History was made in Death Valley a few days back when Belgian explorer and adventurer Louis-Philippe Loncke completed the first ever solo, unsupported crossing of that desert. Loncke made the journey without the use of roads, resupplies, vehicle support, or pre-placed food and water caches. In fact, he had never even visited the national park prior to his departure.
The expedition began back on October 30, with Loncke estimating that it would take approximately six days to cover the 150 miles (242 km) he would walk north-to-south through the park. That estimate proved to be too optimistic however, as it actually required eight days to finish the trek.
This isn’t the first time someone has attempted to cross Death Valley in a solo and unsupported fashion. Explorer Todd Carmichael attempted the something back in 2010 and 2011. But Carmichael’s approach was to drag a heavy cart filled with supplies behind him as he went. Loncke took a completely different approach however by loading all of his gear and supplies into a backpack. That includes all of the water he would need for his time in the desert. when he set out on the expedition, that pack weighed an incredible 95 pounds.
This approach proved to be crucial to his success however, as the terrain proved to be incredibly unforgiving. He discovered that not only was Death Valley incredibly hot, it is also very rocky, featured deep canyons, scorching sand dunes, and difficult washouts. That terrain also reflected back the heat of the sun, increasing the temperature even further.
The gear and supplies that he carried with him on the trek left him little room for error, particularly as his six-day journey turned into eight. At one point he almost abandoned the attempt as well, as the salt water he was drinking to help avoid dehydration prevented him from sweating as much as he should have. His body was overheating, and his heart was pounding, even in the overnight hours when temperatures dropped dramatically. Thankfully, Loncke found fresh water on his exit route, and after purifying it he was able to dilute the salt water enough to allow him to continue. From there, he was able to find his stride and complete the journey.
This isn’t the first time the Belgian adventurer has crossed a desert on foot. In fact, he seems to thrive on those challenges. In fact, his previous “world firsts” include a traverse of the West McDonnell mountain range and the crossing of the Simpson Desert, both in Australia.
Lou-Phi says that he owes a debt of gratitude to Todd Carmichael, whose footsteps he marched in. He says that Carmichael was the inspiration for this trek, and studying his approach helped him to prepare for the Death Valley expedition. He reached the finish line on November 7, with a total time of 7 days, 23 hours, and 40 minutes for the traverse.
You can find out more about the journey, his preparation, and the challenges he faced, on Loncke’s website. Congratulations to Lou-Phi on an amazing expedition, and showing us just what can be accomplished when you set your mind to a project. Well done my friend.
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