Morning broke with a heavy dew. The moon was behind us and illuminating the thick mist in the valleys below. We each had a litre and a half of water left and, we reckoned, some three hours to the edge of the dunes and another 10km to the road from there.
Since last night’s hike I had anticipated a single moment of glory, cresting a wave of sand to see the empty expanse to our east. What actually happened was far more gradual: the slow realisation that the dunes in front of us were slowly getting lower and that, in the distance, was the gravel plain which spelled the end.
When we finally reached the foot of the final dune we ceremoniously emptied the sand from our shoes one last time. Most of the crossing was completed just wearing socks, far more comfortable and responsive than wearing shoes, but when light was low we cautiously opted for better protection from scorpions. Back on solid ground we were surprised to discover how easy it was to walk having become accustomed to the effort of traversing sand.
Using our map (printed off Google Earth), we took a bearing that we figured would get us most swiftly to the road. We each took hopelessly optimistic guesses at how long it would take to reach the distant pylon and ended up walking for longer than the two estimates combined.
With the sun now beating down on us hard and a mere 100ml in my water bottle we were anxious to get picked up swiftly and not suffer too long in the heat. We needn’t have worried. This was Oman. Within seconds of dropping my pack to the floor, the very first vehicle to pass my extended thumb pulled over and offered us a ride.
We had crossed a desert.
I am aware that this “desert” was tiny and touristy and that we were never very far from civilisation. But it was a perfect example of how a fantastic other worldly experience can be achieved so simply and it was all the more special for that.
As ever, people thought we were foolish to attempt it, telling us that we couldn’t possibly walk that far in those conditions in that time frame and that it takes that long to drive across let alone walk. It was physically tough, for me at least, but in fact required little expertise. Indeed, we could have managed the route without compass, map or GPS. I would say that any reasonably fit person could have done the same with a modicum of research. It also cost very little (just petrol and food) and was completed over a Bank Holiday weekend so required no time off work.
This miniscule trip will not register in the annals of desert exploration but it has firmly secured its position as one my favourite ever journeys.
By calling it a desert, I appreciate that it automatically takes a remote and exotic feel. You’ll have to forgive this indulgence but it felt both remote and exotic to me and I enjoy celebrating that. However, similar challenges can be found wherever you are in the world. Walk across some recently threatened British woodland, walk a long distance path or just walk to work. It doesn’t matter how big or small, you can make a mountain out of a molehill wherever you choose.
Finally, if you are interested in a desert expedition yourself then I have a large collection of resources to help with that very purpose: check out the Desert Expedition Resources >>