BBBH 2013 : Altai Tavan Bogd, part 2:  Mount Nairandal

I look at my watch. It’s 4:30 a.m.. I have another 30 minutes before I have to get out of my nice warm sleeping bag so I snuggle back down.

Eight days ago I was getting on a train to London. Six days ago my flight from Moscow landed in Ulaanbaatar. Today I’m laid in a sleeping bag on a hard-packed mud and rock floor, inside a Mongolian ger which has gaps in it through which a cold draught creeps, making me sleep with a woolly hat on. The ground outside is frosty. I am at least 80 miles away, in any direction, from any place that could be described as a village or town, with no means of communication except the group’s emergency satellite phone. In 30 minutes time I’m going to have to leave this luxury, pack my sack, and head up for 2 nights at 3,600 metres camped on a glacier. This is a holiday!

5 a.m. soon arrives. I search around for the head torch and get up to start the process of packing.

Ika, our assistant cook, soon appears with the flasks of hot water for tea and coffee and a little later the porridge arrives, soon followed by a sausage and ‘something’ second course.

Our cook for the trip (and I gather for every trip to Khuiten that KE has ever run) was Sandagash.

The food was plentiful (too much for me at times) and excellent.

The luxury I am leaving behind!

Most of it was brought with us from Ullgi and was a mixture of Western; Mongolian; Russian and Kazak. Mongolians don’t farm so most of their vegetables are brought in from China. All of it was cooked on a single stove similar to the one in the picture. Impressive.

Unlike Nepal there are no porters on this trip so everything we need for 2 nights and 3 days of camping and climbing had to be carried by us. Apart from our personal gear such as sleeping bags; down jackets; sleeping mats; extra clothes etc, we also had to share between the seven of us 3 tents; food for 3 days; stoves, fuel and pans; and climbing kit such as snow anchors and ice screws. The sack was pretty heavy by the time I’d loaded it. I was hoping that my practice trip on BB1325 was now about to pay off!

We were packed and away by 6:30 for the walk up the ablation valley to our gear stash on the edge of the glacier.

Here walking boots were changed for climbing ones; harnesses, helmets, crampons etc were put on, and we roped up ready for the off.

In the past few years I have gained a lot more experience in travelling on glaciers.

I can now spot the lines of crevasses a lot better when they’re snow covered.

Bryan and Elisabeth on the glacier

 Bryan load carrying on the Potaniin glacier

But the difference between my ability and a really experienced guide such as Tom is still enormous.

The mist was swirling around as Tom broke trail and every now and then he would halt, look around, then alter direction. Sometimes we would wait whilst he probed an area that just looked like a normal patch of snow with his pole or axe. Then we would prepare to hold him should he go through. When it was my turn to reach the point I could see the problem. A foot of snow covering a seemingly bottomless crevasse that had to be stepped or jumped across.

 Crevasses where path zig-zags

The photo of our two roped groups appears to show a benign stretch of snow slope. But the points where the track in the snow zig-zags about are actually where we’ve crossed crevasses.

Six hours after leaving Base we reached the end of the rognon (a large rock outcrop in the middle of the glacier) at around 3,600 metres where we would site our High Camp.

Tom immediately told us to start getting the tent up. No chance to sit down and admire the view, just get on with it.

The reason became obvious 30 minutes later as the wind started to strengthen and the blizzard began. We just got it done in time.

An hour later and the winds would have been too strong to even get the tent up and we would have had to descend.

As it was the three of us (myself, Francis and Elisabeth) piled our gear into the tent and sat in the entrance for a break.

But we had to get out again to finish the job. Replacing the ice axes and poles (which we had used to temporarily guy the tent) with rocks and burying them in the snow; putting rocks on top of pegs so that they wouldn’t tear out in the wind, and generally stabilizing everything.

 The tent up just as the weather deteriorates

By 2 p.m. we were settled inside. The wind was driving the snow against the tent and we had to get out a few times to clear it away. This is a frustrating process involving as it does putting wet weather gear and boots on before struggling outside.

But this was nothing compared to what Tom did. For over 5 hours he was outside in the worst of the weather melting snow to make us all a drink and for the pasta for our meal. Producing enough snow for a litre of water takes a long time. He told me that staying out in the bad weather was preferable to getting in and out repeatedly to put more snow in the pan and to deliver the drinks and food to our tents. A heroic effort on his part which was greatly appreciated by us all.

The blizzard continued into the evening and eventually began to ease around midnight. I slept fitfully through the night and felt quite chilly at times, waking to find my sleeping bag was quite damp from the condensation in the tent.

 View towards Khuiten after the blizzard

View towards Malchin 

It was soon decided that an attempt on Mount Khuiten, the highest peak in Mongolia, was out of the question. The eighteen inches of snow that had fallen meant that we would have to traverse underneath slopes that were laden with snow ready to avalanche and the summit ridge would be in a similarly dangerous condition.

So Tom suggested an attempt on our 2nd objective – an ascent of Mount Nairandal (4,183 metres). There was no guarantee of success given the snow conditions but we opted to give it a go.

 Our luxury hotel complex!

 Fresh avalanche tracks on slopes near Khuiten

Melting snow for a brew

 Preparing to leave for Nairandal

It was about a 600 metre climb to the top and it went well.

Tom and Graham alternated the lead as they broke trail and after 3½ hours of hard work we reached the summit.

The top of Nairandal is also known as ‘Friendship Peak’ and is the point where the borders of Mongolia, Russia and China all meet.

So 3 countries visited in seconds without passport and visas!

Graham; Richard and Catherine
on the way to Nairandal!

 Photo stop nearing the summit

 Francis, Elisabeth and Bryan
on the summit of Nairandal

We were back at the tents by 2 p.m. and it was decided to spend another night here to make the descent of the glacier easier after the overnight freeze. So an afternoon in the sun was the order of the day before the cold eventually drove us back in.

A 6 a.m. cup of tea next morning lured us out to start the process of leaving. It took a while. Taking the tent down needed over half an hour’s work with the ice axe to chop out the rocks holding the guys and pegs in place. They were buried under a foot of snow and had frozen solidly in place. This tent was going nowhere last night!

Eventually it was done, loads were packed and we set off.

We had to break a fresh trail down but the hard overnight frost had consolidated the snow a little.

About a third of the way down we noticed a speck in the distance.

As we got closer we saw that it was tent. It contained a Russian couple who said they were meeting friends!

It seemed more likely that they had crossed the Border to have a go at one of the peaks

Tom on the glacier.  The speck in the
middle left of the photo is the Russian tent

The descent went well and soon we were putting our walking boots on and adding all our climbing gear to our packs for the final hour back to Base where Sandagash met us with a very welcome cup of orange.

After putting the tent up again to dry out we had the afternoon meal, followed by a walk down the valley, then another meal and bed.

But this was far from being the end of the trip. Tomorrow was going to be another big day:
Mount Khuiten.

Bryan, September 2013

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


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Altai Tavan Bogd trilogy:

Part 1:
Base Camp

Part 2:
Mount Nairandal

Part 3:
Mount Khuiten

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