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a Khovsgol hike

[scroll down for the photos]

Peter and I had been a little disappointed with the day's short hike, so that evening we arranged with the same guide (Gandan) to do a full day hike the next day. It was just going to be the three of us, since the other likely candidates (Justin, Eve and Mike) all piked. The rest of the group were going to drive and then walk to see some reindeer herders ("businesspeople") and there was the possibility that we would meet up with them.

Sunday 26th June

Unsure about water, we carried over 3.5 litres each. Together with wet weather gear and our packed lunch, that just about filled my little daypack, so I took just my bare camera - the E1 with 14-54 lens, without even the case, just a spare battery and compact flash card crammed into my first aid kit.

Naidan drove us some 10km north along the lake shore, where we spotted some reindeer by the side of the road and a teepee. It turned out that these were the reindeer herders the others were going to see -- they'd come down to the lake to reach a greater number of tourists -- but we didn't cotton onto that.

We turned off on a side road, but a few hundred metres down that we stopped to look at some Demoiselle Cranes (with the ruffles down the front) and that was where we started walking. At this point I was regretting not having found room for my telephoto lens, but fortunately that was the only occasion I missed it.

The first kilometre or so of our walk was part of the route for the 100km Hovsgol ultramarathon that's run each year. See the Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset site if you're interested in that kind of event.

rock "guardians" on either side of the valley
looking back down the valley we ascended (oof)
The riverbed had no water in it, just gravel, but the walk up the river valley was easy and very pleasant, through grassy areas with flowers amid larch forest (with pines as we got higher). Further up the valley was flanked by dramatic rocks.

With the valley splitting into steep rocky clefts, we scrambled instead up the easiest looking ridge. For some reason this seemed harder than it should have - the total climb from the lake was only about 900m - perhaps because I was still recovering from mild stomach problems. On the way up we spotted half a dozen horses on a grassy slope a few hundred metres away - which had us wondering if there was a clear distinction between domesticated and wild animals.

The top gave us panoramic views from west to northeast, including Ich Uul and the Horidal Saridag range.

looking north: a six image stitched panorama - 1600 pixels wide, 3300 pixels wide (for panning across)

We clearly weren't going to have time to climb Ich Uul, 400m up and a few kilometres away, so we headed south along the tops.

29mm, f/9.0, 1/500s, ISO 100
Gandan fills his water bottle
This was easy walking through grassy meadows between rock outcrops, with a variety of flowers. To the southeast was a high mountain valley, with a stream that was still iced up in places — it would have been a great place to camp if we'd had more time and more supplies.

We had the option of going looking for the reindeer herders in that valley, of continuing along the tops towards where Chinzo and Justin had been the previous day, or of descending to our left. Complicating matters was that the only map we had was a 1:500,000 map of the entire Hovsgul lake — just usable for broad planning, but useless for anything finer -- and that Gandan spoke only a bit of English and not much more Russian.

Just as we were going to have to make a decision, however, a sudden storm hit, complete with thunder and lightning, so we decided to get off the tops and went down into the valley on our left, heading for our camp.

54mm, f/10.0, 1/160s, ISO 100
54mm, f/6.3, 1/200s, ISO 200

It was a much easier descent than the climb had been, on pleasant grassy slopes. And after a brief hailstorm the weather cleared. The descent levelled out and we moved into forest. At one point Gandan showed me a ground squirrel, and it was almost as if he were calling it.

While climbing out of the valley and over a small forested ridge to reach our ger camp, we had a second brief hailstorm. We got back just after 7pm.

After dinner there was a performance by what had been explained to us as "a band". Fortunately this turned out to be a performance of traditional music and dance, not a rock extravaganza.

37mm, f/3.5, 1/80s, ISO 100 (with flash)
50mm, f/2.0, 1/80s, ISO 800

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