BBBH 2013 : Altai Tavan Bogd, part 3:  Mount Khuiten

It’s 8am and we’re in the ger having breakfast before setting off up the ablation valley again. This time we were going to attempt the 4,037 metre high peak of Malchin. This is mainly a very steep, bouldery, scrambly, ascent so crampons weren’t needed.

 Heading towards Malchin

On the slopes of Malchin – Mount Khuiten behind 

By this time I had spent over a week at or above 3,000 metres and was well acclimatised and able to make good time on the ascent.

The final few hundred metres required more caution.

We needed to keep close to the rocky crest and on occasions had to traverse on to the steep snow slope on the other side.

Tom and Graham decided to set up a rope to safeguard the final snow slopes to the summit.

 Mist swirls around the final ridge

Approaching final slopes near the top of Malchin

 Bryan on the summit of Malchin (4037m)

Khuiten from the summit of Malchin

And what a summit it was with spectacular views all around. There was enough room for us all to perch amongst the boulders and have our lunch whilst the mist swirled around.

Altai Tavan Bogd summits and Potaniin Glacier from the slopes of Malchin

The descent was pretty rapid. Unlike the Lake District these mountains see very few people. As a consequence the scree on tops such as Malchin remains pretty intact. Whilst this is a bit of pain when ascending, coming down it’s a dream and 500 metres were descended in double quick time and meant we were back at the Base by 4pm.

An hour sat in the sun (albeit with a down jacket and woolly hat on!) passed the time until dinner at 7pm and an early night. It was another cold clear night.

Breakfast next day was at 8am and the plan was to do a smaller peak further down the valley, called Gejadian, which gives great views up the glacier.

But Tom had been thinking. He said it might be possible to have another go at Khuiten. The 2 sunny days, and cold nights, may have consolidated the fresh snow and make it possible.

But to do it would mean setting off after dinner that night and climbing 1,400metres through the night, aiming to arrive back at Base for breakfast then packing up the tents and walking 13 miles out to the road-head. He stressed it was our choice; that it would be tough because we would have to move fairly quickly; and that there was no guarantee of success.

It didn’t take me long to decide – “I’m in”. So too were Francis and Elisabeth. But Richard and Catherine were concerned that they might find the pace a bit hard and so opted out.

So we had a day to fill. Tom took Richard and Catherine up Gejadien and Graham took the 3 of us to a smaller top also with excellent views.

View up the Alexander Glacier  

 A trekking group leaving the area 

The day passed and all too soon it was 8:45pm and the three of us with Tom and Graham left Base Camp. I was a little nervous as I put my crampons on when we reached the glacier, concerned that if I wasn’t up to this and had to return then everyone would have to as well.

But once we stepped on the ice and started moving all the negative thoughts were forgotten. This was to be one of the best times I’ve had in the mountains. We had a full moon, so head torches were switched off and we moved up the glacier in perfect conditions. Cat Stevens song “I’m being followed by a moon shadow” kept running through my head as we moved along attached to shadows that were as bright as on a sunny day.

We moved quickly up to the level of our High Camp, benefiting from carrying much lighter sacks than when we last came this way, and also able to use the trail we had broken when we descended 2 days ago.

From there we entered a glacier filled valley that leads to a col from which we aimed to climb a steep ridge that would eventually lead to the summit. Graham and Tom alternated breaking trail as the snow got deeper and deeper. Aparently the crevasses in the glacier in the valley are normally clearly visible but despite the full moon, there was no sign just smooth deep snow. Gradually it became obvious that unless the wind had blown the snow from the col and ridge above and there had been some substantial freeze thaw to consolidate the snow pack, we would again not make it up Khuiten.

We cut out some steps to sit in just below the col and had a cup of tea from the flask Graham had brought up.

 Graham, Francis, Elisabeth & Bryan
at the high point: 4,100m  on Mount Khuiten

We were beginning to feel the strengthening wind coming over the col and it was getting pretty cold.

At the foot of the ridge the conditions were much worse than we had hoped. There was about 1 metre of soft powdery snow sat on top of a firmer layer.

The snow presented an avalanche risk without safe anchors and of course we would have to come down the same way.

It was too dangerous, so at 3:30am Tom called the attempt off. We were at 4,100 metres, just 256 metres from the top

But the night wasn’t over. We still had to get down safely. Although we had a trail to follow crevasses still presented a risk and continued concentration was necessary. We moved quickly and rest stops all night were few and far between!

Dawn seemed a long time coming and we were a long way down the glacier before the first glow of red appeared above the mountains.

First light on Mount Khuiten

Dawn on the Eagle Peak and Mount Snowchurch

We walked into camp at 7 a.m., had a quick drink and then dived into the sleeping bag for an hours sleep before breakfast. After that it was time to pack up the tents and gear for loading onto the camels, before starting the 5 hour walk out to the road-head.

 The Team ready to leave Base Camp

On the walk out

That should have been enough for the day but at 6pm Tom told us Graham had managed to track down a local man who would show us his hunting eagle. So we jumped in the van and set off along tracks that even Jeremy Clarkson would baulk at! On the way we had to stop and catch a runaway camel and wait for the man on horseback to ride up and claim it.

The ‘short drive’ turned out to be 45 minutes but it was worth it. This was no tourist trip. It was a local family living in a ger who used the eagle for catching small animals, mainly for the skins. After displaying it for us he then offered us the chance to hold it. I was somewhat nervous but had a go. It was very heavy and I struggled to hold it up. I am not a great expert on birds so don’t know what type it is – can anyone help?

The hunting eagle

 It’s pretty heavy!

We arrived back in the dark and finally hit the sleeping bag at 9 p.m.. The end of a long, but absolutely magical, 24 hours.

It didn’t matter that we didn’t get to the top of Khuiten. Just being there on what KE describe as “A climbing expedition to the world’s most remote peak” was more than good enough for me.  

All that was left was the 7 hour off-road drive back to Ullgi, stopping on the way to have tea with the local family that put up the gers we use.

An overnight stay in a Tourist ger camp in Ulgii that had running water provided our first shower for more than a week, before a visit next morning to the excellent local museum.

We headed for the airport for the early afternoon flight back to Ullaanbaatar to find it was several hours late. So we had a final lunch with Sandergash in our private departure lounge.

Tourist Ger camp – look no chimney!

Departure lounge at Ulgii airport!

A 3 a.m. start next day for my flight back to Moscow started the process of reacclimatizing to normal life.

It had been a stunning trip that had most definitely ticked all the boxes for me!

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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