Rub’ al Khali, better known as the the Empty Quarter, is a scorching patch of desert that covers more than 250,000 square miles spread out across Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. The region derives its name from the fact that it is nearly completely devoid of cities and towns, and few people live there at all. It also happens to be the largest continuous desert on the planet, featuring towering sand dunes, dry lake beds and temperatures that routinely exceed 130ºF in the summer. In short, it is one of the most demanding and hostile environments on the planet, so naturally someone wants to cross it – on foot no less.
British explorers Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron have announced their intention to trek unsupported across the Empty Quarter starting sometime next week. They plan to cover more than 1000 miles, beginning in Salalah in Oman and eventually ending in Dubai. The entire journey is expected to take roughly six to eight weeks to complete.
Since this will be an unsupported expedition, Alastair and Leon will be carrying all of their gear with them for the entire journey. In order to accomplish that they’ll be pulling a specially designed cart with all of their equipment and supplies, including food and water. Since they’ll be traveling through a desert, water will obviously be at a premium, but they hope to find resupply in small settlements along the way. They estimate that it could be as much as ten days between those settlements.
Both Alastair and Leon are no strangers to challenging adventures. Alastair once rode his bike around the world and earlier this year he was part of a team that rowed across the Atlantic. He had planned to ski to the South Pole this fall as well, but logistical complications forced a postponement to that expedition. A few months back, Leon completed a 3000 mile trek from Mongolia to Hong Kong, most of which was completed in the dead of winter. Those previous experiences will serve them well on this long hike through the desert.
They’ll both be following in the footsteps of one of their favorite British explorers, Sir Wilfred Thesiger. The famous explorer completed two of the earliest and longest expeditions across the Empty Quarter. Back in the 1940′s, when the region was even more unexplored and daunting than it is today, Thesiger traveled for more than 1500 miles on foot and by camel, becoming the first westerner to find the legendary quicksands of Umm al Sammim, while dodging encounters with hostile tribesman that inhabit the area. Alastair and Leon’s expedition is inspired by Thesiger’s adventures and they hope to tread some of the same sand.
By Kraig Becker
[Photo credit: Nepenthes via Wikimedia]