Monday 5th September 2022
Out of Uglii
We jetted west leaving Ulaanbaatar behind. Below us over 2 hours, land seemingly untouched was laid out below us, until mountains appeared and a landing strip at Uglii appeared, right in the far Western part of this enormous country.
A dancing group entertained another passenger after which she was interviewed and many reals of digital film were taken. Luggage collected from the short carousel and it was into the sunshine to assemble the bikes, pedals and saddles exchanged and various baggage systems attached.
Out of Uglii passing a gas station, a number of mosques for a long climb on tarmac into the low hills either side. Looking back was a treat where snow topped mountains showed themselves behind the town.
Our campsite was in the sand, 200 metres to the left of the road. The 2 green mess tents glinted in the setting sun, one for our meals, the other for Baghi to weave his culinary magic. Lashings of tea from a thermos, followed by lightly battered fish chips (wocked) cabbage salad, rice and noodles, all delicious. Not quite as delicious but enjoyed was the lamb stomach fritters served for the crew that on tasting took me right back to the farm, a bit chewy and very very sheepy
Tuesday 6th September 2022
A cold Italian
What time is it? Peter was checking as with no WIFI and jet lag everyone was up at the crack of dawn searching out coffee. Breakfast of porridge and pancakes. The former a hit with everyone except myself due to a long standing aversion. The bonus though was the fresh coffee, boiled over the paraffin
Everyone set about packing emptying the yellow North Face tents (the crew would take them down) and rolling the blue thick mats which provided comfort beneath our thick sleeping bags.
The sun was shining as we set off along the tarmac with low brown hills either side. We continued to climb with the occasional car or small truck passing us. Herds of animals were shepherded either side, with Yaks close to the road who always drew a crowd with cameras. Tuul (our cycling guide) had taken the front, so the speed was quick, we had divided into three, those at the front, those who liked a slower place and those that didn't care, just wanting to look at the views
We stopped for morning tea and fruit just before the summit, marked by a steep cutting into the hill with the spoil piled up to the right. Hot weak tea and fruit that would last for a week (we were carrying all our food with us) were consumed as a lone Kite wheeled overhead
The final climb through the cutting was tough and on an ungraded surface, but the reward was 24km downhill, where Bat bombed the first part. Extensive views reaching into Russia greeted us, followed by an amazing view as the road continued downhill along perfect tarmac
Lunch by a small lake, soup and salad. Ian admired the waterbirds and we chatted under the veranda wound down from the side one of the trucks. We passed a small settlement on the left to be greeted by a child whom in pretty good English informed Sharon and I that it was his 14th birthday, he attended school and lived in the white house. Reality then struck as he asked for stickers and offered to change money, clearly, he’d done this before. The tarmac road flattened passing a huge fenced of area with watchtowers. , It’s a free trade area’ smiled Bat, one of 3 set up in the area it was where Russian and Mongolian goods could be traded in a scheme that never took off. Then the good news for the tarmac was supposed to run out, but a road crew were in town. For most of the rest of the day, we followed partially completed sections as the old track ran to the right. The extended tarmac meant we were making good time as we continued to climb steadily. Ahead of us 2 cycle tourists appeared and I ended up inviting them back for dinner. Heading left and onto an off road track, stretching our eyes to see where Baghi would actually set up camp as it was further than expected. Even the young Russian cycle tourist caught a lift whilst her Italian husband with full panniers sprinted into the distance. Our camp was under a hill on a slight slope but a welcome sight. I offered a beer, gladly drunk by the Russian lady after which we ate dinner of chicken legs, rice, potatoes, salad finished off by water melon.
Our guests turned out to be an interesting pair. Lorenzo was Italian, had got stuck in Russia over lockdown, married a lovely lady and was trying to make his name camping in extremely cold areas down to -60 degrees, had toured for 6 years and was heading back to Italy in May to settle down? His top tips to avoid frostbite were Polythene over skin to avoid condensation freezing on sleeping bag but his feet went mushy. He was looking to cycle rivers in Irkutsk as there were no roads which had to freeze well first, takes all sorts!!
Wednesday 7th September
Bike to Khaichinsar Mountain
We'd decided to cycle the short distance to the mountain, in effect finishing day 2 of our planned route. The sun was shining and we started with porridge and delicious pancakes before bidding farewell to Lorenzo who promised to mention us in his online journal.
This was the start of the proper off road, but these were tracks that cars used so it was firm under the tyres and dry. The grass was close cropped and in chunks as we crunched our way to the main track that headed uphill passing 3 small settlements on the left with low hills either side. Everyone developed into their usual 3 groups as we wound our way up and I was amazed just how quickly some could climb. Looking back, you could still see Russia and with a final push (literally for some) we made it to the summit.
All downhill to the campsite now, where the track dived downwards, steeply at first to pass another herd of Yaks and horses. We had a break after 30 minutes, tea, oranges and bananas before the final descent to the river. Heading right it was a short ride to our first river crossing which was shallow enough to be walked, but in wetter times would swallow a lorries axles.
The campsite was idyllic. Khaichinsar mountain looked down on us, a stunningly secluded place. Tents up, toilet dug, we took turns in washing cloths and testing out the shower which was a huge success. In the sunshine, some read, Ian birdwatched, and others explored the small ridge on which lay the graveyard where all the burials were above ground. To do this, soil and earth were piled over, walls were built if you were better off, or best still a mound encased you in concrete
Our pre dinner entertainment was finding Ian's monocular that he had lost in the stream bed after which Baghi excelled himself with lamb marinated in red wine with rice, vegetables and a cauliflower salad. We all went to bed, very full, but best of all very clean.
Thursday 8th September
To Black Goat River
Another sunny day and porridge greeted us as we tucked into breakfast with this morning’s guest appearance being small fried Dutch waffles the size of quails’ eggs. We were in routine now, wake, search out coffee, pack the tent, put the bags by the vans and eat breakfast.
'Where's the track' I asked Bat. His finger veered to a gully running down to the campsite, pretty indistinct I thought, and sure enough there was a track running the length of it to ascend over 400 metres. As I was slower than most I set off, on my own ahead of the pack along a firm footed track up the hillside. After a few hundred metres of ascent I looked back and yes, they were gaining but I got to a small farm first to watch in awe as first Lorna, Peter and Lorraine steamed past. The little farm served as winter quarters and was worth a look. A shut up house on a concrete plinth guarded an empty dried stone walled collecting yard topped with dried dung for burning and inside a shed stood ready to accept stock for the winter. Next to this 2 doors led to a small hay store. A further couple of piles of dung completed a scene to be repeated many times in these parts.
Continuing upwards the track became grassy and wider before the summit with wonderful views ahead, including the distant snow topped mountains which are Mongolia’s highest. This pattern would be repeated 4 times as we climbed and dropped through the day.
Our first long descent took us to a snack stop where a local brought yak products wrapped in pretty paper to be exchanged for something our crew had squired away in these amazing vans. The hard cheese and fried cheese tasted suitably authentic. Our second climb was the easiest, over a windy ridge, something that would plague us today. A drop and then a grassy plain where you could see the front group starting the next climb in the distance. This had a fierce headwind and was quite a grind to the top, before another drop, but the views were getting better as the valleys really opened out. The final longer climb took us up another long headwind track but this led to a glorious views where the hills ahead shimmered in browns and whites
The tracks were indistinct now and also sandier, as we cut across an area to be met by a fence and barbed wire in the middle of nowhere
The track was really rough now as we climbed a short rocky hill with Bat announcing that this was the last hill before gleefully throwing himself down the other side. Trouble was it wasn't as we rounded a corner to be greeted by snack bars and a ponderous ascent over our last brow
We were in the valley of the black goat river now. To our left a small river meandered along a wide open valley. The track was wide and better, but the wind blew hard making progress slow
Finally, 2 tents appeared on the left but to access them a river crossing beckoned with only Bat, Tuul and Neil fully up to the challenge. We pitched by the river and I am typed this to the sound of water. The wind meant 2 were required to pitch the tents, maybe 3. Beef bourguignon, rice, pasta and mashed potato (get those carbs) left us contented and many had very early night ready for tomorrow.
Friday 9th September
To Tavan Bogd National Park
We'd camped by the river and mercifully there was no rain overnight. Porridge and pancakes fueled us on our way along the valley. I struck out first and was greeted by a herd of horses galloping across the track to canter up the opposite hillside, a glorious spectacle. After a few km we headed left and started the climb and so did the wind. It was quite a long climb up a wide valley. Ian was feeling poorly so I sat with him in the van to the top of the hill, stopping to admire the woolly ears of a large hare as it bounded across the track. The top was cold with spits of rain , but the descent was wonderful as we headed down a wide valley with a few yurts. There seemed to be more winter quarters about. Solid houses, dung heaps and corrals
Heading left, morning tea beckoned but a bigger treat beckoned as we were invited to an open house from a local family, whom one of the drivers had contacted. Inside their small house, various delights had been produced such as horse butter, yak cream and small patisseries along with a delicious semi soft cheese which the lady of the house had cut from a round stored cheese. The house was one room, 3 beds, a table and a cooker powered by dung. A battery, or power from a solar panel, and a wall hanging with the family toothbrushes illustrated the rest of the embellishments. There were 3 children who spoke a little English. Our visit finished with gifts from England, colouring books, sewing materials and chocolate. I was assured the crew would leave something in exchange
We left along another wide valley with a small lake on the left. The track was OK with rocks strewn, but the headwind was ferocious. After 4km we huddled behind a backup van where Bat announced that it was about 6km to the lunch stop but the last 2km would be uphill. It felt longer as we slogged into the wind and the uphill had several false summits. A few of the group hadn't really mountain biked before and although doing well it was becoming a bit of a chore
At the top you could see the green tent and trucks some distance away to the right and mercifully below in the wide valley. The track led us there, where we were greeted by the faster cyclists sitting in a huddle around a cairn close to an erected kitchen tent in which lunch was served. It was getting late in the day and with 32 of 61km done I decided that the bikes could be loaded and we should drive the rest of the way which proved right as we arrived in the National Park at 1730
The drive there was a lesson in great driving. The tracks littered with ricks were avoided and for some they could admire the scenery without having to watch the road. The scenery was enormous, especially the screes coming down the mountainsides on the right
Our home for the night was a campsite just inside the National Park, we even had a biodegradable toilet, so no digging tonight. There were great views down the valley and we were joined by a huge flock of sheep who took great delight in nibbling at soap and tents.
Saturday 10th September
Bike to Tavan Bogd Viewpoint and descent to White River
A few of us had a breathless night, after all we were at about 3000 metres altitude. Unfortunately, Ian had developed a chest cold, so was laid low, however Lorna busied herself to look after him, taking over rice porridge which the kitchen had especially made. Peter was 60, so we marked it with a bowl of porridge with 60 written in syrup and a round of Happy Birthday. Pancakes and sausages completed the meal.
We had a 28km day taking us into the mountains and across the park. For the trucks it was a 106km round trip to get to the other side. The start was straight out of the campsite and up, and after a few hundred metres we had a tantalizing glimpse of what was to come as a white needle of snow pointed above the ridge. Continuing upwards you could see enormous scree slopes to the right making a herd of yak seem tiny. We divided into the usual order with Tuul keeping a very close eye on the back and I hope the addition of both a first aid kit and snacks didn't hamper him too much. Upwards we went until suddenly you could feel the wind and the mighty peaks came into full view. However, we had about a kilometre to go to get to a viewing area requiring a little more climbing along tracks that were rocky but not super technical. I cut of just before following a track to the right, whilst the others headed to the viewpoint marked by a large Buddhist Shrine encased in prayer flags. I wasn't exactly sure where I was going but ended in an extraordinary viewpoint across 2 glaciers lying side by side. To the right you could just see a handful of tents that were the base camp to climb Mongolia's highest mountain which mostly consisted of walking up the glacier
I returned to the others who were being 'snacked up' by Tuul who had somehow also managed to squeeze a large box of nuts and a big bag of apples into his backpack, what a star. We started our descent but to my horror everyone was going to miss the glacier overlook, so I persuaded or rather insisted on Bat taking us there. We also learnt that the glaciers were retreating at 15cm a week and that it was here that Mongolia met Russia and China
Two border guards galloped towards us, with rifles slung over their backs they chatted to Bat and it turned out they were 2nd year conscripts and were happy to have their picture taken
The descent was a little technical, there was a track but a single one that was defined but not nearly as wide and deep as the one going up. Great views of the valleys and mountains as we twisted and turned our way down. It was the bottom part where things got spectacular again. The roar of the glacial river below could be heard and shepherds on horses tended their sheep.
We were now heading down the White River Valley. Having practiced our river crossing we were now in touristville. A camel train carrying camping gear, horse riders and a number of tourist yurts ran along the valley. Our campsite was by the river in a glorious setting where we showered, admired the views and Peter had a birthday song sung in Mongolian about a child’s wish to thank his parents for his upbringing. A fire was lit in the stove and by 21:00 I was left alone to write this diary with everyone else tucked up praying for a warm night.
Sunday 11th September
To Toroo Mountain
The wind blew down the White Valley, but finally we were going with it. Breakfast of cheese on toast and a kind of crunchy cheesy pizza fueled us over the river via a small bridge and along the river bank. the track was pretty rough as it veered left then right with a few river crossings thrown in, but the views of towering hill sides were glorious. We needed to gain 200metres over a saddle, sounds easy but it was very steep. Tuul naturally made it look easy, but even Bat with high, extensive collection of altitude induced red blood cells found it tough. A couple had sensible taken the bus for this first climb, a wise choice. At the summit we took one last look at the highest mountains and as all the trucks were together took the opportunity to picture the 7 Mongolians who were making our life so easy (aside the cycling)
We were in another valley and this would be a long, long gradual descent, the valley was wide and littered with rocks, but there were the occasional smoother sections. For a group that didn't really mountain bike they were doing amazingly well, all cycling at their own pace which for Peter meant fast , whilst Chris and David picked their way along. Lorna had had a low speed fall the previous day and she was noticeably taking her time, walking anything that looked dodgy, so for once I could keep up with her.
Our morning stop was at the Shiveet Khairkhan Petroglyph monument, an absolute stunning array of rock carvings hewn into the rock, thousands of years ago. Images of archers and deer, jaguars and ladies with longer hair were carved into a rock slab overlooking the valley. We walked in socks on the rock for quite some time to avoid any extra erosion that the wind hadn’t supplied over the past 10.000 years. The added bonus especially Ian who arrived early, were the Ibex that were there at the start of the visit, but were distant dots for us who arrived later.
We continued down the wide open valley along the rocky track. There were a few winter quarters for farmers but nothing else for miles around. However, there were graves, lots of graves, piles of rocks thousands of years old with small flat slabs. some were solo , others in rows.
Lunch was supposed to be on the north side of two lakes, but Sharon and I took the more scenic south side that passed what I thought looked like a showground (open area with lots of rocks in a row) The beautiful smooth track ended at a rather wide and deep river crossing, well I say crossing, more a wade that no truck would ever do. Behind us coming closer though was a plume of dust was our knight in shining silver armor bundled us into the truck and delivered us back on the Northern bank.
Our last climb of the day was avoided by 7 of us, well my bike was on the top so it would have been churlish to ask for it, whilst Peter, Launa, Steve, David and Christine pushed, hiked to the top under the watchful eye of Tuul or the Stig as I called him because he did stunts on the bike with no expression. Amazingly they were only 10 minutes behind the bus as I got out to join them.
The last section was across a plateau. Mountains ringed us, and it looked like the Lake District but without the traffic. A final glorious descent took us to a large lake where the tents had been pitched under a cliff to avoid the wind. Sharon and I hoofed up the hill behind for a view across and to admire the two 40 year old trucks hay making by the waters edge. The evening meal had even more carbohydrate, food just kept appearing and the final bowl of mashed potato finished us.
Aside Sharon and I, everyone was in their tents by 2000, a sign of a comfy tent, a hard day or our conversational ability, I'm not sure.
Monday 12th September 2022
To Khoton Lake
It had rained in the night, well for us it had, but further up the peaks had a thick scattering of snow. The tents were wet when they went away but should dry as tomorrow was a rest day.
We set of, continuing along the valley in the cloudy conditions and from the back everyone streamed out. There isn't a great deal to stop and look at but within a few kilometres a Kazak graveyard appeared on the left. The front group carried on which seemed strange, but I would later learn that Mongolians don't like these places, it almost sent a shiver down Bat as he talked about it. For myself and Sharon the area was irresistible. Mud coloured bricks demarcated rectangular areas in which there were mounds of earth and stone with a single post and plate placed in the top, presumably family plots. One though stood out, a hexagonal structure made of wood (rare) topped by a silvered dome. Inside through the door was the same mound of earth and stone. We were now a little behind the group so took a lift with the ever attentive van strapping the bikes to the front to be delivered towards the back of the group as they toiled up a gradual slope that looked wild and not unlike Dartmoor, with piles of rocks at the low summits. It was getting colder and at the top the front riders were huddled in the vans at the saddle summit when it started to snow. A lone horseman leading another pony rode past to create the scene. Descending we veered slightly to the left to seek shelter for a tea break, but fortunately the snow had abated. Close by a shepherd on horseback was herding sheep, a common site now in this area, a hardy bunch these Mongolians as he stared at me through his full faced balaclava. We carried on passing a lake on the right through stunning scenery. The peaks around us were higher and many more came into view in the distance, all covered in a deep frosting of snow. With the white, brown, yellow and green in layers the views were incredible.
We'd strung out again and as we approached a low saddle I could see 3 horsemen cantering towards the group ahead. For Sharon and I, it turned into 2 separate but similar experiences as the shepherds tried our bikes, tested my camera and took our pictures on their mobile phones. With broad smiles it was clear they were having as much fun as we were. The only thing neither of us did was to try out the horses as they looked a bit frisky.
The descent was amazing, maybe 15km of relatively rock free smooth track. If you like downhill mountain biking, here was the place. Throughout were amazing views of distant mountains topped with snow, quite breathtaking
We finished in the valley with quite a change, a stream ran through and there were trees. The grassland had been freshly scythed for hay. In almost a field lay the mess tent and lunch where we enjoyed egg soup after which the bikes were loaded for a transfer to the campsite
With a top speed of 45kph these vans don't go fast but with all the twisting and turning it does have the feel of the Whacky races as the flatter scenery whizzed by
We stopped to admire a sole granite Turk statue marking a grave. Hundreds of years old a belt, sword and dagger were carved, not forgetting his moustache as he gazed along a low line of standing stones of whose purpose nobody knows, though the best guess is servants for the afterlife.
Our drive continued to a small settlement and of all things a shop. Great excitement as we all searched for anything to buy things with. Inside a counter backed by shelves held all sorts of non-perishable goods, crisps, chocolate and quite a lot of alcohol. Suitably stacked up with chocolate and biscuits we proceeded along the lake to a camp spot by the lake having initially declined the usual spot on the premonitory as it was far too windy.
Tuesday 13th September 2022
Lake Khoton, a rest day
A shower, a spot of washing and a walk up the hillside to admire the petroglyphs were in order. For the crew it was a chance to rest up, wash a van or go fishing.
Above us scattered on the hillside were many petroglyphs, much like we had seen before displaying the animals that a bored hunter could see 12.000 years ago. Created by scraping or chiseling they were fascinating and I only wished that the graffiti artist would join them in the distant past. Bat was great and full of enthusiasm as he guided us along the terrain pointing them out and explaining their significance.
A few of us continued to the summit where a cairn and more graves were a distraction from the distant views into China over the lake some 20km distant.
On our return, the fishing trip had been a success with a large one in a bowl. Later served for dinner, I did try to get the crew to eat it, but they were far too polite, so we enjoyed it.
Wednesday 14th September 2022
To Black Stone River
After a relaxing day by the lake it was back to reality. Pancakes and porridge consumed we were away at 08:30 to head along the north shore of the lake. The tents had been taken down icy but the sun was shining. The tracks were smooth and the views of snowy topped mountains to the right into China were amazing.
After a few miles we came across an old gravesite. Dating maybe 8000 years old there was a central pile of rocks, surrounded by a ring of rocks, all connected by 4 spokes like a wheel pointing roughly E,S,W and North. They were 2-5 metres deep and contained a number of chambers into which someone very important would have been laid to rest. Next to it were a few other smaller ones, all of which had probably been excavated as grave robbing is a thing here now.
We needed to cross to the south side of the lake by a long bridge next to a border checkpoint. Ahead lay more scenery, behind us lay a large herd of sheep and cattle that beat half of us across as they clattered across the wooden planks, followed by the shepherd who for some reason had hobbled the horse,
The route continued along a great track, almost Mongolian tarmac. We were in a wide valley, probably an old alluvial plane. You would occasionally see granite boulders whose sides had been carved out by long extinct glacial rivers. All around were old graves for once you get your eye in they are easier to spot. They varied from a pile of stones in a regular pattern in a prominent place, to a small circle, to a couple of stones with a few upended. However, the best was to come, as on our right appeared four Turk graves. Two were in very good repair, the other 2 looked like they had had a hard afterlife. Concentrating on the best two, these had had their heads removed and replaced, a result of the Uyghurs from China who had ruled for a hundred years. Both had swords and the middle sported an amazing moustache. Over 500 of these in Mongolia, why go to Easter Island? Behind them lay the graves, ahead the lines of rocks or servants, wonderful stuff.
5 or 6 river crossings lay in our way today. These were deeper/longer than we had had before. A few took a bit of teamwork to get people across involving, vans, throwing shoes across or in my case just plain wading about trying to be useful. Tuul, Bat and myself were pretty adept at these now, somehow getting over the smooth, large slippery stones in the depths. The rest understandably were a bit more cautious.
The one long climb of the day was a bit of a rollercoaster as it ducked and dived left and right through occasionally rocky ground. It gradually climbed the right side of the valley and was broken by lunch under some trees where Ian photographed eagles sitting in the branches. After lunch it did turn into a bit of a slog for some, a combination of cafe legs and false summits, but eventually we made it to a flat non de script summit. '12km downhill' Bat told us. 'Are you sure?' I asked. 'Well unless the world has got smaller' was the sage reply. It did as it said, spurts of fast and almost level terrain that were almost Gobi like, with wide valleys, grassy and multiple tracks to choose from.
Our destination was the campsite by the black stone river as we had shortened the day. So starved of Western things to look at that nearly everyone took a picture of the sole petrol pump by the long bridge.
We pitched by the river under the watchful eye of a snow topped hill and a herd of Yak that decided to wander through. Over the river a small community of 10 houses painted orange, pink and green sat in splendid isolation.
Dinner at 19:30 was an interesting affair. Baggy filled a sheep’s rumen with black hot rocks, meat, carrots and potatoes, then boiled it for 30 minutes. Served with aubergine and tomato in a spicy sauce, cabbage salad and the obligatory rice and pasta, it tasted great
As usual most went to bed shortly after dinner leaving 5 of us chatting around the wood burner about art and such like.
Thursday 15th September 2022
To Sagsai Valley
Snow had fallen overnight leaving a white dusting on the hillsides all around. In our campsite you could see the snowfall on the ground but as small clumps, so a white out was close. We packed, munched breakfast, porridge everyone? And took to the road with the bikes stacked on the roofs as we were transferring up and over the hill because 60km in this terrain was just about OK provided there was no headwind.
Over the bridge past the other fuel station selling fuel at 80 octane where cars run on 96 in Europe, and up into the hills. The snow was thicker up here, but surprisingly the track was clear aside a few drifts. Around the hills were white, and we bowled along at 40kph weaving on and out of the potholes. A brief stop at an enormous lake followed by a lakeside drive after which the snow started to become a lesser issue. Our starting point was 55km from the end point. It was cold, so understandably 4 decided to stay in the vans as 7 of us set out along a good track with snow either side, even I had a buff and gloves on. This road seemed better used as the river crossing had bridges, though one in particular had lost an awful lot of planking. Around us the winter quarters for the farmers were mostly inhabited now and the stock were close, another sign that Winter was Coming.
At the top of a short climb, 2 vans had created a windbreak and the frontrunners were supping tea inside to keep out of the wind that was pushing us along. A descent now and the start of what would be quite a climb sapping the strength out of quite a few of us. The track was good though and the valley wide. The storm seemed to have abated having started to chase us along at the start where we were cycling through flurries of snow, very Christmassy.
Lunch was provided just of the track, amazingly the tent and toilet tent had been erected even in these conditions. Inside the team were creating pastries filled with mutton and beef that were pinched at the edges like Cornish pasties. I had a go, all a bit of a disaster as Bat tried to teach me, to little avail. Once cooked, they sealed in all the juices, so they squirted all the place on first bite, but they were delicious.
Lunch over we continued the climb which got harder and steeper. Although only 3km after lunch it took an eternity as it just got steeper at the end. The traffic was increasing as well. 3 large Toyotas passed us, emblazoned with Eagle Festival 2022. More impressive was a large lorry and trailer inching its way down. The driver smiled as we passed with Chinese characters on the cab. The last section was walked, certainly by me at quite a slow pace. All the time a very patient back up van ushered us making sure we were OK.
Finally the top, where the forerunners quickly took of down the hill. 'It's steep' said Bat, 'take care' as he hurtled downhill. So it proved as the surrounding hills narrowed to almost a gorge, then at the bottom opened to an enormous expanse, ringed by snow topped mountains.
The road though was having the last laugh, although there were 3-4 tracks to choose from, all were ridged so heavily that we were all convinced the bikes would be shaken to bits. Traffic had increased from 1 vehicle every 3 days to 2 that passed me going the other way, yes this was rush hour in Mongolia
One final bridge that was a long permanent affair crossing a wide river to bear left and into a woodland setting by the river for the night. We pitched and to prove random pitching, the couples were in one place, the others 10 metres away and myself riverside as usual.
The evening meal was an extravaganza even by previous meals. Salads, stir fried vegetables and rice with the obligatory pasta. Dessert a fruit salad in a watermelon 6 of us whiled the night away to the warmth of the fire, yes, they had even managed to squeeze a log burner in, last days riding tomorrow.
Friday 16th September 2022
Back to Uglii
It seemed quite sad to pack the tents up for the final time, but do it we must. A push across the rocks and onto the flat valley bottom, filled with a gravelboard surface that continued the teeth chattering experience of the day before.
Ahead of us lay Sagsai the largest settlement we had seen in ages. Its streets were quiet as we exited heading for the last major climb of the trip. Passing the towns welcome sign where fellow tourists joined us in 4x4’s we inched our way up with the unusual company of cars. Our last coffee stop was close to the top. With the eagle festival due, it was turning into a gathering as a guide joined us for nuts and tea in the shadow of the mountain behind.
The summit was marked by two large concrete information boards, one with old Mongolian script before we descended through a beautiful valley to lunch by the river with Ugliii in site.
As usual Baghi had weaved his magic, turning anything into soup after which a short climb took us into Uglii and our finish at the hotel, a bed for the night.
So, we had conquered the Altai Mountains. Our support crew had been amazing, Mongolia is awesome and I can’t wait to return. Will it stay the same? Well our final ride to Uglii was greeted by road building, a huge copper mine is on the way and our two subsequent days in Ulaanbaatar were full of traffic, so progress is happening. At its heart though are wonderful people, that shouldn’t change.