Give Me a Dune with a View!

It’s been a few weeks since I posted a new blog. And while there’s no excuse for leaving you hanging, I can honestly say there wasn’t an internet connection for at least 800km…

I’ve been in the Sahara for most of the past month, on an expedition to one of the least inhabited regions of the desert.

Our target was Jebel Uweinat, an isolated mountain range that sits right on the border of Sudan, Egypt and Libya.

My wife and I joined an expedition organized by Andras Zboray, who has been patiently searching out and meticulously cataloguing prehistoric rock art in this region for well over a decade.

Because the costs of mounting a trip to such a remote and potentially dangerous place are extremely high, Andras finds small groups of like-minded desert enthusiasts to split the costs.

This trip brought together a diverse group from as far away as Canada, South Africa, Australia, Switzerland, the UK, Hungary and other parts of Europe. Some were interested in rock art, like Andras. Others were searching for prehistoric settlement sites they’d identified by pouring over satellite images on Google Earth. Some were enthusiasts of the early history of Sahara exploration. And others came simply because they’d been captivated by the desert landscape and the freedom of a place beyond the reach of any government.

The easiest staging point for an expedition to Uweinat used to be Egypt. There are a lot more oases further out in the desert, and the driving is good across vast sand sheets. But policies have changed, and the Egyptian government now requires travelers to pay for a full escort of soldiers in a separate Land Rover. Unfortunately these guys know nothing of the desert. They just eat your food, take up extra space and they’re afraid of the dark.

That being the case, Andras decided to make an attempt on Uweinat from the Sudan side.

This meant we had to begin our trip far to the south in Khartoum, with a 3 day drive up the Nile valley before turning west into the open desert.

(We also had an opportunity to visit many of the pyramid sites and other ruins as we passed through these villages, and I’ll write about that in a future blog.)

Once in the sands, it took another 3 days of off-track driving to reach Uweinat.

We drove something like 2,000km through open desert over the course of the expedition, searching out rock art sites and visiting places that were touched by earlier Sahara explorers — some of the heroes I’ve read about — like Bagnold, Clayton, Almasy and Hassanein Bey.

We saw some of the most important prehistoric rock art sites in the Uweinat region, and we managed to discover a few new ones too as we explored some of the last remaining uncharted plateaus on the mountain.

I think that’s part of the allure of a place like Uweinat. It’s isolation. It’s solitude. And the fact that there are still places on the mountain where no one has set foot since this once-fertile region became arid and the hunter-gatherers and cattle herders who created the rock art disappeared.

Jebel Uweinat wasn’t even discovered by outsiders until Hassanein Bey’s expedition of 1923.

The waterless nature of the eastern part of the Sahara made camel expeditions impracticable, and so exploration in these regions would have to wait for vehicles capable of driving on sand. It was only explored in the 1920’s and 1930’s by men like Bagnold with their early Ford motorcars.

Even with modern Toyota Land Cruisers, we still had to travel with thousands of gallons of fuel and water, a mechanic, detailed satellite maps and GPS.

I look forward to sharing some stories and images of this truly unique region with you over the next couple weeks.

There are close to 5,000 photos to process, but here are a few to give you a feel for the landscape and the mode of travel.

Some last minute desert prep...

Some last minute desert prep…

Can you guess my desert soundtrack...?

Can you guess my desert soundtrack…?

Using sand ladders on the Selima sand sheet...

Using sand ladders on the Selima sand sheet…

Jebel Uweinat with views of the Hassanein Plateau

Jebel Uweinat with views of the Hassanein Plateau

Exploring uncharted areas of the plateau on Uweinat, in search of prehistoric rock art.

Exploring uncharted areas of the plateau on Uweinat, in search of prehistoric rock art.

Hiking across the plateau towards the Three Graces after a tough 4 hour climb up Wadi Wahesh - that's not even half way up Uweinat!

Hiking across the plateau towards the Three Graces after a tough 4 hour climb up Wadi Wahesh – that’s not even half way up Uweinat!

Pulling on my boots at sunrise (yeah, I woke up with the sun every day!). At our camp in the Wadi Wahesh.

Pulling on my boots at sunrise (yeah, I woke up with the sun every day!). At our camp in the Wadi Wahesh.

Stone messages from our prehistoric ancestors near our camp in Karkur Talh.

Stone messages from our prehistoric ancestors near our camp in Karkur Talh.

All photos © Tomoko Goto 2013

 

Comments

  1. Looks like an amazing adventure! I’m anxiously awaiting more stories.

  2. Susen Kaylo says:

    Looks very hot but incredible. I too am looking forward to reading more stories from this adventure. Btw, I assume the soundtrack you’re listening to is “Another One Bites The Dust?” ;-). Lol

    • Ryan Murdock says:

      lol – nope, nothing dust or sand related. I was mostly listening to The Idyllist by Steve Kilbey. It was released right before the trip. Those long desert drives were a great opportunity to soak it all in and peel away the layers.

      The heat wasn’t too bad most of the time. It was 40C or so on a few days, that made for some tough hiking, and some long rests under a rock at midday. But apart from that, very nice desert weather.

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