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Jebel Uweinat - Gilf Kebir Expedition
19th March - 3rd April, 2001
Day 1/3. - Cairo - Dakhla - Gilf Kebir
After two days of driving south from Cairo and fuelling at Dakhla, we left the Dakhla - East Uweinat road about N 23o12'. By taking a more northerly route accross the Selima sand sheet, we have avoided having to cross the Abu Hussein dunes with the heavy cars, and found a convenient gap in the dune belt further west.
We camped among giant barchans at the foothills of the Gilf.
Day 4. - Eight Bells - Shaw's Cave - Ard al Akhdar
Next morning we continued to "Eight bells" and Shaw's cave. We descended into Wadi Wassa, and spent an afternoon exploring the Wadi Ard el Akhdar, where we suffered the only mishap of the trip: the uppermost leaf (the one bearing all the load) of the left rear spring of one of the cars broke. We had no spare spring, but an improvised fix with a block of wood and tie down straps did wonders: it held the fully loaded car for the next 1800 kms, then back to Cairo, without a glitch ! With this delay the sunset caught us about 50 kilometres north east of Karkur Talh.
Day 5/6. - Karkur Talh
Two full days were spent at Karkur Talh, looking at the known rock art sites, and exploring for new ones. The main objectives on this trip were to locate Winkler's site 80 (Rhotert XXVII), in the southern branch of the valley, plus site 81 somewhere between Karkur Talh and Karkur Murr, and site 75 situated somewhere in the upper reaches of Karkur Murr.
Site 80 was located quickly (a year ago we have walked by but failed to notice the faint paintings), including the group of archers copied by Almasy. The archers proved to be tiny, barely discernible figures on the ceiling of a very low shelter, visible only by crawling in on one's back, face a mere 20 cms away from the rock ceiling !
The next afternoon a small party (Wolfgang, Salama & András) climbed the hills to look for the other two sites. Following the old footpath between the wadis, we've located site 81 fairly easily based on Winkler's description. It is truly unique, with abstract symbolism very unlike other sites in Karkur Talh.
Less than 100 metres away, we have found another shelter with paintings. It seemed inconceivable, that if someone saw the first, would not stumble upon the second. However if he saw it, Winkler did not take any photos (I browsed through his material in London), and van Noten does not mention it either (though they claim to have visited site 81). Since van Noten mentions one site only with painted giraffes,which is accounted for, it is very probable that we have discovered a totally new site !
We have continued our walk to Karkur Murr, where we have spent several hours looking for site 75. We did not find it, but were rewarded with the discovery of a new site, located in the upper third of Karkur Murr. The paintings show typical cattle scenes, but the engravings in front of the shelter were quite unique - a group of human figures holding some objects above their heads. Due to the lack of time, we had to turn back at this point, leaving a visit to the spring of Bir Murr for a next trip.
That afternoon Yves managed the near impossible, a reasonably good photo of a waddan in the wild, which he encountered near the entrance of Karkur Talh. (To my knowledge, this feat has only been accomplished once before, by Reinhard Mazur in 1984).
Day 7/8. - Wadi Sora
From Uweinat, we turned north towards Wadi Sora via Clayton's Craters, Prince Kemal el Din monument, and 'Three Castles'. At Wadi Sora we camped two nights, spending time exploring the vicinity, looking for the sites termed E and F by Rhotert, which have since eluded all visitors since 1933. The location of these sites still remain a mystery, but during the course of one morning Alexandra, Wolfgang, Nick & Marianna discovered four sites with paintings in the valley adjacent to Wadi Sora, containing Clayton's Giraffes. Subsequent correspondence revealed, that one site was recorded by Giancarlo Negro and party in 1987, however the others seem to be unknown ones.
We've spent an afternoon visiting "Chianti camp" of the 1932 Almásy - clayton expedition. The spot was found two weeks earlier, by a german party including Werner Lenz and Khaled, after spending several hours in the vicinity of Almásy's reported position. Remarkably, one of the famous Chianti bottles still remain at the site together with other camp leftovers.
On this same trip the party made another discovery: in a wadi some kilometres to the east of Wadi Sora (their camping spot) a small shelter was found that contained some remarkable paintings. After checking references it may be stated, that this find is the most spectacular discovery in the Gilf Kebir since the thirties ! The photos below are the first ones published of this perfectly preserved site.
Day 9. - Aqaba Pass - "Gap"
From Wadi Sora we returned to the 'Aqaba Pass. We had some concerns about the effort needed, as with increasing number of visitors to the Gilf, the sand in the pass is becoming very soft and difficult. During ascent, we noticed a sandy valley with a steep but firm, passable looking sand slope around the middle of the 'Aqaba valley. It proved to be a surprisingly easy ascent, all three cars making it to the top on first try. This contrasted sharply with the struggle on the last two occasions. After the 'Aqaba we contunued up a sandy pass to the top of the plateau, descending to the other side of the dune belt in the "gap".
Day 10/11. - Wadi Hamra - Silica Glass area
The next day we made a short visit into Wadi Hamra, this time locating the rock art sites reported by Giancarlo Negro. From Wadi Hamra we drove north to the Silica Glass area, where we spent two nights and a full leisurely day prospecting.
Day 12/13. - Silica Glass area - "Gap" - Bagnold's Stone Circle - Hill with Stone Circles
On our return journey, we crossed the dune belt in the 'gap', and rounded the northeast corner of the Gilf Kebir. At this point we made an excursion to the north, attempting to locate the big stone circle reported by Bagnold in 1931. The challenge was formidable, as the place was marked as a dot on Bagnold's 1:2 million scale map. However luck was with us, for we drove straight at the circle about 6 kms before the GPS point taken measuring Bagnold's map. Had we passed a few hundred metres to the left or right, we never would have found it.
The same day we drove a further 40kms to the north, to visit Baz Crater, a volcanic hill at the eastern edge of the Great Sand Sea. The return route took us by the Saviem Balise 22., camping at "Hill with Stone Circles on top".
Day 13/14. - Abu Ballas - Darb el Terfawi
Next morning, after visiting the incredible pink yardangs, we drove north to Abu Ballas and then on till tarmac road (making an unwise choice of exploring the 'shortcut' to the road straight due east from Abu Ballas - we got into rather bad broken terrrain, covering no more than 150 kms in five hours). We camped in the lee of a particularly large barchan off the road near the first checkpoint.
Day 15/16. - Dakhla - White Desert - Cairo
During the night, a rather strong sandstorm brewed up, stripping the camp clean of several lighter items unwisely left lying about. The wind continued all day, making it a rather dusty last camp in the White Desert before returning to Cairo.
See Yves' photos of our trip at: