Westward Ho! – 2013 Wild Treks Research Trip

Mongolia’s Gobi Desert – Tuesday’s Snapshot
December 17, 2013
A Jewel of Many Colours – 2013 Wild Treks Research Trip
December 30, 2013
We’re lucky enough that here at EL we get returning clients. This year we had the pleasure of John’s company on our Wild Treks research. Having visited in 2009 and 2012 (I enjoyed the remoteness, the feeling of immense space, the secluded camping and the great balance between programmed experiences and the freedom to explore independently’), John decided that maybe he had time to make a final visit to Mongolia on our trip to the Altai  (‘the prospect of the ‘unknown’ certainly excites me’). John wrote wonderful updates whilst on the road, and having been kind enough to share them, this is the second in a series written by him.

Currently we are in the stunning Khangai Mountains in Zavkhan Aimag…

For our westward journey from White Lake to Otgon Tenger Uul Strictly Protected Area there are two options – follow the main road which takes two days, or follow a more direct one day route  which is not shown on the map. To save time the latter option is chosen.

From White Lake we cross first the South and then the North Terkh River, broad, fast flowing, crystal clear streams which provide most of the water for for White Lake. The route then follows the broad, flat floor of the North Terkh  for many kilometres. The valley floor is at times probably three to four kilometres in width before gently rising to the foothills  and finally more steeply to the surrounding peaks. The rocky crags have disappeared as have the stands of larch but the rich yellow, beige and brown of the grasses is a constant reminder that winter is just around the corner.

With such a generous cover of pasture to provide fodder for their herds, the valley is more populated than usual with a number of family ger camps visible at any given time.

High passes and sacred stone shrines

Our track eventually departs the valley floor and commences a long, steep and challenging climb to the Nudengiin Davaa pass which we estimate to stand at about 3000 metres. The panoramic views from the pass are stunning with a light mantle of snow on the higher peaks. If we thought that the climb to the pass was demanding, it pales into insignificance compared to the descent. The furgon’s tough, go-almost-anywhere capabilities and Turuu’s outstanding driving skills really come to the fore in handling the toughest challenges. By this time it is perfectly clear why this road is not shown on the map as it is probably only negotiable for a month or two at around this time of year. However, it serves its purpose in saving a day’s travel and certainly provides more highlights that the main road.

The road west!

Our reward is another spectacularly broad river valley flanked by peaks sporting some amazingly sculpted granite outcrops. Camp is set up on the bank of the Buyant Gol River. We soon discover that, from just a short distance downstream of the camp, we can catch a tantalising glimpse of our objective, Otgon Tenger, the most sacred mountain in Mongolia standing proudly at the head of an adjoining valley. While at 4021 metres it is not the tallest mountain in Mongolia it has a permanent mantle of snow and gives rise to the only glacier in this range.

Next morning we are reminded, not only that winter is on the way but that camp is located at about 2500 metres for there is a generous layer of ice on the tents and even the edges of the fast flowing are sporting mantles of ice. The sun and the eternal blue sky soon brighten the day, however.

Our home next to the Buyant Gol

During the drive to the mountain,  the closer we come (we are not to mention its name in its presence) the more imposing it becomes. From its commanding position at the head of the valley it certainly seems to radiate quite an aura and it’s easy to understand why it commands the position it does within the Mongolian community. We continue to the foothills passing on the way a very large, imposing statue of Ochivan, Buddhist god of the mountains, taking pride of place in front of a shrine bedecked in colourful prayer scarves.

Ochirvan protecting sacred Otgon Tenger

We continue to the end of the ‘track’ – another challenging drive – and have lunch with a splendid view down the valley and the mountain standing guard behind us. We then take a ramble across a boulder-strewn ridge to the sacred lake Badar Khundga nestled snuggly below the peak. This is the place that all Mongolian parliamentarians must visit before taking their seat in the chamber. It is a time for private contemplation and the building of individual cairns/ovoos. Finally we all wash our hands and face with water drawn from the lake in Ross’s camera lens cover as it is forbidden to place your hands in the water.

Lunch with a view!

Our return to camp by the river is fairly quiet as I think we are all still deep in contemplation. In all, a very special experience.

Time for a little contemplation

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