Ellie on desert sand

A Walk in the Oman Desert

Ellie, a Brit now living in Vancouver, plays Ultimate Frisbee. Her disc throwing habit takes her all over the place, competing in international tournaments in far flung corners of the earth, and this year, her hard work and dedication to the sport has earned her a spot on the Canadian National Team; she will be representing at the World Ultimate Championships in sunny London in just over a month’s time.

But Ellie’s talents and interests aren’t limited to running rings around her opponents on the Frisbee pitch. She also climbs mountains and rock faces and generally loves a good old adventure. Not the sort to give up one for the other, Ellie takes advantage of the worldwide travel by planning post tournament adventures in wild places. Last year, after competing in the World Championships of Beach Ultimate in Dubai, Ellie and some friends had a little energy to spare, so took a walk into the Oman Desert. Here’s her story:

What first inspired you to take a walk in the desert?

I have always loved adventuring – I thought I might grow out of it, but haven’t so far! I am also fascinated by extreme or unique landscapes and environments so as I hadn’t spent much time in deserts, it was always on my list. And then I came across the film “Into the Empty Quarter” and I had to do it (although on a much smaller scale unfortunately!)

Ellie walking in the desert

When you were planning it, what was your biggest barrier?

The biggest barrier was probably getting information; tourism in Oman, like many other countries, is very focused on a few different options – you could go scuba-diving, you could join a tour of the sights, or you could hire a jeep and do a self drive tour. Doing something unique or adventurous didn’t seem to be on the cards. For example we couldn’t find a map of the desert so we just printed off images from Google Earth!

How did you overcome the lack of information?

Luckily I stumbled upon a blog by Tim Moss, another adventurer who lived in Oman, and he was great at answering some of our questions about kit and water sources. The rest, we just had faith we could work out on the ground – we needed to get transport from the capital Muscat to the edge of the desert and hadn’t managed to find any info beforehand. We told our first taxi driver (in very broken English) what we needed, and he rang a friend who rang his brother who picked us up and took us to another friend, borrowed their vehicle, and took us to his cousin to drive. All sorted in an hour. That’s just how things work.

Shelter in the desert

How much did it cost (roughly) to do the hike?

Although Oman is not a cheap country, it was only around £100-150 each, with four people. We were already in Dubai so money was spent on the bus to Muscat (Oman), taxi fares, food and water. We had most of the kit ourselves and some things we made do with – borrowed my Dad’s groundsheet, and fixed silver blankets to the outside for a tarp to shelter from the sun. We only had one ‘water bladder’ (and it burst on the first day!), so we each carried seven 2 litre bottles of water from the supermarket, and incessantly made sure we kept them upright at all times!

What was the biggest challenge you faced during the trip?

The biggest challenge was probably deciding how remote we wanted to go. With no experience and a struggle to find information, we debated and umm-ed and errr-ed about which route to take – cross the desert but stay closer to the edge; closer to getting help if we had any problems (we envisaged scorpion stings/dehydration etc.) Or cross more centrally – more remote and adventurous, but potentially two or three days trek away from anyone else.

Desert life

Another challenge was the weight and size of our packs. On the first day, with 15 litres of water and food for four days, our packs were far from light. We tried to cut down on excess weight but it was tough to find the usual types of food we would take trekking, and we underestimated how heavy they would feel when trying to climb a steep dune of soft sand, especially after you’ve played a week long frisbee tournament! Jess (one of our team) strained her hamstring and we had to adjust our route to get her out of the desert. Luckily we had decided upon a relatively conservative route; half a day took us fairly close to the edge (and a small village).

What did you love the most about your time in the desert?

The scenery! And remoteness. The wind-sculpted dunes were so so beautiful, and walking barefoot with sand between your toes as the sun went down felt like we were so far away from everything and experiencing something really unique.
We also met a nomadic family herding camels who were incredibly welcoming, and it was amazing to see how they live most of their lives in this environment.

Walking on desert sand dunes

What advice would you give to someone planning a similar adventure?

Do it!! If you’re regularly fit and have a fair amount of common sense, then it’s definitely possible. Take a compass, more water and less food, and fewer luxuries than you probably think. We decided not to take any cooking equipment, which was definitely a good call – it was far too hot to be particularly hungry.

This was my packing list:

Clothes

  • Long trousers – normally rolled up to 3/4 length
  • Sports bra
  • Change of underwear
  • Long sleeve top
  • Fleece
  • Large scarf to cover my head with
  • Sunglasses
  • Trail running shoes
  • Sandsocks

Other stuff

  • Camera
  • Trekking poles
  • Roll mat
  • Sleeping bag and liner
  • Bivy bag
  • Tarp (10ft sq)
  • Reflective silver blanket
  • Cord
  • Headlight
  • Compass
  • Print outs of google maps
  • Phone
  • First aid kit

Food per person:

  • 14 litres of water
  • 6 pouches of tuna
  • Packets of dates, dried apricots and nuts
  • 12 small packs of Crackers
  • 12 small packs of biscuits
  • 2 apples
  • 2 oranges

Would you go back to the desert for another expedition or have you had your fill of wind and sand and open space?

When we decided to do this, aside from spending time with good friends, I thought it would be type three fun – a great story afterwards and a challenge ticked off. I thought it might be monotonous and the lack of a ‘summit’ would be annoying, but it wasn’t. For some reason I loved it. The mini peaks of each big dune, and new views opening up, as well as the feeling of walking on sand, were amazing. Having said that, I don’t tend to repeat adventures when there are so many new ones to try; next I am looking to do some sort of arctic trip.


Well, we certainly look forward to hearing about an Arctic outing and in the meantime, good luck to Ellie at WUGC 2016!

About Ellie

Author Ellie Hand

Ellie Hand once thought that she would grow out of the travel bug, but now accepts that that's never going to happen! Also afflicted with the adrenaline bug, Ellie has used her holidays, career breaks and travel for competitions to climb, hike, kayak, mountaineer, paraglide, cycle, hitch-hike, backpack, and play ultimate frisbee through 50 countries around the world. She loves to tackle adventures with open eyes and a wide smile.

A strong environmentalist and advocate of human rights and mental health; her varied career with Amnesty International, eating disorder charities, and more recently a Masters degree in Sustainable Buildings, has led her to believe that good, thought-through actions are necessary to dispel the greed and self-centredness of some, and the silence of many.

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