-point of the Empty Quarter (the country sized Rub` al-Khāliy desert). This was to include approximately 800 km of tar-road driving and 800 km of off-road driving. We'd recently become aware of the Degree Confluence Project and tuned our route to take in up to 4 confluence points, if things went well. Doug and Gwen led the convoy to this confluence point and wrote up this part of the journey. For an account of the other confluence points that we visited, see 22N 51E, 22N 50E and 24N 49E.
The route for the third confluence point started off encouragingly enough, with no need for the ultimate humiliation of having to be dug out of the sand, which had happened to us at the previous campsite at the meteorite crater. The initial 100 kilometres on route E51 north was initially a pleasant drive, although we failed to come across the actual E51 track notwithstanding 15 km detour, however the terrain being relatively flat we managed encouragingly fast speeds of up to 70 km per hour, not bad for sand driving. At this pace we had anticipated a leisurely drive with an early coffee stop at the confluence point. The terrain being flat, fairly hard sand and peppered with bushes and vegetation, relatively lush for being in the middle of the Empty Quarter (around half a million square miles of unforgiving desert) and emphasised with a backdrop of gently undulating low sand dunes. After approximately 2 hours the scenery and terrain changed to being more of an object lesson in how to avoid mounds topped with bushes, as if the desert had suddenly developed a bad case of acne, the sand also became softer which was to cause us problems in the not too distant future.
Heading toward the hottest part of the day when the sun and the light are at their brightest and most piercing, playing tricks on your eyes and making perception of the dunes difficult to our relatively inexperienced eyes was where/when we hit the first of what was to become an all too frequent occurrence of becoming stuck in soft sand. After totally misjudging the height of what looked like a small sand dune but when we approached at speed more closely resembled a sandy Munro peak (a Scottish mountain over 3000 ft, to the uninitiated). We quickly aborted our effort in mountaineering in our four-wheel drive and chose a much more sensible gradual ramp at the end of the dune only to become totally stuck in soft sand at the top. The Land Rover being well and truly dug-in and after much pushing, shoving, digging and very loud noises of complaint from both car and people, the Land Rover was eventually pulled out by the Nissan Patrol. A task it was to perform on an all too frequently on the next stage of the journey. We are now thinking that our Land Rover may be more aptly named Ground Hog. However we temporarily handed over the navigation of the sands to more experienced hands and regained leadership after the dunes and bumps had been successfully left behind us, finally arriving at the confluence point at about 2 pm, hot sweaty, thirsty, sandy, but proud! The site turned out to be not particularly photogenic being a flat plain, with little vegetation and broken only in the distance by sand dunes. But it was ours!