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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Explorers trekking across Empty Quarter to reach Qatar next week


All photos courtesy of Crossing the Empty Quarter

In less than a week, a team of Omani and British explorers is expected to arrive in Qatar after embarking on a 1,300km trek by foot and on camel from Salalah.

The expedition, Crossing the Empty Quarter, replicates a similar journey that was made across the world’s largest sand desert Rub Al Khali in 1930.

It was made by former British civil servant Bertram Thomas – the first European to make the crossing – and Omani Sheikh Saleh bin Kalut Al Rashidi al Kathiri.

The 1930 expedition team
The 1930 expedition team

This time, 54-year-old Briton and Muscat resident Mark Evans is being led on the expedition by Omani guides as they make the arduous journey in much the same way Thomas and his team would have done in 1930.

Now 40 days into their expedition, the explorers left the dunes of the Empty Quarter behind yesterday and are in the final stages of the journey across gravel and salt flats to Qatar.

They hope to cross the Qatar-Saudi border on Jan. 24, where they are expected to meet a team of young Qataris who will lead them on the last leg north to Doha by Jan. 28, a spokesman for the expedition told Doha News.

Although details of the welcome events in Qatar are still being finalized, the explorers hope to meet with Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al Thani, president of Qatar Olympic Committee and one of the expedition’s patrons:

“This journey serves to remind the younger generations of what makes the previous generations proud of their belonging, and of their achievements in various fields. It also aims to confirm that the Gulf youths are able to withstand difficulties to achieve their goals, on the basis of inherited ethics and values,” Sheikh Joaan said in a statement.

Other patrons of the challenge include Oman’s minister of culture and heritage, Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, and the Prince of Wales in the UK.

Journey trials

Since the team set off on Dec. 10, they have tried where possible to replicate Thomas’s journey – traveling the same route, stopping at the same points and eating similar meals of rice and bread.

Desert camp
Desert camp

However, according to the daily blog on the journey, some of the watering holes the original team used 85 years ago have since dried up.

And some of the water they have found hasn’t always been very appealing.

In a Facebook update on Jan. 15, the team wrote:

“Whilst the rest of us get more hungry and weary by the day, the camels have had a great day today. As we gradually descend towards Qatar, the desert is becoming greener, which means more grazing, and also today an unexpected waterhole enabled them to top up to their heart’s content. The water smelt worse than the worst stink bomb ever, but that did not deter anyone!”

Yesterday proved to be more successful, as they stopped at the well of Baniyan, which was also used by Thomas, to rehydrate before trekking the last 229km to Doha.

Leading the expedition is Omani guide Mohammed Al-Zadjali, a 32-year-old training manager at Outward Bound Oman/Tahaddi, and Amour Al-Wahaibi, 38, who was born and still lives in a Bedouin community in the northern end of Oman’s Sharqiya Sands.

About the expedition
About the expedition

They are joined by Sheikh Mubarak Saleh Muhammad Saleh bin Kalut – the great-great-grandson of Sheikh Saleh bin Kalut, who led the first expedition, and Omani military fitness trainer Ali Ahmed Sha’af Al Mshili.

During the journey, Sheikh Mubarak has been carrying the same Khanjar dagger and rifle as his great-great-grandfather did 85 years ago.

They also have a support team of driver/photographers and on-call medics.

Using just one map, the explorers have had to deal with near-freezing night-time temperatures, shivering and thirsty camels and weight loss. As part of the journey, they are also logging interesting desert flora and fauna they spot, along with some archaeological finds.

In addition to updates on the Facebook page, you can also track the team’s journey on their website here.


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