Mount Khuiten Expedition
Expedition Leader: Ken Findlay
3rd – 19th August 2019
A team of five clients and myself set out with the intention of climbing Mount Khuiten, Mongolia’s highest mountain in August 2019.
When Steve and I arrived in Ulaanbaatar our luggage was still somewhere in Moscow, and we did go through several permutations about what we would do if they did not turn up. However true to our guide’s words, they duly arrived the following morning. There is something quite satisfying in being reunited with old friends.
We started off in the capital Ulaanbaatar for a couple of days whilst all the team arrived from various parts of the UK and the USA. Our Mongolian guide was very helpful in taking us on a cultural journey around the capital, visiting various museums and culminating in visiting Sukhbaatar Square in front of the Mongolian Parliament. Here we could see the number of new buildings that had been built in the last ten years, making it a strong commercial centre in central Asia.
We were also treated to an evening of culture, music and dance at a local Theatre, which was packed to the rafters to watch the impressive show and experience the legendary throat singing.
Tip: take lots of photographs
Mount Tsetseguun 2256m
On Monday 5th August we did our first acclimatisiation peak which lies to the south of Ulaanbaatar. The smooth tarmac of the centre soon gave way to the rutted roads I remember from when I was here in 2002. This is the highest mountain in the Bogd Khan National Park. It was founded in 1778, which makes it one of the oldest protected parks in the world. It was a very pleasant walk through the forests which gave us shelter from the heat of the sun.
The walk took around three hours up to the summit rocks and an ascent of around 572m. As we had lunch at the top the heavens opened and it poured down, this carried on all the way down the mountain. At times we had to dodge the tributaries that had formed and were racing us as we descended.
Tip: take your time walking up this.
Flight to Olgi
On Tuesday 6th August, we flew to Olgi in the Western part of Mongolia and were then transported to a camp just outside Tsa. The baggage allowance is only 15kg, so inevitably we were all over the weight and we were charged $5 per kilo (as expected).
Tip: wear all the heavy gear
Walk into Base Camp
Wednesday 7th August, we were driven to the Oigor River National Park gate to start the walk of around 11km to Base Camp. We only had light sacks as most of our gear was going to be transported by Bactrian camels. The walk allowed us all to drift into our own thoughts as we got the miles under our feet, stopping for drinks and photo opportunities. All the while gazing across the horizon for the first glimpse of our snowy peaks.
Tip: take your ear plugs
Base Camp and beyond
It was a busy place when we arrived with at least 8 other expeditions there, from all corners of the world. Our tents were already up, and we were greeted with hot tea and biscuits, a lovely and welcome surprise.
Thursday 8th August, we did some glacier work and looked at group travel on the glacier and a couple of useful knots. We practised walking up and down slopes, ice axe breaking, clipping into a fixed line and abseiling.
Friday 9th August, we all went up to ABC as the horses took up the food supplies. It was amazing how they managed on the snow. The route up the glacier took a line to the right of centre up the dry glacier. It was easy going with just the steady metallic noise of the crampons on the ice to break the silence. Further up the glacier it became transformed into a wet glacier with a few crevasses here and there. At this point the wind got up and we soon had light rain. The final push took us behind a rock island and up a snow slope to be greeted by a row of tents and ABC, with a great view of Mount Khuiten in front of us.
During the evening the wind began to pick up and it snowed through the night, along with some very impressive thunder and lightening. There was a fair covering of snow in the morning with the wind blowing the snow through the front flaps.
Throughout Saturday 10th August it was a little frustrating to see lots of fresh snow on all the slopes on the mountains around us. We made the best out of a bad day and once we had a break in the weather, the team played cricket and baseball with the snow and an ice axe. We also managed to build a snowman with some very interesting attachments.
Mount Nairamdal 4,180m
On Sunday 11th August, we woke up at around 8.30 a.m. as the wind and the snow had stopped. It was blue sky and quite mild outside the tent. After being cooped up in the tent for most of yesterday, it was good to get out and stretch and walk about.
The plan had been to climb Mount Khuiten this morning, but aware of potential avalanche danger, we compromised and went up Mount Nairamdal 4180m. This seemed a much better and safer option given the snow conditions. After having a quick breakfast, we roped up into two groups and set off across the glacier towards Nairamdal.
The snow was still reasonably firm but there were some crevasses on the way up towards the ridge on Nairamdal. We were followed by a group of friends of our guides, who were going to snowboard down the face of our mountain. It was a straightforward route up the mountain, with the occasional step collapsing and going up to our knees in snow. It took us a couple of hours before we got to the summit with views into both Russia and China, it was a fantastic viewpoint.
After a few minutes on top we quickly descended part of the way to watch the snowboarder come down the face, before going back to the tents for lunch. Once down at ABC, the group decided to go back down to BC and climb Malchin Peak in the next two days. It was good to get back down to Base Camp to relax and tend to sore feet.
Malchin Peak 4,037m
On Tuesday 13th August, most of the group went up Malchin peak, which turned out to be a full day. There were several other teams going up the mountain from Israel, Italy, Spain and Norway. The route up followed a path for most of it up the rocky broken ridge, before reaching a couple of snow ridges followed by mixed ground leading to the summit. It was straightforward enough, but it took a long time both up and down.
Wednesday 14th August, we walked out of Base Camp down to the White River Valley Gate of the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. The walk out was broken up by visiting a family in a Ger which the team brought gifts for the children. We then camped for the last time on this trip near the exit from the park.
We were picked up by our transport the next morning on route to Olgi but on the way we stopped off to meet an Eagle hunter.
From Olgi we stayed one night before flying back to Ulaanbaatar from where it all started two weeks previous. Here we had a couple of days with members of the team getting various flights home. We managed to see more sights such as Chinggis Khan and his horse immortalised in metal in the middle of nowhere two hours out of Ulaanbaatar.
We did cram a lot into the two weeks we were there, and thanks to our guide who was fantastic and to the 19-year-old cook at Base Camp/ABC who prepared some of the best I have ever tasted on an expedition.
As on all expeditions the weather was the deciding factor on what we achieved, and though our initial objective was not reached, all the other peaks in the programme were summited.
As for Mongolia, well what a beautiful place it is, full of colour, vibrant and proud people, a wonderful landscape and great food. What more could you ask for?
3,210 T = £1
2,667 T = $1
Shave/Haircut cost 37,000T
3 mountains climbed.
3 museums visited.
Total ascent = 3,710m.
Total of 78.6 km walked.