After a whopping 20 hours back home after Bolivia I was off again!
I was asked to lead a trip to Mongolia, specifically to the far western area of Altai Tavan Bogd, to climb Mount Khuiten. Also known as "cold mountain" in Mongolian, this is the highest peak in the country and is literally so close to the borders of China and Russia you can smell the vodka and bi-jo.
The journey started in Ulaanbataar, a thriving metropolis of over 1.3 million people and probably an equal number of Toyota Prius. Home to almost half of the entire population of Mongolia this city has high rises, great restaurants, and one of the largest out door markets I have seen.
We spent the first few days exploring local cultural sites, including Gandantegchinlen Monastery, Sukhbaatar Square, the National Museum, and the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan.
Our next destination was Bayan Olgii, a town on the far western border of Mongolia. In fact this area is predominantly Muslim Kazakhs. It is a completely different culture than the rest of Mongolia, representing a mere 4.5% of the countries population. Unfortunately our flight to Olgii was delayed for a day due to "weather," however in the interest of time we hopped on a flight to Khvod instead. The 200 km from Khvod to Olgii took us about 6.5 hours in the back of a Soviet era UAZ-452. These vehicles are tough as nails regardless of their antiquated bread loaf design. Four hours of sleep in Olgii and then off again over dusty bumpy roads to the park entrance at White River. All in all it was a marathon 18+ hour journey just to the start of our climb! To me, this type of flexibility and determination are what really make an expedition like this feel real. Just to climb one peak it took days of travel there and back....dedication. I also have to praise the good company and understanding of our climbing team, they weathered a lot on this trip and were rewarded with some great experiences.
From the park entrance we utilized camel support to our basecamp near the lower Potanin Glacier. The next few days consisted of an acclimatization trek up Malchin Peak (13,287ft) and moving to high camp (12,139ft). We had planned to climb our main objective, Mount Khuiten, the next day but woke up to a ferocious ground blizzard that had us pulling our sleeping bags over our heads. Luckily the weather broke and we were able to squeeze in an ascent of Nariamdal or "Friendship" Peak (13,392ft). Just to clarify, this was Nariamdal 1, which stands directly on the border of Russian, Mongolia, and China. Evidently there are 6 Nariamdals...and actually Mount Khuiten used to be named that as well. Very very confusing area in terms of naming by Mongols, Kazakhs, and Russians....many discrepancies.
Waiting out the bad weather gave way to a crystal clear summit day. From high camp it took our team about 3 hours to summit and 5.5 hours roundtrip to high camp. After a quick reprieve we descended the long flat Potanin Glacier to basecamp. In fact we even saw a herd of horses on the glacier, something not even our local guides Baku and Kada had seen before.
The return trip to Olgii was a bit more comfortable. Strangely my aunt-in-law, Jennifer Post, happened to be in Olgii at the same time doing research. She has been spending the last 15 years in the area recording local music and its relationship to the environment. After a performance by a local Kazakh "pop group" she explained more about the musical traditions to our team.
All in all this was one of the most unforgettable trips and groups of climbers I have had the pleasure to lead. Many new friends that I hope to see again soon. The marathon travel isn't quite over yet though. One more trip to lead in Russia before I am back home and on the daddy daycare regime!