Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Belgian Adventurer Completes Solo, Unsupported Trek Across Simpson Desert

A couple of weeks back I wrote about Belgian adventurer Louis-Philippe Loncke attempt to cross the Simpson Desert in Australia on foot and without the use of a cart to carry his supplies and gear. At the time, he was just preparing to set out for Oz to begin his odyssey, but now just a couple of weeks later, the expedition has come to a successful conclusion, breaking new ground in the process.

Just as polar explorers pull sleds filled with gear and supplies behind them when they head to the North and South Pole, desert explorers often use specially designed carts. These contraptions are built to roll over sand and dirt, and have enough capacity to hold all of the important supplies – including water – that are needed on such an expedition. They are also incredibly difficult to pull for prolonged periods of time, but are a necessary component for anyone traveling "unsupported" in those types of environments.

Loncke, who first crossed the desert back in 2008, was determined to prove that it was possible to walk through the "Dead Heart of Australia" without using a cart to support his efforts. To that end, he elected to use a backpack instead. This forced him to get creative with how he packed and approached this trek, as he had to carry 40 liters of water with him for the journey.

His water alone weighed 40 kg (88 pounds), which didn't leave much room for other gear. In order to save weight he eschewed the use of a stove and carried only 8 kg (16 pounds) of food which consisted mostly of muesli bars, figs, and chocolate. He did carry a tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag however, as well as a video camera, several battery packs, and two 360º cameras that captured the Simpson Desert in a way that is hasn't been seen before. All told, his backpack tipped the scales at  60 kg (132 pounds), when he set off on the journey.

While in the desert, Loncke managed to trek 300 km (186 miles) through one of the most inhospitable regions in Australia. The walk began at Old Andado Station and ended at Poeppel Corner, passing through the geographical center of the desert in the process. He had hoped to continue another 135 km (83 miles) to Birdsville, but when Loncke reached the ranger station in Poeppel Corner he was low on food and water and didn't have enough supplies to continue pressing on.

In addition to the usual challenges that the Simpson Desert poses, Loncke experienced something completely unexpected - rain! He says that it rained hard for three days and two nights, with tremendous lightning strikes across the region. The unexpected precipitation made it harder to walk each day, slowing his pace dramatically. He also reports that it led to soaked clothing and wet feet for those three days, which made for a cold, miserable experience at times. But the unexpected rain also brought a wild flower bloom, something else that was unexpected but much appreciated.

You can read more about Lou-Phi's experiences in the Simpson Desert on his blog site dedicated to the expedition. He is currently en route back home to Belgium, but will likely update it with more information going forward.

Congratulations to Loncke for achieving this impressive feat. He has potentially shown us another approach to desert exploration, and it will be interesting to see if anyone else follows suit moving forward.

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