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Must-Dos For Local Adventurers

Al Wahbah Crater, a volcanic crater 250 km from Taif, in the western region of Saudi Arabia.

Text and Photography By Mona Alzubair

Outdoor activities like camping or hiking present an invaluable chance to immerse oneself in an environment unlike our own. So as you pack and get ready for your next local adventure, leave your assumptions behind, live up to the experience, and own it. Here are five points that will certainly enrich your upcoming local outdoor travel.

1- Expand your horizon.
There are no limits to the amount of knowledge you can gain from an adventure. So push your boundaries, explore new surroundings, and ask as many questions as you can. What kind of terrain is it? How isolated is it from surrounding inhabitants? What kind of human impact is there? How did this location come to being from an ecological, geological, or other standpoint? As you continue to explore, you’ll thank yourself for going beyond the surface.

2- “Let the bird sing.”
Rest assured that the moment your city-life self interacts with nature, it retracts and somewhat limits your experience. It is a coded natural protection mechanism that living things guard and close on themselves when danger approaches, and yes, you can represent danger to a tree, a bird, or a wildflower!

Think of it this way: nature becomes itself when it is undisturbed and progressing on its own pace, not yours.

The delicate interaction between all the elements of nature will not be revealed or fully expressed to you or to others around you when you are loud, hurried, and abrasive.

So go about your adventure with the awareness that you are a visitor, bringing with you only respect and appreciation. Ponder on the fact that it took mountains and valleys hundreds of millions of years to form, and the surrounding younger and transformative elements are in sync with this ecosystem, moving all in harmony and in accordance to a grand wisdom. Respect it.

Ibrahim Mountain area, Bani Malik

Ibrahim Mountain area, Bani Malik

3- Be clear on objectives, everyone.  
Be conscious of why you are taking this trip. Is it a mini getaway from daily pressures? Do you want to see this specific location you’ve heard about? Do you constantly imagine yourself standing on a hill overlooking a magnificent sunrise? It could be anything, but you need to figure out what it is! As you do so, you should also inquire and align with the objectives of the group you are traveling with. The company you go with is what will make or break your trip, and if you are not aligned at least on the major objectives, expect that compromises will be made. This could range from the food you will eat if you are sharing resources, the timing of specific hikes and activities, and general rules of the group, etc. You are all in this together, so verbalize your needs.

4- Become a master planner.
Packing for a camping trip is a skill acquired through experience. Every time you do it, you become better at it, realizing that certainly you don’t need four t-shirts or your big bottle of body lotion for a 2-day trip when space is limited and every gram counts (especially if it is a backpacking trip where you will be carrying all your needs for a considerable length of time!). If you are traveling with a guide, ask questions – a good guide will let you know what the essentials are beforehand. It’s important to not let others “carry you” throughout the trip; don’t expect them to carry an extra headlight or camp chair for you, for instance. Train yourself to give up some comforts and embrace the hardships your upgraded self is now experiencing.

Al Ula is one of the tourism mega projects, a must visit for its natural marvel and historical significance.

Al Ula is one of the tourism mega projects, a must visit for its natural marvel and historical significance.

5- Aim for the stars (and/or the moon)!
As someone who practices night photography, I am fascinated by the night’s enormous potential for dream-like photographs. Among other things, the timing of your trip as well as how far you are from city lights will determine the outcome; each scenario has its own unique gifts to offer.

First thing I usually do is figure out where the moon falls in its lunar cycle. You will get a nightscape with the dominance of either the moon or the stars, not both. I once camped in a 1% moon phase in Al Ula, the starriest night I have ever witnessed – heaven was truly a place on earth that night. If you’re not into night photography, don’t discount the night time experience outdoors. Allow yourself to adjust to the darkness with as little light pollution as possible, and you will be surprised by what and how much you can see.

The Principles of Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace (LNT) is a set of international standards for outdoors decision-making.

The five points we mentioned are inspired by the spirit of LNT which informs on much more than how to minimize impact outdoors to a practical and ethical code of conduct.

These are golden rules; if you learn and practice them, you will have contributed to the preservation of the wilderness, and to spreading the love of nature.


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Wadi Zi Ghazal, Al Shafa


The 100-Million-Year-Old Mountain.

Very few things in life compare to the joy of experiencing nature fully. The list of natural places to visit in our country is quite long, and we are blessed with unparalleled, rich, natural destinations to explore.

When I learned from my fellow nature explorers that our next destination was the Wadi Zi Ghazal in Al Shafa, I was thrilled about the prospect of being in the highest elevation in Al Taif region – over 2,421 meters from sea level.

Wadi Zi Ghazal is about 180km away from Jeddah, a mere 2.5 hours by car on a scenic mountain road. Since Al Shafa is locally considered a summer resort destination, going in winter meant we’d face some extreme cold weather, especially as we’d planned to camp outdoors for two full days.wadi-ghazal_photo-by-mona-al-zubair5-copy

The gracious Granite Mountain, as it is called, is becoming a new destination for the local climbers community. It was recently launched as the newest designated rock-climbing location after the climbing trail and bolts was properly laid down by the climbing community with the guidance of international experts. This sets a totally new era for the valley and the mountain.

We were lucky to have a geologist with us who explained how the Granite Mountain came to being – fire stones such as granite form under the earth’s crust in a slow crystallization process of the earth’s magma. The slow movement of tectonic plates over the years creates the pressure upward and pushes the formed granite stones above the surface. This process took approximately no less than a 100 million years. And this is basically what we are looking at today, the awe-inspiring 100-million-year-old mountain residing over the valley.wadi-ghazal_photo-by-mona-al-zubair3-copy

A climbing expert and enthusiast told me that this is a preferable mountain to climb since it is made of granite – it is solid, with minimal danger of falling pieces, and has a vertical surface which is an ideal challenge for the climbers. Climbers have been coming to Al Shafa in a quest to ‘conquer’ the mountain.

The location surrounding the mountain is astoundingly beautiful, especially in winter, when vibrant greens are evident everywhere. It was wonderful to know that this beauty is just a couple of hours away from us!

My personal reason for camping outdoors is to connect with the universe with minimal light and sound pollution, providing me with the experience of nature coming to life. Our camping companions follow the “Leave no Trace” principles and strive to respect the ecosystem, keeping the place as we found it.wadi-ghazal_photo-by-mona-al-zubair2-copy

I prepare myself with a specific mindset before going to any camping trip and that is to allow myself to be amazed and surprised, and to anticipate meaningful encounters with people or the natural environment. The universe is indeed wiser than me, and I am here to learn and be grateful. Given this understanding, nature solidifies the life fact that everything is impermanent and thus we must be fully aware of the moment before us.

One of the things I experienced in the two days I spent at the valley is hiking up the maze of rocks and encountering an ancient tree majestically situated and surrounded by young array of various species of green plants. The contrast and interplay between the two created meaning for me and I felt that closing the year 2018 off, I was ready for whatever comes in my path while bearing in mind this delicate relationship present in nature and in our own lives. I also felt that I was transported into a garden as the birds were singing in the background and the wind made its presence known via the trees – a true gift that deepens our appreciation of the plentiful, available to those who seek it.