Through the Empty Quarter

Two British adventurers, Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron, on Thursday completed a journey of over 1,000 miles through Rub al Khali or the Empty Quarter, dragging a 250kg cart filled with camping equipment, water and food to last six weeks.

Their trek, which began in Salalah and ended in Dubai, was to trace the footsteps of their hero Wilfred Thesiger, one of the greatest adventurers the world has known. 

While Humphreys is National Geographic Adventurer for the Year 2012 and a record-breaking cyclist, McCarron is a Northern Irish adventurer and cameraman.

In May 2012, McCarron concluded a 3,000-mile walking expedition, trekking the length of China from Mongolia to Hong Kong. Previously he rode 14,000 miles on a bicycle solo and unsupported from New York to Hong Kong.

Humphreys was supposed to be in the South Pole but with his Antarctic plans falling apart at the last minute, he jumped at the idea of following Thesiger's footsteps without much preparation.

“Not only was I without an expedition, I didn’t have any paid work scheduled until March 2013. I was faced with two options - to try finding some work or looking at the bright side of having an empty diary and go on an expedition instead. I chose plan two,” he said.

Humphreys said Thesiger’s tough expeditions to the planet’s wildest corners and his crisp, sparse writing style appealed to him in his early days when he first began setting off on adventures of his own. “And ever since I read Arabian Sands, I dreamed of making a journey in Thesiger’s footsteps one day.”

Talking about their motivation, McCarron said that by roughly retracing the route of Thesiger’s 1947 crossing,  they were “seeking some of the same escape, fulfilment, joy and ascetic misery he was searching for in the largest sand desert on Earth.”

Starting in Salalah, the duo used the same cart which was supposed to be used for the polar trek, but with slight modification. “We used quite a simple but robust structure and doubled up the wheels on each corner for increased surface area on the sand (to stop it from sinking).

The cart was then loaded with jerry cans of water, bags of food and personal equipment. “Everything had to be exceedingly minimalist, as dragging a heavy cart through sand in 40°C heat is tiring,” said McCarron.

About their feelings on reaching Dubai, McCarron said, “After 1,000 miles of desert trekking, Humphreys and myself made it safely to the glitzy, vertical city of Dubai. We emerged from the desert to finish at the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world ­­ – a suitable antithesis to the rest of our journey.

“We were exhausted, but feeling rather good. Pulling a 250kg cart through searing desert heat for weeks on end without a break may not sound like a lot of fun, and in fact, it wasn't. But it was certainly rewarding, and gave us access to some of the most beautiful and desolate landscapes I’ve ever seen. I cannot imagine a better use of two months of my life.”

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