Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions
the first ten years
A couple of weeks ago I came upon a link to the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive website, which captures and stores snapshots of websites considered important enough for preservation since 1996. I was totally amazed and a little flattered that not only were the various versions of this current website stored in the archive, but even it's rather crude predecessor (fjexpeditions.virtualave.net), stored on a long-since defunct free web hosting site. The first preserved snapshot was made on the 23rd August 2000, but from that I could see that the site was originally launched on the 8th August 1999, exactly ten years ago. (Well, exactly plus two weeks, no matter how hard I tried, I did not have time to complete this update for the anniversary date). This ten years feels strangly both as an eternity, and something that passed away in a flash. Even though it was less than a quarter of our lives, it feels like the Libyan Desert had always been a part of it. It is hard to imagine that there were times, when Jebel Uweinat meant a far-far away mythical place, only heared about from old travelogues, unreachable except for the most well equipped and funded expeditions. The deep desire to go there grew from countless hours spent in dark and musky libraries in Montreal & London reading old Geographical Journals, never in my wildest thoughts expecting to be elected a Fellow of the RGS myself, in recognition for the ten years spent exploring Jebel Uweinat and the environs. In this time we also saw our two daughters grow up from a toddler and a handful of squeaking and barely moving bundle (Viki was just three weeks old at website launch) to two young ladies who have both not only been to the Gilf & Uweinat, but Dora can claim to have discovered a new rock art site at Uweinat all by herself at the age of six. Yet at the same time, the memories of our earliest trials and errors live as vividly as if they happened yesterday. Having finally made it to Jebel Uweinat in October 1998 with the Hungarian television crew, the idea soon emerged to launch a website to reach out to similarly minded people who would like to share the thrill of another trip to the Gilf Kebir and Jebel Uweinat, and find all the magical sites described by Almásy, Bagnold, Shaw and others. The resulting design in retrospect was one of my less successful accomplishments, however the site served it's purpose, and I was soon in communication with a number of experienced Sahara travelers who all showed keen interest to join a trip to this least accessible part of the vast desert.
In the elaspsed ten years, we have made 20 expeditions to the Libyan Desert, the majority starting from Egypt, with two done from Libya. Initially the desire and objectives were nothing more than to find and visit all the sites described by the early explorers. One of my everlasting memories is when we scaled the peak of Uweinat together with Bernhard Lörsch from the Libyan side in 2001, finding Bagnold's cairn and the notes of the Sudan Defence Force (1934) and the Belgian Expedition (1969). Many of the acquaintances made on those early trips have grown into deep friendships, with several people returning regularly to our expeditions. There were many outstanding individuals, however one person requires special mention for the amazingly vivid and lovely travelogues she has written on the numerous trips we had together. Our dear friend Hannah McKeand caught the explorer's bug while with us in the desert, then moved on to the Polar Regions to break the female solo unsupported skiing to the South Pole, with her mind now set on doing the same in the North.
With the increased experience the website evolved too, receiving a new design and its own domain in 2002. Much of this is thanks to Claire Spottiswoode, then a brilliant ornithology student from South Africa, who was so apalled at the amateurish design that she offered to do a proper new one that serves justice to the content. The new website, using Claire's professional layout & design with plenty of new content went live on the 19th July 2002, and has been growing ever since. Since then Claire had completed her Ph.D. at Cambridge, and is one of the renown experts on the bird life of southern Africa.
From our very first trip, we have made some sporadic finds of new rock art sites, that were apparently unreported by anyone. In March 2000 we were so excited about re-locating the sites discovered by the 1969 Belgian expedition at Karkur Talh, that it did not register in our minds that none of the scenes of one of the magnificent large shelters covered with paintings appeared on any of the Belgians' photographs. It was only some years later, when going through the archives of the Tervuren Museum in Brussels, that I realised we made a major new find. On all four of the subsequent trips we found sporadic new sites in the vicinity of the known ones, but more importantly we have located most of the sites reported by earlier explorers, something confirmed in the archives of London (EES, H.A.Winkler photographs) and Frankfurt (Frobenius Institut, Rhotert photographs). With high resolution Landsat imagery becoming freely available on the internet just about that time (previously a single sheet cost in the range of 4000 Euros, putting them out of reach for all except professional users), it soon became apparent that the known sites were restricted to sections of a handful of valleys, with numerous other wadis appearing completely void of any rock art. Could this be because noone cared to look? In October 2002 we organised an expedition to explore the apparently unvisited parts of Karkur Talh and the area around Wadi Sora, and were rewarded with the discovery of dozens of spectacular new rock art sites. Very clearly both the Gilf and Uweinat had plenty of surprises in store.
In the subsequent five years we have found over 200 previously unreported rock art sites at jebels Uweinat, Arkenu, Kissu and along the western edge of the Gilf Kebir. The most memorable finds were the sites in upper Karkur Talh (February 2003) on our way to our first ascent of the Hassanein Plateau, where we also solved the mystery of the "white blob", a perfectly circular crater-like feature sticking out prominently on satellite imagery. Next spring we found the amazing large shelter up on the Hassanein Plateau, one of the largest and best preserved sites known at Uweinat, and yet a year later the magnificent group of sites of the upper Wadi Wahesh. However the most important finds were not the spectacular ones, but some faint hard to figure out scenes that represented the earliest paintings made thousands of years before the cattle pastoralist people made their pretty and artistic pictures of cattle and delicate human figures. In parallel with the increase in finds, I began to actively participate in the international rock art research community, attending conferences and beginning to publish articles on our finds. We also began to systematically explore parts of Jebel Uweinat and other areas which were not visited by anyone previously to our knowledge. The results were published on the DVD "Rock Art of the Libyan Desert" in the summer of 2005. The project is continuing, a revised and expanded edition is in the works for release in the second half of 2009.
While prehistoric rock art was always the main driving force behind our expeditions, we have made several finds related to the more recent history of the desert. A particularly moving moment was when with Francois de Wet we have located after a day of searching the forced landing site of the SAAF Blenheims, and the graves of Francois' uncle and the rest of the ill-fated crew. Another memorable and exciting event happened on a 2004 autumn day in Budapest, when I have unexpectedly received a package from Scotland in the mail. For the past three years I have been chasing the trail of Captain F.G.B. Arkwright, commander of the small Sudan Defence Force unit who garrisoned Bir Murr at Jebel Uweinat for a couple of months in 1934, at the height of the Anglo-Italian Sarra triangle dispute. We have found a note of Arkwright on the summit of Uweinat in 2001, and have collected much historic material from the Public Records Office (now National Archives) in London, but I was hoping that more may have survived. After a three year hunt I have finally managed to find a possible link to the family, but was by no means certain when I sent off a letter to the provided address. A couple of weeks later the package arrived from Philip Arkwright, who was indeed the son of F.G.B. Arkwright as I suspected. Inside there were pages from an old photo album, that fully documented the 1934 SDF operation. The photos included some never-before seen photos of Almásy and his party in Karkur Talh in 1934, as well as the only surviving photo in Libya of the noted Italian geologist, Umberto Monterin. I am forever indebted to Philip & Anthony Arkwright for sharing these wonderful family treasures with all of us.
All these results could not have been possible without all people who participated in the expeditions, and provided both their financial and personal contribution by taking part in the surveys and sharing the joys of new discoveries. In the 10 years, a total of 113 people of 24 nationalities have been with us to the desert, our warmest thanks to all of them for their support, enthusiasm and wonderful company:
|Lenka Bartels - Germany (2x)||Ildikó Ipach - Hungary||Jean-Loïc LeQuellec - France|
|Gero Bartels - Germany (2x)||Harald Jankiewitz - Germany||Alan Radlett - United Kingdom|
|Margaret (Marglyph) Berrier - USA||Saul Kelly - United Kingdom||Friederike Reich - Germany|
|Evelyn Billo - USA||Geoffrey Kolbe - United kingdom (3x)||Alexandra von Rochow - Germany|
|Raymond Bird - United Kingdom (4x)||Irina Kostareva - USA||Carol Rowe - Australia|
|Michael Birrel - Australia||Andreas Kühnl - Germany||Arthur Schaub - Switzerland|
|Ole Bobert - Germany||Yves Larboulette - Switzerland||Astrid Schelde - Denmark (4x)|
|Ute Bobert - Germany||Shyam Lee-Joe - Australia||Steven Schwartz - USA|
|Mark Borda - Malta||Werner Lenz - Germany||Chris Scott - United Kingdom|
|Marc Bovyn - Belgium (2x)||Anders Ljungman - Sweden||Romano Serra - Italy|
|Dorothea Brandt - USA||Eva Löfdahl - Sweden||Arina Short - South Africa|
|Richard Brookfield - Canada||Bernhard Lörsch - Germany (3x)||Henry William Short - South Africa|
|Katharina Brunner - Switzerland||Sepp Luderschmid - Germany||Claire Spottiswoode - South Africa|
|John Burke - Australia||James Lundblad - USA||Giles Stanhope-Wright - Italy|
|Kent Cochrane - Canada||Erkki Luoma-aho - Finland||Tilman Stoeber - Germany|
|Kit Constable Maxwell - UK||Gerald Maier - USA||Elisabeth Stübiger - Germany|
|Nuria Cutrina - Spain||Margarita Marinova - Canada||Klaus Stübiger - Germany|
|Marcus Daniels - USA||Robert Mark - USA||Attila Sulyok - Hungary (4x)|
|Wolfgand Duechting - Germany||Mario di Martino - Italy||Isabelle Thery - France|
|Patricia Dvoracek - Switzerland||Leigh Marymor - USA||Neil Thompson - United Kingdom|
|Jeff LaFave - USA||Chris McKay - USA||Scott Thybony - USA|
|Raul Fernandez - Spain (2x)||Hannah McKeand - UK (4x)||John Todds - United Kingdom|
|Pauline de Flers - France||Gábor Merkl - Hungary (5x)||Alice Tratebas - USA|
|Philippe de Flers - France||Vincenzo di Michele - Italy||Tommaso Vannini - Italy|
|Erika Gáspár - Hungary||Anton Mifsud - Malta||Maria Villaronga - Spain|
|Marianna Gerdelics - Hungary||Carmen Mira - Spain||Luis Miguel Viterbo - Portugal|
|Francesco Germi - Italy||Mahmoud Mohareb - Egypt (2x)||Erica Wallace - Australia|
|Nicholas Gonzalez - France||Giancarlo Negro - Italy||Peter Wallace - Australia|
|Kate Gosford - Australia||Lajos Németh - Hungary||Barnard Warwick - Australia|
|John Greer - USA||Fery Novak - Switzerland||Brenda Wass - United Kingdom|
|Mavis Greer - USA||Matthew Offord - United Kingdom||Francios de Wet - South Africa|
|Gina Griffith - Trinidad||Carol Ormsbee - USA||Jarek Wieczorek - Poland (2x)|
|Liz Hales - United Kingdom (3x)||Waltraud Ott - Lichtenstein||Bozena Wilk - Poland|
|Jon Hales - United Kingdom (3x)||Geert Over - Netherlands (3x)||Richard Wilson - USA|
|Jörg Hansen - Switzerland||Gyözö Petrás - Hungary||Vanessa Wise - United Kingdom|
|Renate Haupt - United Kingdom||Benito Piacenza - Italy||Michael Worley - USA|
|Pascale Hegy - France||Christian Pigault - France||Georg Zenz - Austria (2x)|
|Maria Herter - Switzerland||Vladimir Prutsky - Russia|
Having read this far, you deserve to be let in on one well-kept secret, a question I have often been asked: who were the mysterious Fliegel and Jezerniczky after whom our company is named? The answer is quite simple, and probably much less dramatic than anticipated - they were my maternal and paternal great-grandmothers, commemorated this way.
(photo taken in 1906)
(photo taken in 1904)