Our last expedition together - circa 2013
With 24 hours remaining until we start our expedition, all three of us are desperately paring down our gear to find the right mixture of warmth and weight (or lack thereof). And trying to figure out what a Tughrik is (bonus points if you know what it is without consulting Google).
We hope you will join us on our little adventure - this time there are three ways to do so (even us old guys have a bit of tech savvy).
We will continue to blog when we can, but due to the remote nature of our trek, we are unsure how often we will have cell or wifi service. The goal is to post as much as possible, and hopefully we can provide some great pictures along the way... This will not be like the Nepali teahouses where we could sit in front of a warm fire and access spotty wifi every evening!
Our Twitter feed will be active however, as Adam has a satellite communicator that allows us to text directly to our feed. We hope to do this at least once a day, so tune in often to see what kind of trouble we can get into on the steppe!
Finally, you can see exactly where we are, and even send us a question or a message, by clicking on the Location Tracker link above or following the instructions on our home page. We are always happy to speak to someone from home - after our day is done, there is a lot of sitting around and after playing Hearts for a few hours, it's nice to engage in conversation that doesn't debate the best rock to hide behind for privacy (you get my drift!).
Ashoplan, the 13 year old featured in the Netflix documentary "The Eagle Huntress"
Mongolia, particularly Western Mongolia, is one of the most remote and inhospitable places on earth - temperatures fluctuate wildly, there is very little rain, and the topography is rocky and mountainous.
Eking out an existence is serious business, with no real opportunity for agriculture and a small number of animals hardy enough to survive in these difficult conditions. Some residents raise animals, primarily sheep and goats, moving across the plains in search of pasture during the summer season.
Another primary source of meat is hunting with eagles - this tradition goes back 1,100 years to the Khitans, a nomadic people from Manchuria. Fast forward 1,000 years - this form of hunting was still in practice in Kazakhstan. However, during the communist period many Kazakhs fled for Mongolia, settling in Bayan-Ölgii Province and bringing with them their tradition.
There are an estimated 250 eagle hunters in Bayan-Ölgii. Their falconry customs involve hunting with golden eagles on horseback - they primarily hunt red foxes and corsac foxes. They use eagles to hunt these animals during the cold winter months when it is easier to see the gold colored foxes against the snow. We will be living alongside these hunters as we make our way from Bayan-Olgii to Base Camp.
Each year, Kazakh eagle hunting customs are displayed at the annual Golden Eagle Festival. We will be lucky enough to be able to attend the festival in Sagsai (near Bayan-Olgii) and see a large gathering of hunters and their eagles compete in traditional contests to determine the best eagle (and hunter). This really is a once in a lifetime experience that will make an amazing conclusion to our adventure.
If you are interested in learning more about eagle hunting and life in Western Mongolia, I highly recommend the award winning documentary " The Eagle Huntress" on Netflix - it follows a 13 year old girl, who becomes one of the first female eagle hunters in the region. The protagonist, Ashoplan, actually competed in the eagle festival last year, so we are hoping to get to see her up close.
Just your average September morning in Mongolia!
While we are enjoying the final weeks of summer weather up here in Canada (and Jimmy is still steaming in Texas), we are keeping an eye on the weather in Mongolia, particularly in Western Mongolia.
For the most part, the weather patterns in Mongolia are very similar to what we experience here in the Great White North - warm summers and extremely cold winters. The typical tourist season (if such a thing exists in Mongolia) are the months of June, July and August - any other months of the year are subject to extreme fluctuations in temperature.
Let's look at this week's forecast - in Central Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar (approximately 4,400 feet above sea level), we are looking at temperatures ranging from a high of around 20C (68F) to just above freezing at night. These temperatures will creep downward in the next couple of weeks. With any luck, temperatures in the teens (60sF) will be the norm for most of our trip, while lows will be around the freezing point, until such time as we hit the Potanin Glacier.
Once in Western Mongolia and on the mountain, the lows will dip down to -10C (14F) or lower, and the highs will only fluctuate a couple of degrees from the low number. These numbers are fairly reasonable in comparison to our previous trips.
The main concerns on all of our trips are wind and snow. If you have been following along on our past few expeditions, you will recall wind is always the most important factor in our summit bids. On this climb, snow will likely be a larger factor on the mountain - we will be at the tail end of climbing season in September (we likely will be the only ones on the mountain). There has already been almost a foot of new snow on the summit over the past week, and we are more likely to see further snowfall later in the season. Breaking trail after a foot of snow is no easy task, especially if you are the only ones on the mountain!
We often use Mountain Forecast for our weather reports - on the whole, they have been eerily accurate. You can follow our weather online using this link: https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Mt-Khuiten/forecasts/4374.
The extreme weather seems to bring out the best in the Bactrian Camel, the animal that will be transporting our climbing gear to base camp. Over the years we have used all means of mechanized transport getting us to and up the mountain. We have also used a menagerie of animals including horses, donkeys, mules, yaks (and naks) to help pack our gear to camp, but a camel is new to us. An intriguing animal who thrives in harsh conditions and at altitude - this excerpt is from Wikipedia:
These camels are migratory, and their habitat ranges from rocky mountain massifs to flat arid desert, stony plains, and sand dunes. Conditions are extremely harsh – vegetation is sparse, water sources are limited and temperatures are extreme, ranging from as low as −40 °C in winter to 40 °C in summer. The camels’ distribution is linked to the availability of water, with large groups congregating near rivers after rain or at the foot of the mountains, where water can be obtained from springs in the summer months, and in the form of snow during the winter.
Between the Bactrian Camel and Golden Eagle (I will post about the Eagles next week), we will be blessed with the opportunity to interact with two of the most important animals to this region.