AS HE took his first step on the shifting sands of the Taklamakan Desert and Kristan Fischer's heart sank.
Months of planning and research for the first south-to-north crossing of the desert, which stretches over 337,000sq km in north-west China, could not have prepared the 29-year-old Sunshine Coast man for what he and his three expedition mates found when they finally arrived on the desert's edge.
"We were expecting the first quarter of the journey to be like a hard gravel, relativity flat, and that's what we'd seen on the Google Earth satellite images," Fischer told the Daily.
"And then we expected a big 15,000 foot monster mountain to climb, then big shifting sands after that.
"To realise on our entrance that what we expected to be those nice, flat, lowly undulating, gravel plains were actually rather large dunes - both my team-mates and I just looked at each other and our faces dropped.
"We thought 'if these are the small gravel patches what's going to be the big monster dunes when we get to the other end?'."
But having to adapt to the unexpected was the one given in any great adventure and two weeks later Fischer, Avirup Bagchi, Lawrence Alexander and Juan Guerrero emerged on the northern side of the desert, becoming - they believed - the first to successfully cross the Taklamakan on foot and unassisted.
Despite extensive planning Fischer said the remote location and the lack of documented exploration meant the four friends did not know what they would find on entering Taklamakan Desert.
"Those that enter never return. That's what it literally means in the local dialect," Fischer said.
Some dunes towered up to 500m high, and the sand, he said, was so fine it was like talcum powder.
"You take one single step, your foot would sink literally a foot into the stuff, you'd be you know up to your waist in a powder of stuff that would come up," he said.
"Within seconds your shoe would be filled with this powdery stuff too and your toes would get so cramped in there within a 100m you'd have to take your shoes off and empty them out again."
They strapped on snow shoes to help them float on top of the soft sand as they carried their 30kg pack across the dunes.
"We'd heard that there was absolutely no life out in the desert, just nothing, but it was quite different from that," Fischer said.
"We had quite large populations of deer we saw; that surprised us.
"A lot of little scarab beetles; you'd sit down in the afternoon sun in the sand and these little beetles would come up and start walking all over you.
"And we saw ticks, of all things, but I don't think they'd ever tasted people before, so they'd crawl on you and crawl straight off, so nothing like here at home.
"Little random geckos would be running around in the sand, so there was quite a bit of life.
"Occasionally there'd be water birds that were migrating through the area and they'd stop in at some of the water holes that we were at."
The adventurers slept through freezing nights, with temperatures often dropping below zero and mostly staying below 20 degrees through the day.
"It was interesting you know when you'd wake up in the morning you'd sometimes have almost frost outside," Fischer said.
"But almost every single day about three o'clock in the afternoon the dust storms would roll through.
"You'd have your willy willys, or your dust devils; you'd look up and you'd have six of them in front of you, moving and kind of cascading back and forth in front of you.
"Then all of a sudden you'd have a white out and you wouldn't be able to see more than a metre or two in front of you.
"And it would be a big bastard of a dust storm that would come through and it would last for half-an-hour and then it would finally clear up.
"Because that desert sand is so fine it's always in the air and you'll struggle to ever see more than about 4km, even at night time.
"You know we were expecting to see amazing stars, being so far away from light pollution, but the most stars I ever counted was six in a given night, there was so much of that sediment in the air."
- The desert is located in far eastern China.
- It is 1000km long and 400km wide.
- Temperatures in the desert have a 60 degree range.
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