Day 88 to 96 - Mountaineering in The Mongolian Altai

The Altai Mountains span an area of over 2000km, stretching across 4 different countries; China, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia. The second highest mountain in the range - Mount Khuiten (4374m), lies in Mongolia and was our objective for this part of the trip.

The launching point for accessing the Mongolian Altai is Olgii, a small town in Western Mongolia. From here we drove for 6 hours on some of the worst “roads” we have encountered on our journey so far. This took us to a government run ranger station at the Tsagaan Gol entrance to the Tavan Bogd National Park where we had to present permits and arrange for a local camel herder to transport our gear the final 14km to base camp.

Base camp is situated on the Northern side of the Potanin Glacier and consists of a couple of gers (Mongolian yurts). From base camp it is a days walk up the glacier to advanced base camp where most people make their attempt on the summit of Mount Khuiten, via the North or North West ridges. On our way up the glacier we had a good look at the lesser climbed South East ridge of Khuiten and decided that this would provide a more interesting way to the summit and enable us to do a full traverse of the mountain by then descending the North ridge and down to the advanced base camp.

We made good progress towards the start of our route and decided to start up the ridge in order to find a slightly higher camp and shorten the summit day. We found a great spot on an icy col next to a rocky outcrop that provided perfect shelter and a comfortable nights sleep with fantastic views.

We were very lucky to wake up early the next morning to perfect weather and climbing conditions - hardly a breath of wind and virtually no clouds in the sky! We left our bivy spot at 0630 and began the ascent towards the summit. The ridge was relatively straight forward but even from the glacier floor we could see several large seracs and cornices on the summit ridge that would no doubt present a challenge between us and the summit. These obstacles were “interesting” as expected but ultimately easily navigated.

The descent down the North ridge crossed several large crevasses but with the firm snow conditions was relatively rapid allowing us to reap the benefits of an early start to enjoy the afternoon sun at advanced base camp!

The following day was a bit more turbulent in terms of weather but we made an ascent of Mount Nairamdal (4180m) with it’s summit marking the borders between Mongolia, Russia and China. This provides a unique experience - hopping from one country to the next!

For our return to the ranger station where we had left the car we opted to ride back on camels…an experience we have both vowed never to repeat! Possibly the most uncomfortable 14km of our lives!

Photographs

  1. Most river crossing in Mongolia involve getting wet wheels - a rare treat in the form of a sturdy bridge!
  2. Scoping out a river crossing further up the Tsagaan Gol!
  3. We crossed this river, our largest so far, only to discover we were on an island and had an even larger and fast flowing section still to tackle…we retreated and found a bridge back down the valley!
  4. Scenic drive en route to the Tavan Bogd NP.
  5. We made it - Shiweeeeet!
  6. Ranger station at NP entrance.
  7. Camel loaded up with our kit.
  8. Bactrian camel (2 humps!) - these can allegedly carry up to 400kg!
  9. Main form of transport in these parts.
  10. After our Tien Shan trip we swapped Malcy for a better looking model
  11. View up the Potanin Glacier from base camp.
  12. Base camp with Khuiten just right of centre.
  13. Packing our bags for the ascent.
  14. Impressive moulin (glacial sink hole!)
  15. Camp on the South East ridge of Khuiten.
  16. Alpine start on summit day!
  17. Reaching the summit ridge.
  18. We summited Khuiten and were rewarded with incredible views across the whole Altai range.
  19. Summit selfie!
  20. Descent down the North ridge.
  21. At advanced base camp, chilling in the sun!
  22. Our route up followed the left hand skyline and down the right.
  23. No passport control as we entered China!
  24. Views into China.
  25. Impressive cloud rolling up the glacier.
  26. Snow leopard tracks very close to camp!
  27. Ice bouldering!
  28. Relaxing at base camp with wasabi crisps and coke!
  29. Dismantling of a ger as the season draws to a close.
  30. This seemed like a good idea at this point…
  31. Camel train.
  32. Traffic on the road out of the Tavan Bogd!