Dubai resident becomes the first man to cross Empty Quarter alone

Mr Calderan has a history of taking on challenging expeditions but he found crossing the Empty Quarter the most gruelling

Max Calderan, 52, walked 1,100 km to cross the Empty Quarter in 16 days. Courtesy Empty Quarter Studios
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Max Calderan, an Italian explorer, has become the first man to complete a solo journey across the Rub' Al Khali desert, better known as the Empty Quarter.

Rub’ Al Khali is the largest sand desert in the world. It covers about 650,000 square kilometres, including parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and Yemen.

The Italian, 52, trekked through 1,100 km of gruelling desert and crossed sand dunes as tall as 300 metres.

He started his journey on January 18 in Saudi Arabia and reached the UAE on February 3.

Throughout the 16-day trek, Mr Calderan experienced hallucinations as the temperature reached 36°C. But he finished his trek four days earlier than planned.

It was the first time in my life, I prayed to get out of the desert safe

Mr Calderan has a history of taking on challenging expeditions but he found crossing the Empty Quarter the most gruelling.

“These were the biggest dunes I’ve ever faced," he said. "It was extremely challenging but I just closed my eyes, reassuring myself that I would finish this."

The terrain was brutal and barren.

“The only solution is to climb the dunes, pray to find the right path and go beyond them,” Mr Calderan said.

It also appears to be lifeless, with none of the wild animals and droppings that he found during his earlier treks.

“Rub' Al Khali isn’t about the distance to cover. It’s an extreme environment that nobody has done before.”

Mr Calderan was not scared of wild cats or deadly scorpions on the way, but of the desert itself.

The toughest part was the last 200km.

“It was the first time in my life I prayed to get out of the desert safe,” Mr Calderan said.

“This journey isn’t about physical ability but the way one handles difficult situations. This is what makes a difference."

The wind often covered his tracks and his GPS lost signals, making it hard to contact his support team for hours.

Several celebrated explorers have crossed shorter sections on camels or in off-road vehicles, but no one has traversed this 1,000km-plus stretch.

The Empty Quarter is one of world's most forbidding deserts. Even migratory birds fly hundreds of miles out of their way to avoid it.