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Crossing the Simpson Desert

Colson track sunrise

Whether you’re just out on a simple day walk or on a 20-day expedition, there’s no better feeling than knowing you have everything you need to survive and be comfortable.

Ian Vickers, Summit Club Adventure Sponsorship Recipient

To raise funds for cancer research, Ian walked solo across the Simpson Desert, carrying his water, food and equipment in a purpose-built cart.

Australian born Ian Vickers’ journey has taken him from the British infantry to video producer, sea cucumber diver, and now, registered nurse. He always harboured a romantic dream of walking alone through a desert. Last year, he made it a reality, raising more than $5000 for cancer research along the way.

Just like in the movies

Since I was a child, it has always been a dream of mine to walk across a desert, just like in the old movies. Last year, I decided I’d do it. The Simpson Desert is the iconic archetypal Aussie desert. To go solo and unassisted is the ultimate challenge. Whether you’re just out on a simple day walk or on a 20-day expedition, there’s no better feeling than knowing you have everything you need to survive and be comfortable. I wanted to experience the solitude, the challenge of traversing thousands of sand dunes, and to selfishly have the desert to myself. It was such a humbling experience.

Salt lake on the French Line
Salt Lake on the French Line

Cancer research. An obvious choice

I lost both my parents to cancer way too early in their lives. When I decided to use my trip to raise money for charity, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation was an easy choice. The ACRF is dedicated to helping find a cure for cancer by supporting world-class research. Since 1984, they have awarded almost $95 million in grants – a truly worthy cause.

Struggling up a dune
Struggling up a sand dune

The packing challenge

I knew I would feel every gram of weight hauling a purpose-built cart more than 400km and over around 1100 dunes. I had to pack enough water to last for 23 days. At 5 litres a day, that’s 115 kilos. Then there was the food and other essential equipment: EPIRB, sat phone, SPOT tracker, solar charger, GPS, maps, compass, first aid kit, GoPro and accessories, spare batteries, spare axles, spare tube, puncture repair kit, the list goes on.

So my clothing had to be lightweight and hard wearing. It had to keep me cool and protect me from the harmful rays of the sun during the day, and warm and dry at night.

Early moring on the French Line
Early morning on the French Line

Red dunes, wildflowers, shooting stars

I really did love every gruelling second of my journey. The daily mental and physical challenges, and pushing myself to the very edge of my limits and beyond. When times were toughest, I was in my element. However, you couldn’t beat the relief of calling it a day. When the sun would drop behind my left shoulder, I’d find my home for the night, perched atop of red sand dunes, amongst the wild flowers. No matter how tired I felt, I relished my nightly routine. Every night I’d start by building a small fire, savouring every spoonful of my meal (with a hot chocolate and a chocolate bar to finish off), while writing my daily journal entry, before climbing into my sleeping bag and gazing up at the cosmos on a cold, crystal-clear night. Sleep would take over before I’d spotted my second shooting star.

Pumping up a slow puncture
Pumping up a slow puncture

Humbled by the experience

I feel a lot richer for experiencing the desert first hand. I will always remain in awe of its sheer beauty. For 20 days and nights it was mine, and I was part of it. It will never leave me. I am humbled not only by the desert but by the people and organisations who believed in me, and who held out their hands to help.

View from the top of one dune across to the next
View from the top of a sand dune

Just get out there

I say to other people dreaming of a big adventure to* just get out there and do it*. Once you start to plan, prepare and train, momentum builds and before you know it you’re ready to take your first steps.

If Ian's story inspires you to get out there and travel with purpose, we want you to apply for a Summit Club Adventure Sponsorship.

Ian's gear picks