Wilfred himself in 1947
It’s now just a few days until Alastair Humphreys and I set off to explore the Rub' al Khali, or Empty Quarter desert, on foot. Al has written a great blog post explaining some of our motives and what we hope to achieve on this expedition. We will follow the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger – literally in that we hope to roughly retrace the route of his 1947 crossing of the Sands, and metaphorically in that we are seeking some of the same escape, fulfillment, joy and ascetic misery he was searching for in the largest sand desert on earth.
We won’t be blogging during the trek. Instead we’ll be filming the whole journey extensively, with our main aim being to make a great documentary at the end of it all. We’ll be tweeting using our SPOT tracking device to give some basic updates on our progress.
Our start point is Salalah, the second city of Oman. Having never been there I can’t comment on it too much, but it certainly seems a beautiful and relaxed place. With help and guidance from those much more experienced than us, Al and I have settled on a design for our desert cart. We’re using quite a simple but robust structure, and doubling up the wheels on each corner for increased surface area on the sand (to stop us sinking.) Onto the cart we will load jerry cans of water, bags of food and the rest of our personal equipment. Everything will have to be exceedingly minimalist, as it seems dragging a heavy cart through sand in 40 degree heat will be rather tiring.
We hope that the total weight will not be much more than 250kg, and we’ll tandem pull. Every two weeks or so we will resupply with water, but the food we carry from Salalah must last us until Dubai, our end point, 43 days later.
The challenges of this journey are probably rather clear. Heavy cart, deep sand, relentless heat. Potential for sandstorms. Infrequent, if not complete absence of, human contact. Spending 6 weeks walking just inches away from each other, with no escape. Long, hard days of trekking with monotonous scenery. A diet of dates and couscous. No (or heavily rationed) whisky supplies.
The Rub' al Khali, or Empty Quarter desert on the Arabian penninsula
Thinking about it in these terms is not particularly encouraging, yet these are the facts I often find myself telling people (and being asked about) in conversation. These are not the reasons why we are going.
Challenge, certainly, is a big part of it. To push ourselves and find out once more where our limits lie. To pit ourselves against an inspiration – what would Wilfred say if he heard us whinging about being thirsty? (In Arabian Sands he details how he survived for weeks on end on just 1 pint of water a day, taken each evening, and a handful of dates. Al and I will have 5 litres each…)
We have a chance to explore an incredible part of the world. Thesiger talks of each section of the Sands in great detail – the enormous dunes, the hard gravel plains, the quicksand. Each part has a different persona, and elicits a different response from him. I hope that we find ourselves becoming in tune with our surroundings, learning to navigate by the stars and dunes, and seeing each landscape for what it is – a unique construction of nature, shaped by millions of years (not just ‘more bloody desert.’)
We want to see what Thesiger saw, and feel what he felt. Or rather, feel what it feels like to be in the middle of such a vast, empty expanse, and compare our response and emotions with his.
We want to do this to have an adventure. Thesiger has a similar idea. He took photos as a document. We want to create an engaging video of the physical and mental journey though the desert, and, hopefully, coming out the other side in one piece.
I look forward to sharing the end results here in the New Year.
With special thanks to: