Tavan Bogd: Climbing the Roof of Central Asia

Part 1 - Preparations

In June of 1998 a group of us headed to Bayan Olgii in the far west of Mongolia, with the intention to climb Mongolia's highest mountain.  Atai, the local Protected Area director, made all arrangements for the trip,.  He is keen to increase small-scale ecotourism in his park as a source of income for the local people, and we were to be his guinea pigs.  All we had to do is go to the Olgii Airport, he promised to care of the rest.

The day after our arrival we left the provincial capital for the far west of the province in the back of a large Russian truck. It was simple but very effective transport. In fact with a few mountain bikes strapped to the side and a raft on the roof it would have been the Perfect Mongolian RecMobile.


Russian Truck:  The Perfect RecMobile

Although it was only 200 km to the base of the mountain, the trip took two days, as we had to stop off at various gers along the way.   The scenery was spectacular: endless open steppe, bounded by barren hills, and on the western horizon the snow-peaked mountains of Altai Tavan Bogd.

 Steppe west of Olgii

Lone herder in the steppe west of Olgii
(photo by Matt Rees)

The families treated us to fresh yogurt and other dairy products in their colourful gers.  They proudly showed off their beautiful hand-made carpets and wallhangings.  

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Young Kazakh family in their colourful ger

Eagle hunting and falconry are popular Kazakh sports, and we saw several captive eagles and saker falcons.  At one ger a young wolf pup provided entertainment.

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Wolf pup at a ger
(photo by Matt Rees)

Getting a sheep

Adding a sheep to the equipment list...
(photo by Matt Rees)

At the last set of gers we encountered, we picked up a ger, which we were to use as a base camp. A live sheep was added to complement the equipment list.

Setting up basecamp    Base camp

Base camp Mongolian Style

Twenty kilometers further up the dirt track we reached our destination at 2900 m., and set  up base camp. We were close to the Russian and Chinese borders, and word of our presence did not take long to spread through the valley.  A day after we arrived at base camp the local border guard came to inspect our passports, and spend some time visiting. 

Snow and wind...

Midsummer day in the Altais: -5 and sleet

The following days were spent wandering around the area, and acclimatizing. By then the weather turned rather foul, with rain, sleet, hail and snow, accompanied by winds up to 80-100km/h on June 21st. Great way to start summer! When we walked to the Russian border on top of a peak one day we were nearly blown off the mountain!

Tavan Bogd Valley 

Exploring the Tavan Bogd valley

Russian Border

Trying not to get blown over at the Russian border

During the entire time we were there getting ready for the climb we never yet had seen the mountain we were supposed to climb! Clouds and snow hid the peak from view.  Meanwhile another group of horse riders joined us, finishing a 12 day horse trek through the western part of the province.  

Border Patrol

Protecting Mongolia's borders: one of the two border guards in the Tavan Bogd area

Finally we decided to set off to the foot of the Potanii Glacier, at 24 km2 the largest in Central Asia. Even by North American standards, where there are a lot of big glaciers, this one was very impressive. Despite the clouds we could see a long row of jagged mountains jutting out from the ice, their peaks disappearing into the mist and clouds. Khuutain Uul ('cold mountain') was still hidden in the clouds though...

Walking to Potanii Glacier

First sight of the Potanii Glacier.
Khuutain Uul is somewhere in the cloud

Part 2 - the climb