BBBH 2013 : Altai Tavan Bogd, part 1: Base Camp

The on-going medical problems of various BOOTboys only serve to remind me that I’m unlikely to be able to take on big challenges for much longer. So after climbing Mont Blanc last year my thoughts quickly turned to “What next?”

I exchanged e-mails with Tim Nicholl of KE Adventure Travel. Tim had been the Leader on my trip to try to climb Tarpa Chuli in Nepal in 2011. I told him I was looking for a trip that…

  • was an adventure
  • involved a journey (not just a fly in; do it; fly out trip)
  • had a ‘proper’ climb – i.e. not just a plod up a snow slope.  
  • had a better than average chance of summiting in terms of weather!

His reply was:
Have you thought about Mount Khuiten in Mongolia? It ticks all your boxes.

I hadn’t thought about it at all since I was about 14 years old. Back then I used to load my cycle up with fishing tackle and I remember my dad saying to me:
Where are you going our Bryan – Outer Mongolia?

So I looked and he was right, it appeared to tick all the boxes.

Mongolian throat singer in action

Preparing for Outer Mongolia

On the 10th August I left Heathrow for the flight to Moscow and then on to the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar.

There is little of historical interest in Ulaanbaatar, most buildings having been put up by the Russians and, more recently Koreans and the Chinese.

But the National Museum was interesting, as was a cultural show the following evening with the highlight being the Mongolian throat singer.

We were a multi-national group.

Our leader was Tom Richardson, a British climber who I was impressed to find had climbed with people such as Joe Simpson (remember ‘Touching the Void’? He was the one left in the crevasse when his mate cut the rope) and had led on 8,000m peaks such as Gasherbrum and Lhotse. So I felt I was in safe hands.

Our other climbing guide was Graham Taylor. He was an Australian who had lived in Mongolia for 13 years. He spoke fluent Mongolian and his company was the one that made all the arrangements locally for KE.

The rest of the group were Richard from Oxford and his French wife Catherine, Francis from Paris and Elisabeth, an Austrian lady from Innsbruck.

There is very little tarmac in Mongolia and on our second day we took our first trip on the off-road tracks that are the norm in the country.

We climbed Tsetseegun (2,256m) in the Bogd Khan National Park.

The park was established in 1778 making it one of the world’s oldest protected areas.

The views are said to be excellent. Sadly it was a typical Lakeland day so we saw very little!

 Approaching the summit of Tsetseegun

Next day we re-packed our bags and headed for the airport for the four hour flight to Olgii.

Mongolia is a big country (six times as big as the UK) but with only 2.9m people, almost half of whom live in the capital. It’s said to be the most sparsely populated independent country in the world.

The area we were headed for was a long way west of the capital and Olgii was by far the biggest place for many miles around. Its population is about the same as Kendal!

We met up with our support crew at the airport and loaded our gear into the two Russian built vehicles that were to take us the 80 miles or so of off-road driving to the so-called ‘road head’. The drive took seven hours, the last two of which were in the dark.

Although it was an extremely bumpy ride it was also marvellous country to travel through and the sense of emptiness grew as we travelled on for hours without seeing a soul.

View of Olgii from the airport

The group having a break from the bumps!

On the way to the road head

 Beautiful, remote, country

Arriving at the ‘road head’ we pitched the tents, had dinner and went to bed. Next morning we had breakfast in the ger -  a Mongolian version of a Yurt. They are pretty impressive structures that can be erected in about 2 hours and allows the Mongolians to move around with their sheep; goats; horses; yaks and camels.

Road Head camp.

Breakfast in the ger

After breakfast we were supposed to start the walk in to Base Camp. But we had a problem. There was a shortage of camels. There should be around thirty in the area but apparently, in Spring, nineteen of them had their wool stolen and subsequently died from the cold. So we stayed at the road head site for an extra night and did a 700m climb of a nearby hill to help acclimatisation.

Next day still no camels so it was decided that the support team would drive into Base Camp whilst we walked the 13 miles to get there. It was a pretty tortuous drive for them, but a delightful walk for us. After a few hours we crested a ridge to get our first view of the mountains we were hoping to climb. They looked big!

 On the walk in to Base Camp

First view of the Altai Tavan Bogd mountains

After five hours or so of walking we started to descend to our Base Camp. It was sited in an ablation valley (a valley that’s formed between the moraine of a glacier and the hillside) that had fresh water running down it.

There were more tents than Tom expected. Normally there’s no one else there. Apparently this year there had been a foot and mouth outbreak in an area where trekkers / horse riders normally go so they were being offered a trip to Khuiten base Camp as an alternative.

Descending to Base Camp

 At Base Camp

The weather seemed to be holding so it was decided that next day we would head off up the valley for a couple of hours to a point where we could get onto the Glacier. There we put on crampons; harnesses; axes and helmets before spending some time training, with particular emphasis being placed on getting out of crevasses!

I was roped up with Tom, Francis and Elizabeth; whilst Graham looked after Richard and Catherine. These were to remain the groupings for the rest of the trip.

 Heading up the valley

 Francis; Bryan & Elisabeth training on the glacier

After a few hours we came off the glacier and stashed all our climbing gear for the following day. We then put on walking boots and set off up a steep loose scree climb to a plateau at about 3,600m where we found the two posts that mark the Mongolia / Russia border.

Then it was back down to Base Camp for tea. The weather seemed to be holding so we took down 3 of the tents in preparation for the start of the real climbing tomorrow. Francis myself Tom and Graham slept in the ger that night.

 The Mongolia / Russia border

How did we get on?  Find out in Part 2: Mount Nairanda.

Bryan, September 2013

The Altai Tavan Bogd trilogy:
Part 1: Base Camp   Part 2: Mount Nairandal   Part 3: Mount Khuiten


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BOOT boys

Altai Tavan Bogd trilogy:

Part 1:
Base Camp

Part 2:
Mount Nairandal

Part 3:
Mount Khuiten

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