National Geographic Channel
The explorer featured in this story appears in Going to Extremes: Hot, which airs on National Geographic Presents in the U.S. Sunday, February 29, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel.
Going to extremes is a life-altering experience for Nick Middleton. Middleton spends half his time at Oxford University teaching geography and the other half venturing to remote, extreme locationsthe hottest, coldest, wettest, and driest places on the planet.
In an interview with the National Geographic Channel, Middleton recalls his trip to Dallol, in northern Ethiopia's Danakil Depressionwhere the temperature tops 93° Fahrenheit (34° Celsius) every day of the year. And in the summer, not a single day dips below 104° Fahrenheit (40° Celsius).
Why seek out places with extreme, inhospitable climates?
Most British people have an obsession with weather. I once had a conversation with a guy in a bar in Mozambique and he asked about weather in England. I told him that we got rain, snow, and hail. He then said to me, "If I went to England I would die in one day." It got me thinking what it must be like to live in a place with really extreme weather.
Libya actually holds the record for highest spot temperature134° Fahrenheit [57° Celsius]but we couldn't get permission to go there. Dallol, in Ethiopia, intrigued me because it is one of the least accessible destinations on the planet. In many areas there are no sealed roads, and camel caravans are the only way to travel. It also holds the record for the highest average annual temperaturebasically it is bloody hot all the time.
Dallol is at the northernmost extension of the [Great] Rift Valley. It is below sea level and acts like a cauldron, trapping all the heat.
Who lives in this region?
The only inhabitants of this area are the Afar. These nomadic tribespeople actively discourage visitors. Both accounts I had read from 1930s concerning the Afar disagreed on only [one] point; that was what became of the testicles after the visitor was castrated.
When I asked the Afar about this they denied they ever did such thingsthey said it was done in Somalia. I wasn't really convinced either way, but the Afar are definitely fierce. Every man carries a two-foot-long [60-centimeter-long] combination knife-sword and a Kalashnikov. I was unarmed, so this was quite intimidating. There could be ecological reasons for their suspicious and aggressive attitude toward foreigners. After all, resources are very scarce.
How did you prepare for the trip physically?
I went to an oasis called Siwa on the Egypt-Libyan border. There, I was buried in sand to sweat out all my city impurities. Then I endured a massage that felt more like I was being physically attacked.