31-Jan-2004 -- Once again, we used the Ḥajj religious holiday to explore new areas within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Our journey was divided into two separate sojourns because some people could only make it for the beginning of Ḥajj, some only at the end of Ḥajj, while others could complete both portions.
Of interest to us during the first part of the journey, was the "un-bagged" 22N 49E confluence and the "attempted" 22N 48E confluence. This took us east of Riyāḍ for 300 km to Ḥaraḍ, and then south for 80 km to Yabrīn, where the tar road ended. We then continued off-road for a further 450 km before reaching the main road at Laylā (300 km south of Riyāḍ).
We took extra fuel, as we knew that we would encounter sand but were unsure how much or how difficult. It was while we were filling up our cans at the fuel stop that we bumped into our old friends Andy and Frank. They and their party were heading out on a longer journey that would follow the 49th line right through the heart of the Rub` al-Khāliy desert. The 49th line, huh? This was not good news. Andy and Frank were converted into "confluence baggers" ("a"!!!) on a trip that we had done during the Ḥajj holiday a year previously.
Our party truck out south-west of the historical oasis town of Yabrīn. On route, we passed a tiny village and must have stirred some life into the sleepy inhabitants. For, as we left the village, a Land Cruiser sped passed us on the narrow dirt track at a breakneck speed and stopped the lead vehicle. The Saudi occupants were puzzled as to what we were doing there and offered us the customary invitation to go back and have tea with them. We politely declined their genuine hospitality and continued on our way to locate the graves.
The graves are a collection of thousands of bronze-age graves that are spread over an area of many square kilometres. The once neatly constructed graves, are now normally a mound of rocks that have been strewn about by the grave robbers. The mound often forms the centre of a circle of rocks approximately 80 meters in diameter. Sometimes there are lines of rocks forming spokes from the circle. We camped in this area and were able to explore these graves further, the following morning.
We then made for a small hill, on top of which was supposed to be a low cave containing wassums. These are territorial tribal markings that have been used by the nomadic tribes for centuries. We found many wassums on the ceiling of the cave, as well as on the surrounding sandstone rocks.
We then headed towards the 22N 49E confluence point. We tried to locate some Bedouin wells that were supposed to be along the route, but never managed to locate them. We could have been close to the wells, but the low, stony hills gradually disappeared and were replaced by more sandy areas, which made detection pretty difficult. In fact we encountered an area of "choppy" sand dunes interspersed with very soft sand "bowls". A lengthy vehicle extraction slowed our progress and, as we were running out of daylight, we decided to camp in the dunes.
The following morning, we set off to complete the final 10 km to the confluence point. The area was made up of irregular sand dunes with occasional patches of small, flat, gravel plains. We travelled on the gravel where we could until we saw fresh tracks descending a dune slip-face. Sure enough, Andy and Frank had beaten us to the confluence point. We now know how Scott must have felt at the South Pole. Still, "bagging" confluence points in Saudi Arabia is more about the adventures along the way than about the confluence point itself. And, we still had the adventure of visiting the 22N 48E confluence point, ahead of us.