Desert of No Return

In the fall of 2001, big-wall climber Mike Libecki went from the vertical to the horizontal, ditching his ropes and portaledge for trekking poles and a sun hat to complete a grueling 600-plus-mile crossing of the Taklimakan Desert in northwest China. Beginning in late September some 3,000 miles west of Beijing on the desert's western edge, Libecki, a team of local Uighur men, and 20 camels marched eastward for 40 days through the 125, 000-square-mile Taklimakan, which boasts dunes second in size only to the Sahara's, extreme temperatures, ancient ruins, and remote human settlements.

A line in the sand: Mike Libecki and the expedition team trek towards a distant sand ridge.

The challenge of crossing the Taklimakan—a feat that has proved disastrous for most non-motorized expeditions—was made all the more daunting the day before it started when Libecki severely burned his left foot. Convincing Chinese officials that he was fit to proceed, the expedition went on. His photos tell the story of agonizing work, swallowing sands, unruly camels, and remarkable perseverance in one of the most remote—and most beautiful—landscapes on earth.

Filed To: China
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