18-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. Alistair 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 50E, 22N 51E and 23N 51E.
Reaching the 23N 51E degree confluence, proved much more demanding than we expected due to the extremely soft sand. Leaving this area was even more demanding. The sand dunes were irregularly dispersed with treacherous patches of powder soft sand waiting in ambush for vehicles. Once trapped in such a patch, changing into low range, four-wheel drive normally allowed the vehicle to extract itself. However, on many occasions, more manual methods were required. These methods included pushing, digging, using the sand ladders, towing, or combinations of those. Switching the convoy leader reaped no benefits as we tried in vain to read the secretive sand. We took four hours to travel forty slow kilometres. Then, the sand gradually became firm and we finally arrived in the area that we were making for. We warily set up camp and around the campfire we marvelled at our day of exertions.
We needed to leave early the next morning in order to make up the lost time from the previous day. We arrived at Nadqān, another small water station, and made a few purchases at the under-stocked store. We also re-inflated our tyres as the remaining 150 km to the tar road would be along a jolting rig road being used by large trucks supporting the current gas exploration project in the area. The road was rough, but was undemanding compared with leading the off-road legs over the sand dunes.
We reached the tar road with relief and in Ḥaraḍ we refuelled at the first proper fuel station that we had seen for four days. As we were on route home to Riyāḍ, we thought that we would round off our trip by visiting an easy degree confluence point. We went via a tar road that left south from Ḥaraḍ, and then headed about five km west off the tar road. The actual confluence was just beyond the area of agricultural activity and was situated on a flat, stony plain. Ḥaraḍ was just visible about 15 km away. This was a boring degree confluence, but a perfect lunch stop for us. A light shower of rain necessitated the use of the awning during lunch and brought some welcome coolness to the air.
Sadly, we began the 300 kilometre leg back to Riyāḍ. Thoughts of the death defying Riyāḍ drivers were put aside while we nostalgically mused over the events of our five-day adventure and the four degree confluence points that we visited.