2013 : Altai Tavan Bogd, part 2: Mount Nairandal
look at my watch. It’s 4:30 a.m.. I have another 30
minutes before I have to get out of my nice warm sleeping
bag so I snuggle back down.
days ago I was getting on a train to London. Six days
ago my flight from Moscow landed in Ulaanbaatar. Today
I’m laid in a sleeping bag on a hard-packed mud and
rock floor, inside a Mongolian ger which has gaps in
it through which a cold draught creeps, making me sleep
with a woolly hat on. The ground outside is frosty.
I am at least 80 miles away, in any direction, from
any place that could be described as a village or town,
with no means of communication except the group’s emergency
satellite phone. In 30 minutes time I’m going to have
to leave this luxury, pack my sack, and head up for
2 nights at 3,600 metres camped on a glacier. This is
soon arrives. I search around for the head torch and
get up to start the process of packing.
our assistant cook, soon appears with the flasks of
hot water for tea and coffee and a little later the
porridge arrives, soon followed by a sausage and ‘something’
cook for the trip (and I gather for every trip to Khuiten
that KE has ever run) was Sandagash.
The food was plentiful
(too much for me at times) and excellent.
The luxury I am leaving
Most of it
was brought with us from Ullgi and was a mixture of
Western; Mongolian; Russian and Kazak. Mongolians don’t
farm so most of their vegetables are brought in from
China. All of it was cooked on a single stove similar
to the one in the picture. Impressive.
Nepal there are no porters on this trip so everything
we need for 2 nights and 3 days of camping and climbing
had to be carried by us. Apart from our personal gear
such as sleeping bags; down jackets; sleeping mats;
extra clothes etc, we also had to share between the
seven of us 3 tents; food for 3 days; stoves, fuel and
pans; and climbing kit such as snow anchors and ice
screws. The sack was pretty heavy by the time I’d loaded
it. I was hoping that my practice trip on BB1325 was
now about to pay off!
were packed and away by 6:30 for the walk up the ablation
valley to our gear stash on the edge of the glacier.
Here walking boots were changed for climbing ones; harnesses,
helmets, crampons etc were put on, and we roped up ready
for the off.
the past few years I have gained a lot more experience
in travelling on glaciers.
I can now spot the lines
of crevasses a lot better when they’re snow covered.
Bryan and Elisabeth on
Bryan load carrying on
the Potaniin glacier
But the difference between my ability and a really experienced
guide such as Tom is still enormous.
mist was swirling around as Tom broke trail and every
now and then he would halt, look around, then alter
direction. Sometimes we would wait whilst he probed
an area that just looked like a normal patch of snow
with his pole or axe. Then we would prepare to hold
him should he go through. When it was my turn to reach
the point I could see the problem. A foot of snow covering
a seemingly bottomless crevasse that had to be stepped
or jumped across.
Crevasses where path zig-zags
photo of our two roped groups appears to show a benign
stretch of snow slope. But the points where the track
in the snow zig-zags about are actually where we’ve
hours after leaving Base we reached the end of the rognon
(a large rock outcrop in the middle of the glacier)
at around 3,600 metres where we would site our High Camp.
Tom immediately told us to start getting the tent up.
No chance to sit down and admire the view, just get
on with it.
reason became obvious 30 minutes later as the wind started
to strengthen and the blizzard began. We just got it
done in time.
An hour later and the winds would have
been too strong to even get the tent up and we would
have had to descend.
As it was the three of us (myself,
Francis and Elisabeth) piled our gear into the tent
and sat in the entrance for a break.
we had to get out again to finish the job. Replacing
the ice axes and poles (which we had used to temporarily
guy the tent) with rocks and burying them in the snow;
putting rocks on top of pegs so that they wouldn’t tear
out in the wind, and generally stabilizing everything.
The tent up just as the
2 p.m. we were settled inside. The wind was driving the
snow against the tent and we had to get out a few times
to clear it away. This is a frustrating process involving
as it does putting wet weather gear and boots on before
this was nothing compared to what Tom did. For over
5 hours he was outside in the worst of the weather melting
snow to make us all a drink and for the pasta for our
meal. Producing enough snow for a litre of water takes
a long time. He told me that staying out in the bad
weather was preferable to getting in and out repeatedly
to put more snow in the pan and to deliver the drinks
and food to our tents. A heroic effort on his part which
was greatly appreciated by us all.
blizzard continued into the evening and eventually began
to ease around midnight. I slept fitfully through the
night and felt quite chilly at times, waking to find
my sleeping bag was quite damp from the condensation
in the tent.
View towards Khuiten after
View towards Malchin
was soon decided that an attempt on Mount Khuiten, the
highest peak in Mongolia, was out of the question. The
eighteen inches of snow that had fallen meant that we
would have to traverse underneath slopes that were laden
with snow ready to avalanche and the summit ridge would
be in a similarly dangerous condition.
Tom suggested an attempt on our 2nd objective – an ascent
of Mount Nairandal (4,183 metres). There was no guarantee
of success given the snow conditions but we opted to
give it a go.
Our luxury hotel complex!
Fresh avalanche tracks
on slopes near Khuiten
Melting snow for a brew
Preparing to leave for
was about a 600 metre climb to the top and it went well.
Tom and Graham alternated the lead as they broke trail
and after 3½
hours of hard work we reached the summit.
top of Nairandal is also known as ‘Friendship Peak’
and is the point where the borders of Mongolia, Russia
and China all meet.
So 3 countries visited in seconds
without passport and visas!
Graham; Richard and Catherine
on the way to Nairandal!
Photo stop nearing the
Francis, Elisabeth and
on the summit of Nairandal
were back at the tents by 2 p.m. and it was decided to
spend another night here to make the descent of the
glacier easier after the overnight freeze. So an afternoon
in the sun was the order of the day before the cold
eventually drove us back in.
6 a.m. cup of tea next morning lured us out to start the
process of leaving. It took a while. Taking the tent
down needed over half an hour’s work with the ice axe
to chop out the rocks holding the guys and pegs in place.
They were buried under a foot of snow and had frozen
solidly in place. This tent was going nowhere last night!
it was done, loads were packed and we set off.
to break a fresh trail down but the hard overnight frost
had consolidated the snow a little.
About a third of
the way down we noticed a speck in the distance.
we got closer we saw that it was tent. It contained
a Russian couple who said they were meeting friends!
It seemed more likely that they had crossed the Border
to have a go at one of the peaks
Tom on the glacier. The
speck in the
middle left of the photo is the Russian
descent went well and soon we were putting our walking
boots on and adding all our climbing gear to our packs
for the final hour back to Base where Sandagash met
us with a very welcome cup of orange.
putting the tent up again to dry out we had the afternoon
meal, followed by a walk down the valley, then another
meal and bed.
this was far from being the end of the trip. Tomorrow
was going to be another big day:
Tavan Bogd trilogy:
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