“Wild” camping and hiking in Jebal Ibrahim, Makkah Province
Updated: Dec 19, 2021
"Wild" camping is camping outside of a traditional managed camping site. It is allowed across much of Europe, especially near scenic coastal spots and in national parks. Generally speaking, even if a landowner gives you their blessing, you cannot light fires or disrupt the wild camping sites. It is considered good practice to be responsible and not leave anything behind (rubbish), and take nothing more than memories home (not to take souvenirs from nature).
In much of Europe, you will rarely find yourself totally alone in these wild places as more and more people seek out their own remote, rugged, and off-grid experiences. But in the wilds of Saudi and its undiscovered virgin places, you can have a whole mountain to yourself if you look in the right places. And that is what a group of us set out to do for the national day weekend of 2021.
We were a mixed bag of nationalities, Dutch, English, American, French, and Irish. To find the perfect spot for our wild experience, we drove one thousand kilometers west of Riyadh into the Al Bahah province to the majestic mountain range known as Jebal Ibrahim.
Jebal Ibrahim is approximately 2,604 m high and is a majestic granite elevation rising c.1,000 m above the surrounding rocky and hilly landscape. In the wetter months of the year, the range gives rise to several streams, which provide an endless flow of water for Wadi Turabah and its tributaries. The local habitat includes bare granite domes and slabs, well-vegetated granite circled farming terraces, and herbaceous wetlands that grow on relatively steep, gravelly, and boulder-decorated slopes. Vegetation includes Juniper trees, wadis with abundant indigenous fruit and grass fodder, low-lying shrubs, and acacia woodlands. As a result, Jabal Ibrahim is of high botanical interest to local naturalists.
We planned to drive into the mountain range for one hour and make our way across then up the unsealed, bumpy, gravely scenic steep and winding slopes. We traveled over these rocky trails to the base of the hiking trail, which is a one and half hour hike up to our camping site. Driving in the area takes skill and is not for the faint-hearted and definitely requires a 4x4 vehicle. At times we were not even driving on a specific road. It was more of a weathered granite rock that naturally curved into a convenient shape that linked one part of the trail to the next part. Skilled driving, much research on the trail, and a sense of reverence for our surroundings that we could even make this fantastic trip were required.
When we reached the base of our climb, we parked our jeeps neatly on a narrow walking trail beside a local farm and packed up for the one-and-a-half-kilometer climb. We were each carrying a tent, sleep bag, an ample supply of water, cooking equipment, and food for two dinners, two breakfasts, and one lunch. Depending on individual physical ability to carry a heavier load, some people packed a few nice-to-have items such as a chair, and someone even packed some cigars for the group to celebrate with around the campfire.
Photo credit Richard Lewis
The trail up to the campsite is rugged and generally only frequented by the local goat herder and his nimble flock. It was not so much a trail as a mix of a mountain climb and a ropeless via Ferrata. But with every step, the view became more and more spectacular. The higher we went, the more we realized we were committed now, and we just had to keep going. We met two local hikers coming down the slopes who greeted us warmly and advised us that we were in for a real treat once we got to the plateau. Our final target was 2000m high, and I felt that soon we would be able to kiss the hand of God.
My fitness level is slightly above average, and I would rate the hike eight out of ten without the twelve-kilo backpack. For the most part, the trail is obvious, but on occasions, you do have to scramble across large boulders to get to where you are going. But overall, there were only two real hairy moments on the trail to reach the plateau. Going at a slow and considerate place and with help from my fellow campers, we eventually reached the most beautiful spot I have yet seen in Saudi Arabia. The sight that greeted us erased all muscle aches and filled us with humbleness by the sheer beauty of our camping site.
As the sun was setting and the daylight was fading behind the mountain top, we set up camp. Then we sat down to relax over dinner around the campfire and watch nature's nightly performance, going from an active day to a silent sleepy night. The smells, sights, and sounds of nature, the distant call of the baboons, and the beautiful star-filled sky above our heads were the reward for our hard work to get to this magical place.
Dani, my self and Group leader Elske. photo credit Aedan Jordan
Day two was a full day of exploring and marveling at this special place. Some of the group explored the surrounding slopes, visited abandoned dwellings, found natural wells with water and some dry wells. We watched the goat herder and his healthy-looking goats on their daily visit for grazing. And we tried to outdo each other by taking the most spectacular pictures of this jewel of a place. The standards were high, as you can see when nature was doing all the work for us.
On our second night, dark pregnant rain clouds rolled in from the west, and after a long day of hiking, we all had a much-welcomed warm natural shower to wash off the days' dust. The rain refreshed our surroundings, and when the clouds passed, the birds all came out singing away to their heart's content from the treetops.
On the final day of the trip, we were all up early to see the sunrise one last time and have one last delightful breakfast by the campfire before we set off for the last part of the adventure. The climb back down to our jeeps was considerably less effortless with a lighter load on our backs and a little knowledge of what was ahead of us. On the way off the mountains, we planned to reach the main road by driving across Wadi Haradah that runs through the mountain range. This was an excellent test of driving skills for the guys in our group who enjoyed demonstrating their resolve and pushing their vehicles across the valley basin for almost two hours. We saw no one on this gravel trail and, at times, considered our options if we only came to a dead end after all that effort. But with a good deal of pre-trip research and a healthy helping of trust, we were ejected back out onto the main road that would eventually take us back to Riyadh.
Healthy local goats
This adventure was organized by experienced drivers, campers, and hikers from Riyadh Rovers. We brought all our own supplies on this trip, and we took everything we used or didn't use back home with us. We didn't disturb the site we camped in, and we left the campsite as untouched as we found it for the wild animals and birdlife. And, of course, for the local goats.
photo credit Elske Harbers
Check out what the famous 76 Overlands do it.... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHnIiEZA3yo