A Footnote at Volcanic Crater

Al-Wahba Crater

Walt Disney once said “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” He was right… He is right… I guess he was the lover of his dreams who believe to shape his dreams into reality. He dropped high school to join army but rejected of being underage. Drove ambulance in France, after armistice was signed in WWI. He was cartoonist for newspaper company but big boss didn’t like his creative ideas. But he kept dreaming big which soon became reality. Till date, no man has ever won more Academy Awards then this dreamer, 26.

Sparingly, I indulge myself dropping from all social workouts, crop the tyranny of bumbling de facto and focus on the belle of my utopia. Sit on tip of the iceberg and profess heaven.

Suffering the boredom in the Kingdom of the driest land with no drop of rain on my naked head, I chose long-distance-travelling my habit like jumping of a rabbit. Tired of working trauma, I chose a path of glory like a mallory. With me joins two more adventure-bonafiders. Time to travel somewhere, make a plan, choose the destiny and off we go…

Mr. Disney’s dream met end as toony, but we ended to dream a lil moony. There is a crater, volcanic crater, in a Kingdom where I live. That view astonished us and we planned to go there. On first attempt, we couldn’t drop down the surface as we couldn’t locate the spot where we were suppose to descend and the plan went like a toxic fabricator. But the very next chance, we didn’t miss it. Here goes the three musketeers again…

Pack up your bags, fill the petrol and set the navigation on your mobile to safely reach your destiny. Athos, Porthos and Aramis, all live in Jeddah and the mark-point is 437 km away from us. And for your kind information, there is no d’Artagnan in whole trip. The chosen transport of legitimacy is my Hyundai Veloster 2014.

The total distance towards the destination point is 437 km. We will reach within 5 hours in a limited speed of 120 kph. The route or plan is simple, we will drive (A) from Jeddah towards (B) Makkah which is 75.7 km away. While reaching Makkah, we will move (C) towards Al Huwaya which is 116 km. From Al Huwaya is a long straight road (D) towards a village known as Umm Aldoom which stretches 184 km. From Al Huwaya is a short road (E) 28.5 km towards Nimran which makes you reach to the crater (F) with the remaining distance of 32.7 km.

Route to Al Wahba Crater

On our way to Makkah, I had mini-shopping at one of stops. To ease my brain to an extent, I bought a large can of Pringles (original), 6 cans of Bison energy drink, couple of Galaxy Ripples, a packet of Klast chewing gum and few bottles of mineral water. Had a dinner at the same stop with a local franchise named ‘Al-Furooj’ (not to mix with U.A.E. fast food chain with a similar name) with 4 pieces of chicken, french fries, a large size of 2 breads and dozens of garlic sauce. I am an extreme lover of garlic sauces and is a compulsory appetite with fast food franchises.

The Dinner is Served!!
The Dinner is Served!!
A combined love of appetite for garlic sauces for the eaters...
A combined love of appetite for garlic sauces for the eaters…

During the travel, we had many chilling moments like cracking jokes and singing. But the most hilarious of all was teasing the opposite side of cars by flashing the light over them, as a result many drivers braked the car in fear of crossing the speed limit. Once a group of almost 10 cars were coming from opposite end. We were ready to buzz up the consequence. When flashed, all of them fell astray and braked. We had gone fuckin’ crazy but our madness stayed for only 20 minutes.

There are so many curves on our way but the car normally runs faster than 150 kph when there is no speed limit sign. We crossed scores of towns and villages. While reaching Al Huwaya, I took the Airport road which you might assume as a notable road. This road makes way to Prince Sultan Military Hospital (on your right), Taif Airport (on your left) and a Sports Complex (on your left). This road will make any driver wild to drive faster as he want. It is due to the fact that it is then a direct access to reach places like Dammam and Riyadh and even Bahrain and you won’t see few speed limit signs or cops.

After almost 150 km on this road, a bridge towards the next stop a village Umm Aldoom comes after crossing Radwan town as I turn left towards a dark path trusting on your car lights. As most of our journey in night was dark because of lack of street lights but that path was darker than rest. On this path, I saw small pups running out of life in the middle of road as unexpected travelers are about to unexpectedly squeeze the tiny creatures.

Before reaching Umm Aldoom, I turned left towards Nimran and from there, it is almost 35 km to the place of volcanic crater which is called “Al Wahba Crater”. The musketeers left home at night and reached the spot before sunrise. A breeze blowing due to higher altitude. One of my friend taking a nap in car and the other striving his best to take the best pictures from his DSLR.

Two Fridays in a row have I turned my intention to view the majestic site. While I reached the spot in first attempt, I wasn’t able to view because of car lights. But I noticed on my right some whiteness in the bottom and told my friends to turn off the lights. The rest was beauty. At night, you will enjoy one of most beautiful galaxy of stars above which is probably hard to find in any Saudi Arabian location. My friend made the most possible glimpse of happening above the sky. Watching those stars justifies David Bowie’s take on stars in his 1972 song ‘Starman’ as if there really is someone who want to break down and come and meet the earthlings. 

An Eternal Beauty captured from my friend's DSLR
An Eternal Beauty captured from my friend’s DSLR

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
Hed like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
Hes told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

The sunrise charms the place as we waited for a time of visibility of route to descend. We found the route and prepared for descending.

Al Wahba Crater according to Wikipedia source is 250 m (820 ft) deep and 2 km (1.2 mi) in diameter. It is so deep that if you throw a stone from the top, you will listen its end in 6 seconds. The bottom of the crater is covered with white sodium phosphate crystals. It is under the protection of the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD), who are responsible in developing and implementing plans to preserve wildlife in Saudi Arabia. This crater is almost similar to Barringer Crater located in Arizona desert of the United States. 

There has been much speculation about the origin of crater. Many believed a meteorite hit the place. According to Wikipedia, many geologists agree that Al Wahba Crater is a Maar Crater which is caused by a phreatomagmatic eruption, that is an explosion caused by groundwater coming into contact with hot lava or magma. As far as size is concerned, maar measures 200 to 26,000 ft across and from 30 to 660 ft deep. The other notable characteristic of Maar is that they form natural lakes.

David J. Grainger, Senior Geological Editor with the Saudi Arabian Directorate General of Mineral Resources, stated about this crater in journal ‘Geology Today’ issued back in January 1996 that “A Quaternary phreatic event drilled out a crater 2 km in diameter through Proterozoic basement rocks and Quaternary lava flows. The crater is rimmed with a tuff ring of debris from the explosion, around which were diverted Holocene basaltic lavas.”

Descending way down to crater was an expensive thinking for me as I never had tasted such experience. Descending and climbing a mountain or a crater for me is not less than landing a moon or reaching the peak of Mount Everest. It took me hardly 25 minutes going down. There is only one route to descend which I praise the work done on it. From the beginning till the end, the route is easy and conveyed and don’t need a guide to whom we follow. In fact, henge of stones welcome you to step on them to move straight where destiny meet its end. For couple of minutes, we stopped and took snapshots and made videos of the beautiful crater. Not to our surprise, there is no mobile signal over there.

Hardly 10 meters down…

My ears got close-open the whole way down as air resistance reduce. While gazing down; large stones, thorns and bushes look microscopic as only the saltville is everlasting eye-catchy. Once, my friend and I lose the plot and took the wrong route as we contested to go down against large rocks. We succeeded the contest.

Challenge Accepted and Succeeded

But later on, couple of steps later, we realized that the forgotten route was only couple of steps behind the route of coming down from stone. It was hilarious moment.

Found the Correct Route…

I land down with a scream heard only by my fellow musketeers (we 3 friends were the only humans existing there) with a bottle of mineral water almost finished with assignment of climbing back remaining.


Land down, rock on and musketeers-come-geologists explored the land which is covered with white sodium phosphate crystals. Numerous wild plants, thorns and bushes, breezing and hushing. Normality of straight walk is suspended beneath the field as you are about to walk and examine the face of land. I’m not a student of petrology or geology so I am not able to give a genuine explanation of the surface. 1/3rd layer looks like a whipping cream frosting over a cake or Mövenpick chocolate chips ice cream. Many layers have scoopy curves and you have to be very careful of walking over there more than a pedestrian. 

I walk the maze of moments
But everywhere I turn to
Begins a new beginning
But never finds a finish
I walk to the horizon
And there I find another
It all seems so surprising
And then I find that I know

This world simply fits with Enya’s “Anywhere Is” as it is pretty strange when you really walk the maze of moments. I am lost in this saltville, my shoes are hitting hard with different layers and rocks altogether as if shoes began screaming and scolding me, “Where the fuck have you landed today?” When I touched the layer skin, it is like papadam, simply touch it and crack it.

Layers are Observed…

There are many many lava stones and quizzy path of dead branches and bushes. Few bloggers and visitors claimed they saw a snake in the field but we couldn’t. Although we did saw tiny lizards and I’m sure they may be excited to see our presence in this silent theater.

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With a kilometer walk of the diameter, a shadow of comfort was naturally installed with a pale of lively grass as we intended to take rest on one of corners. Intensity of heat was growing as time had reached 8 in the morning. While sitting couple of minutes on rocky surface, our ASSets had droned army of red ants as we changed the sitting place in fear of army’s revenge keeping in mind that the unity in ant’s army is more peculiar to unity in Mousquetaires de la garde.

Going back to where you come from is the devil wears prada. And the song tickling my musical mind is James Blunt’s High. Your return to climb from here is like a filmmaker anxiously waiting for a weekend box-office report for collections. I am not crushing my feet, in fact my feet is crushing me towards same all odd layers. In normal cases, hikers first climb, than come down. But my case was contrary with the fact of being my first hiking experience with a harsh truth of carrying a stocky weight beyond normality. 

While stepping down, I roughly had drank 3/4th of the bottle of mineral water and by mistake in preparation, this was the only bottle in quantity I carried for both scenarios. Now it is all up to my super natural instinct to climb I-M-POSSIBLE mark where my car is waiting for us to go back. One of our friend reached the destiny first, so the other musketeers are in different awe. One caught asthma and the other overweight hiking debutant met extreme backache and that’s me.

Extremely Exhausted…

As climbing demands more muscles workout, my pain had no stopping as even my ribs began like squeezing. Till climbing the 50 m mark, both geologists have stone-rested like a dozen time. Sunshine is disturbing while it’s heat is perturbing. Exhaustion has no limits as we have began breathing heavily. While stepping few stones more, looking up the trail is like looking a hawk staring at you. Like I stated before that, descending took us 25 minutes but back-bite epic climbing clocked almost 90 minutes to reach the point. I had climbed almost 200 m with my friend where I began stumbling and becoming hopeless of ever reaching the mark. The back pain knew no bounds and suddenly found a long lasting shadow. I dropped myself over there, unable to verbally communicate with my asthmatic fellow. Lying towards and beneath steepy wall and over hundreds of pebbles. That resting site was more than bed of roses for me as I took a nap for approximately 20 minutes. I wonder how Aaron Ralston survived but in those exhausting moments, the movie “127 Hours” is what precisely reminded me.

Woke up with a pin drop silence but breezy sounds and hopeless desire. I began invoking to Allah for the safety, strength and courage. Feeling extremely thirsty with a last drop of hot water remaining in the bottle. I finally drank it and stood up. When I backed my fellow and myself for the run, our mileage crossing friend came to us like an angel with a shopping bag of mineral water bottles, orange juices and Bison energy drinks. To my good luck, I passed car key to him before climbing. This time I sat with comfort drinking all possible drinks and enjoying the sudden breeze confirming the approval of my invocations. Now I muster up my courage and within 15 minutes, we have reached the point. Despite my physical exhaustion of climbing, I was fit for driving back with a Bison drink enough for cheering me like Stone Cold Steve Austin’s “Hell Yeah”. 

Towards all your long-distance travelling, one thing which will impress you is that you will prominently find petrol station and masjid at almost every stop in 10-20 minutes that will ease every Muslim traveler to offer prayers at time and every driver to fill up the fuel before an FML moment. On such destiny, you will find many small towns with a couple of masjids and many small muddy and concrete houses. I saw caravan of camels intersecting our way, one of them actually stopped in front of car reminding me Robin William’s “Jumanji” scene. 

To sum up my experience by forwarding the readers interesting ideas, you must note the to-do-list for further enjoyment:

a. Better you leave for this Crater Trip at night to reach there before sunrise and enjoy cool breeze. Prefer hiking at dawn. 

b. Going in a group of 10??? If you are willing to reach there in midnight, then better take a bedouin tent with couple of thick mattresses.

c. Make a BBQ and cook lamb or chicken (roasting marshmallow is plus)

d. Campfire, Playing Guitar and Singing

e. Compulsorily have a backpack for hiking the crater and do prepare a checklist.

My Wahba-Crater Hiking Checklist:

  1. extra water (min 3 large bottles)
  2. pack of snacks
  3. first-aid kit
  4. pocket-knife
  5. extra pair of hiking shoes
  6. whistle
  7. bandana or hat (for sun protection)
  8. pair of gloves
  9. binoculars
  10. insect repellant
  11. toilet papers (plastic)
  12. plastic bags (garbage)
  13. duct tape
  14. 2 set of hiking ropes
  15. small microfiber towel

In the end, I am thankful to my fellow musketeers who made the trip delightful, unforgettable and worth of adventure. I am hopeful of my new hobby of adventure will touch new heights in my life. To rise high, you should dream high.

Oscar Wilde once quoted, “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

The Three Musketeers - Myself (left), Alpha (center) and Taha (right)
The Three Musketeers – Myself (left), Alpha (center) and Taha (right)

Virtual Tour of Al-Wahba Crater

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