I panted heavily as I shifted my weight onto my hands, holding onto the ledge beside me and preparing to drop down yet another few feet along the granite path that seemed to lead down the mounting. Grimacing as I hit the hard rock underneath, my knees buckled halfway, exhausted by the torture they had received over the past 8 hours.
“You alright?”, Chris asked from behind me, going through the same intricate movements I had made seconds earlier.
Chris runs the Riyadh Rovers, a group of expats with a passion for offroading and traveling to exotic locations around Saudi Arabia. Joining them on, this, their latest expedition, I hadn’t expected it to be this strenuous.
“I’m fine”, I lied, “I just need a minute”. I plopped myself down on a rocky outcropping as I reached for my water bottle. Empty. It had been empty for quite a while now. Why did I keep reaching for it?
The sun was creeping its way downwards. 2 hours left of usable sunlight and 4 kilometers of mountainous terrain between us and camp. With temperatures hitting 5 Celsius, the cold desert was not a place you wanted to spend a night.
Sensing Chris’ urgency, I pulled myself back onto my feet and took stock of my state. It felt like I had pulled every muscle in my legs. My knee had been skinned on the way up, leaving my right pant leg bloodied. Out of water. A single banana left for energy. I had obviously been under-prepared for this hike.
I sighed as pain shot up my right knee as I walked on. How did I get myself into this again?
The Riyadh Rovers
I was introduced to the Riyadh Rovers just a week before through an old friend, Furqan. He needed lens recommendations for the upcoming Bin Huwayl trip and asked if I would like to come along. Not someone who turns down offers like these, I said yes, booking my flight to Riyadh. This was also when I was introduced to Chris and Peter, two of the more experienced members of the Rovers.
The week before the trip was spent gathering the equipment: tents, sleeping bags, torches, firewood, food, things we would need to survive 2 days out in the desert without access to civilization. Our intended destination was “Nipple Rock”, a small peak named after its highly suggestive shape, located in a mountain range 100km south and 300km along the Riyadh-Makkah Highway (see map, zoom out for a complete view!).
Onwards to Huwayl
The preceding paragraphs may have given you a brief idea of what the climb was like. But there was a visual element to it.. to as well Here you have the whole story… in pictures!
Flying straight out from work, I arrived in Riyadh to find Furqan and Fouad running through the final checklist of supplies. For twitter peeps, this is right outside @shan1392's place!
Being the only one with a 4x4, driver duty was obviously relegated to Furqan. Probably a good thing I wasn't behind the wheel anyways. I have a nasty habit of letting go of the steering wheel to take pictures.
Driving through Riyadh, you will occasionally run into these interesting decals at the back of cars. This one is of a younger (and bad-asser) King Abdullah. As the story goes, a man had a similar decal on the back of his beat-up car a few years ago. Seeing it while driving through the streets of Riyadh impressed the then Prince Abdullah immensely and he proceeded to reward the man with a new car and a million riyals. Sort of like 'Pimp my Ride', but the Saudi version where you just throw money at everybody. Since that day, decals like these on the back of cars have multiplied to garish proportions.
Our caravan of 5 cars gathers before venturing out into the less travelled roads into the desert.
After a few hours of night-time driving, some of it offroad, we set up camp in the wadi. It was frickin cold! Time to huddle by the campfire and tell Jinn stories!
Morning at the campsite, and Kevin makes French toast... Flambé ;P
And our destination of the day. Nipple Rock! Please note, this is not the official name of the peak. It's just more fun to go on an epic expedition to climb a nipple. We are also sick people, and most of our campfire discussions revolved around suggestive themes inspired by the mountain we were camping under...
And like many sheep with no idea what we're getting into, we start the climb up to Nipple Rock. It was a backbreaking climb, and I'd probably describe the first hour or so as an extreme leg workout.
Peter takes a breather on the way up. I have to give it up for the man, he kept me going with some extra energy bars after a couple of people with the food supplies backed out..!
Halfway up, you can make out our camp nestled in the small valley in the mountains. The small ruined huts have been abandoned for centuries.
About 1200m above sea level now. The surrounding landscape, with jagged rock jutting out of the desert sands. An awe-inspiring sight...
Furqan takes a break behind a rock outcropping for some photos and water. It is absolutely essential to keep up fluids and energy on climbs like these.
Its views like this that make all the sweat (and blood) worth it. That, and all the sex. I'm just kidding about the sex btw, in case you didn't notice the lack of women for hundreds of kilometers in any direction.
Finally, we made it to second base ;P Having a picnic on nipple rock!
Some of you might be familiar with Ito. He helped me climb to the top. He might not have legs, but he really keeps up the morale...!
While on top of Nipple Rock (omg we really do need to come up with a better name for it), we noticed Bin Huwayl, a taller peak. Due to the male fascination with larger things, it was decided to hike onwards to it.
Hashwat Bin Huwayl, as spied from the base right under Nipple Rock. Menacing... 0_0
At the foot of Bin Huwayl. Getting closer, we realized we may have slightly misjudged how high this thing was. Perhaps this might have been a good time to turn back, given we were starting run a little low on supplies...
It was definitely not easy going. Cossar resorts to using his hands to pull himself up.
But finally make it we did. After some strenuous climbing, we made it to the highest peak around. We were on top of Hashwat Bin Huwayl : -)
And what a view it was!
Call it some kind of phallic phascination (see what I did there!), but being on top of a peak and seeing all those other mountains smaller than you feels goooood : -D
Alan walks along a ridge descending Bin Huwayl.The last hour or so of climbing had been strenuous, and most of us were getting tired.
As Chris put it "We knew where we were, and we knew where we wanted to be. We just didn't know how to get there". As Kevin put it "You were lost". We took a gully down a path we thought would lead back to the wadi.
The gully turned out to be surprisingly beautiful. Perhaps more so than the mountain peaks themselves. Pink granite and leftover water from the rains several weeks ago. Locals say this gully turns into a river once it actually starts raining.
But the path downwards was as treacherous as it was beautiful. The stones were smooth and slippery, and sections of the descent required some tricky movements to traverse.
This man nearly shot us. Just when we were losing any hope of getting back to camp before dark, we run into a bedouin hunter. He came up to us startled. Told us he was out hunting mountain goat and nearly shot us thinking we were goat... baaa...
The bedouin turned out to be the son of the Amir who owned the valley. Noticing how exhausted we were (I couldnt feel my legs, lips were dry), he stuffed us into his land cruiser and carted us back to camp. At which point I plopped myself on a chair and refused to move for 3 hours.
The crackling fire puts us all to sleep : -) New adventure to begin tomorrow.
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I'm a freelance photographer based in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and have taken photos for magazines and event organizers that have been published worldwide. I help people preserve memories, and companies mark their events. And I make sure to spread good cheer wherever I go!