Egypt // The Western Desert Oases //

Jebel Uwaynat

On a map of North Africa, the ruler-straight borders of Libya, Egypt and Sudan intersect at Jebel Uwaynat, the highest, most isolated point in the Libyan Desert. Surrounded by sand-sheets, it rises sheerly to 1898m above the desert floor, just high enough (600m above sea level) to attract a little rainfall, which percolates down to small pools or “springs” at its base, after which Uwaynat is named.

The valleys here (called karkurs) are fertile if watered, and sustained communities from prehistoric times until the early 1930s, with rock art spanning thousands of years.

In Karkur Talh (Acacia Valley), Hassanein Bey found engravings of lions, giraffes, ostriches, gazelles and cows, and Shaw discovered ninety human figures drawn on the roof of a cave. These figures were lither than the hunters in the Cave of the Archers at Wadi Sura but otherwise similar, leading Winkler to conclude that both were the work of the ancient Tebu, who ranged across the Sahara from their mountainous homeland of Tibesti, in Chad (as they still do today).

After the Italians occupied Kufra and placed an outpost at Uwaynat, the possibility that it could be an unguarded back door into Egypt during wartime occurred to both Bagnold and the Italian commander Lorenzini – but not to the HQ staff-wallahs who turned down Bagnold’s proposal for car patrols along the frontier. It wasn’t until Italy declared war in 1940 that Bagnold was authorized to set up long-range patrols to monitor any activity. In the event, the Italians never tried anything so bold, but Almássy later slipped through from Kufra via Uwaynat and the Gilf, to guide two German spies as far as Kharga Oasis, before returning to Libya.

Since the kidnapping of a safari group at Karkur Talh in 2008, Egyptian Border Guards have been stationed there and an armed resort of eight Tourist Safari policemen has been mandatory for all expeditions to Uwaynat.

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