2013 : Altai Tavan Bogd, part 3: Mount Khuiten
8am and we’re in the ger having breakfast before setting
off up the ablation valley again. This time we were
going to attempt the 4,037 metre high peak of Malchin.
This is mainly a very steep, bouldery, scrambly, ascent
so crampons weren’t needed.
Heading towards Malchin
On the slopes of
Malchin – Mount Khuiten behind
this time I had spent over a week at or above 3,000
metres and was well acclimatised and able to make good
time on the ascent.
The final few hundred metres required
We needed to keep close to the rocky crest
and on occasions had to traverse on to the steep snow
slope on the other side.
Tom and Graham decided to set
up a rope to safeguard the final snow slopes to the
Mist swirls around the
Approaching final slopes
near the top of Malchin
Bryan on the summit of
Khuiten from the summit of
what a summit it was with spectacular views all around.
There was enough room for us all to perch amongst the
boulders and have our lunch whilst the mist swirled
Altai Tavan Bogd summits
and Potaniin Glacier from the slopes of Malchin
descent was pretty rapid. Unlike the Lake District these
mountains see very few people. As a consequence the
scree on tops such as Malchin remains pretty intact.
Whilst this is a bit of pain when ascending, coming
down it’s a dream and 500 metres were descended in double
quick time and meant we were back at the Base by 4pm.
hour sat in the sun (albeit with a down jacket and woolly
hat on!) passed the time until dinner at 7pm and an
early night. It was another cold clear night.
next day was at 8am and the plan was to do a smaller
peak further down the valley, called Gejadian, which
gives great views up the glacier.
Tom had been thinking. He said it might be possible
to have another go at Khuiten. The 2 sunny days, and
cold nights, may have consolidated the fresh snow and
make it possible.
to do it would mean setting off after dinner that night
and climbing 1,400metres through the night, aiming to
arrive back at Base for breakfast then packing up the
tents and walking 13 miles out to the road-head. He
stressed it was our choice; that it would be tough because
we would have to move fairly quickly; and that there
was no guarantee of success.
didn’t take me long to decide – “I’m in”. So too were
Francis and Elisabeth. But Richard and Catherine were
concerned that they might find the pace a bit hard and
so opted out.
we had a day to fill. Tom took Richard and Catherine
up Gejadien and Graham took the 3 of us to a smaller
top also with excellent views.
View up the Alexander Glacier
A trekking group leaving
day passed and all too soon it was 8:45pm and the three
of us with Tom and Graham left Base Camp. I was a little
nervous as I put my crampons on when we reached the
glacier, concerned that if I wasn’t up to this and had
to return then everyone would have to as well.
once we stepped on the ice and started moving all the
negative thoughts were forgotten. This was to be one
of the best times I’ve had in the mountains. We had
a full moon, so head torches were switched off and we
moved up the glacier in perfect conditions. Cat Stevens
song “I’m being followed by a moon shadow” kept running
through my head as we moved along attached to shadows
that were as bright as on a sunny day.
moved quickly up to the level of our High Camp, benefiting
from carrying much lighter sacks than when we last came
this way, and also able to use the trail we had broken
when we descended 2 days ago.
there we entered a glacier filled valley that leads
to a col from which we aimed to climb a steep ridge
that would eventually lead to the summit. Graham and
Tom alternated breaking trail as the snow got deeper
and deeper. Aparently the crevasses in the glacier in
the valley are normally clearly visible but despite
the full moon, there was no sign just smooth deep snow.
Gradually it became obvious that unless the wind had
blown the snow from the col and ridge above and there
had been some substantial freeze thaw to consolidate
the snow pack, we would again not make it up Khuiten.
cut out some steps to sit in just below the col and
had a cup of tea from the flask Graham had brought up.
Graham, Francis, Elisabeth
at the high point: 4,100m on Mount
We were beginning to feel the strengthening wind coming
over the col and it was getting pretty cold.
the foot of the ridge the conditions were much worse
than we had hoped. There was about 1 metre of soft powdery
snow sat on top of a firmer layer.
The snow presented
an avalanche risk without safe anchors and of course
we would have to come down the same way.
was too dangerous, so at 3:30am Tom called the attempt
off. We were at 4,100 metres, just 256 metres from the
the night wasn’t over. We still had to get down safely.
Although we had a trail to follow crevasses still presented
a risk and continued concentration was necessary. We
moved quickly and rest stops all night were few and
seemed a long time coming and we were a long way down
the glacier before the first glow of red appeared above
First light on Mount Khuiten
Dawn on the Eagle Peak
and Mount Snowchurch
walked into camp at 7 a.m., had a quick drink and then
dived into the sleeping bag for an hours sleep before
breakfast. After that it was time to pack up the tents
and gear for loading onto the camels, before starting
the 5 hour walk out to the road-head.
The Team ready to leave
On the walk out
should have been enough for the day but at 6pm Tom told
us Graham had managed to track down a local man who
would show us his hunting eagle. So we jumped in the
van and set off along tracks that even Jeremy Clarkson
would baulk at! On the way we had to stop and catch
a runaway camel and wait for the man on horseback to
ride up and claim it.
‘short drive’ turned out to be 45 minutes but it was
worth it. This was no tourist trip. It was a local family
living in a ger who used the eagle for catching small
animals, mainly for the skins. After displaying it for
us he then offered us the chance to hold it. I was somewhat
nervous but had a go. It was very heavy and I struggled
to hold it up. I am not a great expert on birds so don’t
know what type it is – can anyone help?
The hunting eagle
It’s pretty heavy!
arrived back in the dark and finally hit the sleeping
bag at 9 p.m.. The end of a long, but absolutely magical,
didn’t matter that we didn’t get to the top of Khuiten.
Just being there on what KE describe as “A climbing
expedition to the world’s most remote peak” was more
than good enough for me.
that was left was the 7 hour off-road drive back to
Ullgi, stopping on the way to have tea with the local
family that put up the gers we use.
overnight stay in a Tourist ger camp in Ulgii that had
running water provided our first shower for more than
a week, before a visit next morning to the excellent
headed for the airport for the early afternoon flight
back to Ullaanbaatar to find it was several hours late.
So we had a final lunch with Sandergash in our private
Tourist Ger camp –
look no chimney!
at Ulgii airport!
3 a.m. start next day for my flight back to Moscow started
the process of reacclimatizing to normal life.
had been a stunning trip that had most definitely ticked
all the boxes for me!
Tavan Bogd trilogy:
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