x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

In Thesiger's footsteps

The roof of the world sees many visitors today, but decades after Wilfred Thesiger crossed the Arabian Peninsula's vast Empty Quarter. The sea of sand is still forbidding.

During the late 1940s, when Wilfred Thesiger crossed the Arabian Peninsula's vast forbidding Empty Quarter, no man had ever set foot atop Mount Everest. But starting in 1953, more than 3,100 people have reached that peak. Nowadays there are remove-your-own-rubbish regulations at the base camp (although the rumour of a Starbucks at the top is false).

Nobody can say how many people may have traversed the Empty Quarter over the centuries, or how many failed and left their bones.

The area is not utterly empty of humans; a few modest settlements dot the 583,000 sq km of dunes and gravel flats.

Crossing the Quarter, however, is rarely attempted. But now an adventuresome Briton and two UAE army officers will try to match the camel-mounted crossing that Thesiger managed twice with his Bedouin companion Salim bin Kabina.

Adrian Hayes and officers Saeed Al Masafri and Ghalfan Al Jabri leave Salalah this week on a planned 40-day, 1,500km trek, to arrive in Liwa by National Day on December 2 and reach Abu Dhabi a week later. The men will rely on simple provisions and local hospitality.

Hayes may not be knighted for his journey, as Thesiger was for his life's work, but he and his companions will have a story they can tell all their lives. There are still brave deeds to be done if one has the zeal to try.