Fundraising duo, Oliver and Henry, are back from Chalbi

October 13, 2015
They made it! Fundraising duo, Oliver Tillard and Henry Haselock, crossed Kenya’s Chalbi desert* on foot to support Veterans Aid (click HERE to read the story).
Over a week they had covered 185 km, drunk 140 litres of water between each other and crossed the Chalbi Desert at its widest point. They raised £2,141 for the charity.

Below is a brief report about the expedition written by Ollie & Henry.


“THE INTENDED PLAN – The original plan as to be the first two people to complete an unsupported crossing of the Chalbi Desert. This would involve pulling trailers with enough water for 10 days as well as other supplies such a food, clothing and medical kit. Our intention was to cross the desert at its widest point. We would have a support vehicle which would follow us for the duration of the expedition. We were also to have two armed rangers from a local tribe to provide us with local knowledge and armed protection throughout the expedition.

THE EXPEDITION – The expedition began with our arrival in Nairobi before an early morning start to meet Zarek Cockar, our support vehicle team leader. Zarek had sorted a number of things out in Kenya prior to our arrival including AMREF (flying doctor) cover and the armed guards. We arrived in Marsabit that evening after a ten hour drive which included stopping to pick up 200 litres of water and last minute supplies. The intention was to begin the expedition the next morning so upon arrival the trailers were put together and we went through the plan for the next ten days with the rangers.

We set out early the next morning to our start line, a 4×4 track, littered with volcanic rocks and deep ruts that would take us to the desert. Trailers packed we set off, both pulling in excess of 100kg. The first morning was a steep learning curve, the handling of the trailers with that much weight took some getting used to but once mastered they were extremely effective and we comfortably averaged around 3.5km/h for the day. The heat, however, took some getting used to. Although pleasant in the morning the temperature soon rose to 40’C by 1100. The landscape could best be described as Martian. The odd tree surrounded by enormous, overflowing ancient lava flows. The track we were on had clearly been cleared over the years to accommodate the occasional 4×4 but was by no means smooth going. The uneven ground often toppled the heavy laden trailers and Zarek and the rangers certainly did not have a comfortable ride bringing up the rear.

The second day begun in high spirits after a comfortable, but extremely windy, night sleeping in the open. However, disaster struck early. It became clear that the terrain the day before had taken a huge toll on the bearings of the trailers and they were beginning to disintegrate. With the trailers out of action a change in tack was needed; so we took the decision to carry everything on our backs including a day’s water (10 litres). We would refill our water each day from the support vehicle and although we would no longer be totally unsupported our job was made harder by the fact that over 40kg on our backs would prove harder going than pulling the trailers. Unperturbed the second day begun again and by the evening we were within 10 km of the desert itself.

The third day we moved out of the ancient lava fields and were soon surrounded by sand dunes. Although only about head high they provided an impressive sight. However, as we moved round the final dune the Chalbi Desert we had been expecting was laid bare in front of us. A huge flat expanse stretching as far as the eye could see, huge mirages giving the effect of large lakes and a thick haze which removed the detail from everything in front of us. It was here we realised we were unlikely to find any natural shade for the next few days. Up to this point we had enjoyed the shade of trees for our break from 1300-1500 each day (to avoid the worst of the daytime sun).


Over the course of the next few days we used whatever tracks we could and often had to work off bearings alone. We quickly developed a good routine of ensuring we drank enough water and manged to keep the pace at over 5km/h. It was clear that the desert itself was devoid of life, the only animals we saw were the occasional ostrich moving swiftly through the haze. We took our shelter under a poncho and although this kept the sun off us for a couple of hours it also served as a rather effective oven.

As the final day neared it was clear we were nearing civilisation again. Our path was often crossed by herds of camels and the flocks of sand grouse suggested we were beginning to move out of the arid dry desert. Our legs and feet were starting to bear the signs of the arduous conditions. Swelling and blisters combined with extremely sore shoulders, rubbed raw in some places, meant we were looking forward to the end. We finished in the village of North Horr. Over a week we had covered 185 km, drunk 140 litres of water between us and crossed the Chalbi Desert at its widest point.”

This was an incredible journey that took us through some of the most stunning and hostile environments. However, without your support driving us on it would have been far harder. Further afield the money that you kindly donated will have a lasting effect way beyond our expedition; so thank you.

*The Chalbi desert is a huge area of around 100,000 sq km of virtually flat sandy desert, to the east of Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya. Long ago this area was in fact part of the lake but is now a large empty expanse. Chalbi' in Gabbra language meansbare and salty’ and this desert is the hottest and most arid region in Kenya. The Chalbi is a pan totally surrounded by volcanoes and ancient lava flows. At the time of year that the expedition took place temperatures were expected to be around 40-45 degrees Celsius. Due to the aridity at this time of year any water sources were deemed unreliable, so all water/ supplies had to be carried and pulled throughout the expedition.