“Whaw, how privileged have I been to live this wild and beautiful experience” is the feeling I have, back home and looking to find my old habits and occupations.
Our Mongolian “Khuvsgul Dogsled expedition” was an experience we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
Getting at the starting point was an expedition itself, 700 kilometers on roads, only existing on the roadmap of Mongolia, several flat tires and other mechanical problems where all part of it, the driver was the last to worry about all this.
A bit shaken and well stirred we started our dogsled expedition on Mongolia’s Blue Pearl, at the outskirts of Khatgal, heading north for Khankh, near the Russian border.
The weather was unexpectedly mild, temperatures just below, and sometimes slightly above zero felt incredibly warm because of the dry air, the always present sunshine and the absence of the feared Khuvsgul winds. Their was, except for the high mountain top, now snow to find during the whole trip, something highly unusual at this time of year.
Nevertheless, once the sun set behind the spectacular mountain ranges, temperatures dropped suddenly and without mercy to minus 15 and more (during the night).
The nomads we met on our way were proud because of the interest we showed in their lifestyle and culture and they overwhelmed us with their hospitality and respect for our endeavor.
We talked over and over about the surprisingly ‘strange’ weather; on how these totally new situations change their lives. Timeframes known for generations are all of a sudden becoming ‘dangerous’. The nomadic herders need the frozen rivers to move their herds for the winter camps to the summer camps. They seem to have to move sooner every year. Also the tundra is changing, necesseray and vital plants for their lifestock and reindeer are growing much less abundant than before, which makes the animals weaker year after year.
Big fires are a common problem these days, with the lack of infrastructure and logistical materias, these fires are not fought and are thus even more devestating.
Of course the nomads notice something is happening, but as these people have been “trained” over the generations to be inventive, flexible and open minded to adapt to whatever they get to deal with, they do not complain too much and adapt accordingly.
Once arrived in Khankh, the pressure built up quickly as we prepared for the winter ascent of the Munkh Saridagh. With the approval of the local Shaman, we started the climb. We first took a horse ride to the mountain foot. We offloaded the horses and got our gear ready to give it a go.
From the beginning the steep approach was hard on our bodies, lots of rocks and stones made the climb exhausting and technically difficult. At about 2500 m the altitude and heavy backpack took their toll on our bodies and the progress was slow.
On a ridge at about 3200m we installed our base camp and had a meal before hitting the sack under a minus 25 C full moon sky. The following day we reached the peak at 12:10. After the well deserved pictures we immediately started the descent, back to where we had left the horses behind. The herders welcomed us with respect and deep joy.
Our way back to Khatgal, this time via the eastern shore of the Blue Pearl wasn’t any easier than the other side. The ice conditions, a very fine layer, melting and freezing over and over again, never seen before and of course due to the too mild temperatures,was extremely hard on the dogs and we permanently had to put them on new self made “booties”. Also more and more crevasses and stretches of open water had to be handled with care. We went to Khuvsgul to learn more about the climate changes on the terrain, well, we heade to deal with the results day after day.
The arrival at Khatgal and the logical end of the expedition was as joyful as abrupt and even a bit painful. You can’t prepare for this moment: Although you feel somewhat proud and happy you achieved the goals, but all of a sudden all the adrenaline is gone and you don’t know quite well what to do or even what to say or think.
Mongolians, I am thankful to have witnessed the beauty of your country, please handle it with care. Throughout the expeditions we have seen strange weather phenomena’s and the nomads confirmed our observations. More abrupt changes in the Mongolians and global climate could mean disasters. Mongolia has everything to become an ecological example for the rest of the world, if…. If the future economical goals go hand in hand with a strive for an ecological balance.
To reduce the impact on climate change of this expedition - the CO2 emissions from these flights were offset.