ARAL KUM – 2021


Expeditions invariably test you with challenges but it always seems to be the toughest one that is the least expected. This time the Aral Crossing team face the same unanticipated challenge as the rest of the world. We are all on a voyage into the unknown.  The global escalation of the Covid-19 virus has, sadly but not surprisingly, necessitated the expedition having to be rescheduled for Summer 2021. God willing.

From the frozen ice lands of the polar regions, through the sands of the Wahiba, Rosie Stancer with her small but intrepid team of British women will next take on the grit, salt pans, sands and mud of one of the planet’s youngest deserts, the Aral Kum.

The team, led by Rosie, is made up of her erstwhile polar teammate of long, Pom Oliver, and distinguished war artist Arabella Dorman who will join at various stages to sketch and paint the desertscape and fishing communities.

The desolate beauty will be captured through the painting, photography and filming along with the evolution of the Aral from sea to a drained landscape that is now 90% desert.

The team will navigate their way over what was once the seabed, hauling specially designed carts over salt pans, sand, scrub and shallows. This will be the first full crossing of the breadth of the Aral Kum by foot, covering a distance of some 600 km, crossing each delineation of the original shoreline as it shrunk over the past six decades.

The route will take the team through the stark desertscape where the sea once was, as well as between and along the fringes of both the Large Aral Sea, and the Small Aral Sea, north of Vozrozhdeniye ‘island’, Barsakelmes island and nature reserve, the Kok-Aral dam and finally through the small and remote communities that remain on the original eastern shoreline.

But superceding the pride in this being a first crossing, this is an expedition of its time, promising to be one of the meaningful fact-finding, green expeditions of the year.

The Aral Kum is a new desert, once a bountiful sea until, and as recently as, the 1960s, since when 10% now remains, having been drained by the then Soviet Government . The two rivers that fed the Sea, the Amu Darya in the south and the Syr Darya in the east, were diverted in an attempt to grow rice, melons, cereals, and cotton.

The legacy of the expedition will aim to raise to a higher level, the understanding of the issues concerned and to observe the measures being undertaken to remedy the situation.

The team will also observe the continuing positive effects of the Kazakhstan government-built Kok-aral dam has brought to the region and its fisheries. This is a non-judgemental expedition which will make observations on any ongoing positive measures being undertaken to mitigate the effects of desertification, and their apparent results thus far as well as the adaption of the local communities to the new desert environment.

The physical and psychological impact of such a rigorous expedition, on each of the team, will be measured and monitored on a daily basis for scientific research.

The desert and seacapes along with the shoreline communities will be painted by Arabella Dorman, renowned war artist and highly respected portrait painter. Filming and photography will also be undertaken throughout.

The excellent documentary of 2018 on the Aral called “Stacey Dooley Investigates: Fashion’s Dirty Secrets” focussed on the problem from the South Western fringes of the Aral in Uzbekistan.

Importantly, the team on Rosie’s expedition will be covering hitherto untrodden ground across the breadth of the Aral Kum, and whilst highlighting it’s many aspects of desolate beauty, as well as also endeavouring to gain an even more penetrating insight into all the issues the draining of the sea has given rise to, the means and results of the measures being undertaken to restore the environmental balance, health and livelihoods of the communities.

The expedition will be raising awareness of, and funds for, Veterans Aid.




Rosie Stancer

Rosie Stancer

Team Leader


1996-2012: Polar exploration to both NORTH & SOUTH Poles, a total of five polar expeditions, two solos, each record-breaking, and each of increasing severity, conducting physiological research, and supporting charities, including Special Olympics GB and Veterans Aid. All Polar Expeditions from 2000 were carried out under the Royal Patronage of HRH The Prince of Wales.

2018: Led British/Chinese team through the length and width of the Wahiba Sands.
2019: Skied the widest and longest points of the frozen Siberian Lake Baikal, SOLO AND UNSUPPORTED. First woman to do so.

Pom Oliver

Pom Oliver

Medic & Researcher


In charge of the physiological data-gathering erstwhile polar expeditioner. Very active in supporting a variety of mental health-related charities inc Lord Mayors Appeal for Mental Health, raising over £1m in a year.

A fellow participant on two Polar Expeditions with Rosie, North and South Poles.

Arabella Dorman

Arabella Dorman

Expedition Artist


Dorman was Britain’s first official war artist to go to the front line in Iraq, then went to the desert near the Iranian border. She spent time with British forces in Afghanistan in 2009-2014 in 2010 travelled within Afghanistan from her base in Kabul. 

She worked with refugees in Lesbos, Calais and Dunkirk in 2015 and 2016. In December 2015 she created an art installation by suspending a dinghy, which had been used to transport refugees across the Mediterranean, from the roof of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, called Flight. The exhibit was on display until February 2016 and related the flight of refugees to the ancient tradition of hanging boats from church roofs.

Dorman has exhibited at venues including the Imperial War Museum, the Frost and Reed Gallery, and La Galleria Pall Mall.



The expedition is being undertaken in support of Veteran’s Aid, a small UK based Charity, recognised and highly respected for its impact and efficacy in addressing ex-veterans’ homelessness, by taking them in, providing professionally driven support to aid them to recovery, then prepare and train them to return to the working world, often providing leads to gainful employment.


All on the Same Journey

All on the Same Journey

Expeditions invariably test you with challenges but it always seems to be the toughest one that is the least expected. This time the Aral Crossing team face the same unanticipated challenge as the rest of the world. We are all on a voyage into the unknown.  The global...

Pawing Over the Map

Pawing Over the Map

A route briefing with Arabella, map spread out on her studio floor, offered some hairy moments with a determined bid from her two darling Irish terriers to be a presence if not at certainly on and all over the Aral Kum. As an ex Irish terrier owner, not only is all...

A Quick Run Through the Car Wash

A Quick Run Through the Car Wash

A crisp, cold morning with a zingy wind and blue skies. What a tease ... Set off optimistically on a 2-hour x-country yomp only to get a thorough rinsing in monsoon-like rain, then pebble-dashed by hail pellets, rounded off by blustery blow-dry in a gale, before...

Preparing Mind and Body

Preparing Mind and Body

Rosie undertakes an arduous training regime tailored to meet endurance challenges. Clearly not of a beefy build, Rosie is a great believer that gaining body strength feeds mental confidence.  She adheres rigidly to her programme which varies daily to include, gym work...