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Crossing the Empty Quarter

Crossing the Empty Quarter Phil Weymouth
10 Dec
2015
Recreating Bertram Thomas’ first expedition, a team of three will be crossing the Empty Quarter, or the Rub’ al-Khali, the world’s largest sand desert

Mark Evans, Mohammed Al-Zadjali and Amour Al Wahaibi today set off from Salalah in Oman, aiming to walk the 1,300km through Saudi Arabia to Doha, Qatar. Tackling labyrinthine dunes as high as 300 metres and days of empty wilderness, they aim to bring the story of its first 1930 crossing by Bertram Thomas and Salim Bin Kalut into the fore ‘and to make better known Oman’s rich history’ according to Evans.

Evans, an explorer and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) says ‘back in 1930, the heroic age of exploration was coming to an end. Exploration institutions considered the Empty Quarter to be the last great challenge. The world was obsessed with the romance of Arabia.’

Eighty-five years have passed since Thomas and Bin Kalut’s crossing and in that time much of it has changed. During the 1930s, vast reserves of oil were discovered beneath the sands, changing the lives of the Bedouin who live there. ‘The Empty Quarter is emptier than it has ever been,’ says Evans. ‘The people that once lived in its interior have migrated to the margins.’ Desertification has also made the region more inhospitable, changing how it can be approached. ‘The wells that are so critical to the survival of the camels are abandoned and full of sand,’ Evans says. For this reason, they will be followed by two support vehicles carrying extra water.

For the trio, the camels are everything. ‘It’s not time that’s critical, it’s your camels,’ says Evans. ‘In the 1930s, camels were working animals and could travel 20 to 30 miles a day. I challenge you to find camels today who could be capable of doing this today. We’ve chosen six that we hope are up for the job.’

This article was published in the December 2015 edition of Geographical magazine.

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