Mongolia’s Altai Tavan Bogd National Park forms part of the Mongolian Altai Mountains which constitute a major and central part of the Altai mountain range located at the junction of Central Asia and Siberia. The Mongolian Altai Mountains have many summits around or exceeding 4000 meters above sea level and stretch from the north-western part of Mongolia to the south, through the far-western provinces of Bayan-Ulgii and Khovd. They stand guard against Mongolia’s western frontiers and the borders with China and Russia. Towards the southeast, the Mongolian Altai Mountains get smaller and transition into the Gobi-Altai mountain range.
The Altai represent different altitudinal vegetation zones including high glaciated snow-capped mountains, alpine and subalpine forests, ice crystal rivers and streams, mountain valleys and lakes and, high altitude steppe. The area is inhabited by Kazakh and Tuvan (also known as Uriankhai) herders with monuments, archaeological and cultural sites left by people going back to the Palaeolithic period through the Bronze Age and by successive nomads and their empires, including the Hunnu, Turkic and Uighur people, and Mongols.
Mongolia’s Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is vast and includes the Tavan Bogd Mountains – Mongolia’s highest mountains – in the northwest and the lakes in the southeast.
The Tavan Bogd Mountains
The heart of the Tavan Bogd Mountains are five sister peaks and these permanently snow-capped mountains form a bowl around Mongolia’s longest glacier – the Pontanii Glacier. (The five peaks are named Khuiten Uul, ‘Cold Peak’ – Mongolia’s highest mountain at 4374m. The other peaks are Nairamdal (‘Friendship’, 4180m), Malchin (‘herder, 4050m), Bürged (‘Eagle’, 4068m), and Olgii (‘Cradle’, 4050m).)
One of the most popular options for visiting the area remains an extended trek, whether by foot, by horse or by mountain bike (sometimes combined with pack rafting). The trekking route (to the base camp of Khuiten Uul and then on to the lakes or vice versa) can take 5-10 days depending on the final route and whether by foot, bike or horse.
Most trekkers base themselves close to the area known as Base Camp which is at about 3100m and has views of all five peaks. To access the Base Camp area you trek 10-15km from the ranger station (length depends on what ranger station you start from). Most groups will use camels to carry supplies and tents to here. Base Camp is close to the Pontanii glacier (the biggest of the glaciers in the Mongolian Altai. It tumbles out of the range from the eastern face of Khuiten and is in the shadow of the ‘Five Holy’ peaks). It is a stunning setting from which to explore. For me, within this incredible region of cold permanently glaciated peaks, alpine lakes and hidden valleys, you feel as if time is standing still – these vast and timeless landscapes will make you think and reconsider your priorities.
Climbing Malchin Peak – 4050m
Malchin Peak is considered a non-technical climb. That means there’s no special equipment required – just a prayer to the weather gods and a lot of puff and determination. It is commonly hiked by trekking groups, and there is a used trail most of the way to the summit. It’s around a 7 to 10-hour return trip from the base camp depending on your speed. The classic quote that tells you “not to look at the whole mountain take it one piece at a time” is something you will come to understand. Ruth Wiggins joined us in Mongolia. You can read about her experience (including Malchin Peak) here.
Khoton, Khurgan, and Dayan Nuur are a series of freshwater lakes of glacial origin located in Tsengel soum (district) and fed by glacial melt and annual snowfall and form the headwaters of the Khovd River. (Khoton Nuur and Khurgan Nuur are connected by the 3 km-long Sargaal Channel.)
All three lakes form part of two of Mongolia’s seventy Important Bird Areas (as designated by BirdLife International). As well as supporting bird communities characteristic of the Eurasian steppe and desert and Eurasian high montane biomes, the areas regularly support at least 1% of the flyway populations of Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Lapwing, and Bar-headed Goose in the autumn months. At Dayan Nuur three globally threatened species occur in significant numbers: Saker Falcon, Lesser Kestrel, and the White-throated Bushchat.
Climbing Khuiten Peak – 4374m
Khuiten is a beautiful and wild mountain to climb because of its remoteness and location – providing views out over the Chinese-Mongolian-Russian tri-point. Strong climbers can ascend Khuiten from Base Camp (mentioned above). However, most local guides prefer to make an advanced higher camp on the glacier at around 3800 meters. Mid-June through to mid-August is best for climbing the mountain. The actual ascent is technically moderate but the main hazards are crevasses. Climbing Khuiten requires ropes, crampons, ice axes, and full security equipment (including crevasse safety). Just be aware though that there are no registered mountain guides in Mongolia.
However, at EL we explore Mongolia’s Altai Tavan Bogd National Park a little differently. We focus on creating local community partnerships that offer long-term support to the people we work with countrywide and that also allow us to showcase the diversity of skills and knowledge of Mongols in the 21st Century. As an example, we have created our Altai Wilderness Trails trekking experience in partnership with Asker – a Mongol Kazakh eagle hunter we work with. It is the local knowledge of Asker that makes this itinerary so special as you experience a different more hidden side of the Altai – a hidden alternative to the popular Tsagaan Gol trek. Alternatively, consider joining us on our Altai Migration Trails experience. Although this doesn’t take place in Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, it does take place in the Altai Mountains and, because of the way we work, you’ll get an original insider experience and more local introduction to the Altai region.
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes