Showing posts with label Altai Mountains. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Altai Mountains. Show all posts

Video: Rare Snow Leopards Caught on Film in the Wild

Snow leopards are amongst the most endangered creatures on the planet, and spotting them in the wild is a rare feat indeed. In this clip, we catch a glimpse of these incredibly elusive cats thanks to camera trap footage captured by National Geographic. These leopards were found in the Altai Mountains of Russia, not far from the border with China and Mongolia, a place I was fortunate enough to see last years. Sadly, there were no snow leopards to be found on my journey, but this video makes up for that.

Adventure Racing World Series a Success in China

Earlier this week an epic adventure race took place in a remote region of China, marking the debut of the the Adventure Racing World Series in Asia. By all accounts it was a successful first race with just minutes separating the top teams in what promises to be an exciting new addition to the ARWS in the years to come.

The Xtrail Expedition race took place in the Altai Mountain region of China, not far from the border with Mongolia. The event covered 300 km (186 miles) or rough terrain, which the top teams were able to complete in just a few days time. In fact, in a sport that requires hours and days to complete, the three podium finishers were separated by less than 20 minutes, which is a testament to how strong the 28 teams competing in the race truly are. Of those 26 were international squads, while the other two were local Chinese racers.

The winners of the race were the Thule Adventure Team, which completed the grueling route in just 36 hours and 16 minutes. They were followed closely by Team Adventure Medical Kits, who were 14 minutes back, with Haglofs Silva coming in third another 4 minutes behind. The rest of the teams staggered in over the hours that followed, with the course officially closing on Wednesday of this week. Yesterday, the coed teams of four left the region and began the long journey home.

After such an auspicious debut, it seems that the Xtrail race may be a great new addition to the AR World Series. Having visited the part of the world where the event took place myself this summer, I can attest to how beautiful, rugged, and remote it truly is. With the addition of this race to the schedule, the ARWS now has events on six continents, which is an impressive feat in and of itself, and an indication of just how healthy the sport of adventure racing is at the moment.

Now, all eyes will turn towards Australia in November. That will be the host country for the Adventure Racing World Championship, where the 2016 world champs will be crowned. At the moment, it looks like it could be quite an interesting showdown between the best teams on the planet, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

Mongolia on Horseback Part 3: Riding and Trekking in the Altai Tavn Bogd National Park

This is part 3 of an ongoing series that I am writing about my recent travels through Mongolia. If you haven't read part 1 and part 2 yet, I'd recommend going back catching up before proceeding. It'll help put the trip in context and give you a better frame of reference for the entire experience.

After spending two days in Mongolia's capital city of Ulaanbaatar, then the better part of a day traveling to the remote town of Ulgii, followed by another full day in SUV's driving dirt roads just to reach the start of our journey, I think it was safe to say that my companions and I were ready to truly get our adventure started. We had all come to Mongolia to go horseback riding through the Altai Tavn Bogd National Park with Tusker Trail, one of the best adventure travel outfitters in the entire world. But, we had no idea how much of an adventure we would have before even climbing into the saddle for the first time. It was all part of the plan – and part of the fun – of course, but after camping for two nights on the edge of the spectacularly beautiful Khoton Nuur lake, it was time to get riding at long last.

After a hardy breakfast, we broke camp and began preparing for the day ahead. Our first full day in the saddle would be roughly 5-6 hours in length, and cover 22 km (13 miles). Not a bad start to the trip, giving all of us a chance to get comfortable on horseback before pushing into the longer days that would lie ahead.

One of the best parts of Tusker's Mongolia itinerary is that you can choose to either ride the trails, hike the route, or mix it up and do both. Most of travelers had come to ride – after all we were exploring the home of arguably the greatest horsemen that have ever lived. But some felt more comfortable on their own two feet, and each day they would head out with a trekking guide just ahead of those who were on horseback. I personally wanted to experience both riding and hiking, so I alternated my time in the saddle and on foot for parts of the journey. Ultimately, I would end up riding much more than hiking, but for the most part I was glad to get the chance to see this beautiful country in either fashion.

On our first day of riding there was a nervous anticipation in the air. Everyone was eager to get started, but most of us had never spent a full day on horseback before, and some had never ridden at all. This brought a sense of uncertainty about what to expect, as a horse certainly has a mind of its own and can do unpredictable things at times. This happened more than once throughout the trip, with our mounts occasionally stumbling, getting spooked and acting erratically, or being stubborn enough to do what they wanted, despite the best efforts of their riders. In my case, I even had my horse decide to lay down in the grass while I was still in the saddle. Fortunately I was able to dismount without a significant loss to my dignity, but as a somewhat inexperienced rider myself, it was a lesson learned to be sure.

For the most part though, the horses were well behaved, extremely sure-footed, and easy to ride. After a day or two most of the riders became comfortable with their mounts, and the trust grew between both the animal and the person on its back. In fact, anyone who joins this Tusker excursion will most certainly come home a better rider, and by the end of the trip we were all doing things in the saddle that would have seemed unlikely at the beginning.

Setting out from our camp at Khoton Nuur we were soon ambling along at a steady pace with the warm sun overhead, the placid waters on our right, and the snowcapped peaks looming in the distance. While we rode, conversations waxed as waned as the riders were sometimes outgoing and gregarious, and other times were lost in their own thoughts. The mood was light, the weather was wonderful, and the views were amazing. It was everything you could ask for in an adventure, and more.

While our travels were conducted both on foot and horseback, the logistics of moving our camp from one location to another was handled by camel train. The two-humped Bacterian camels that are common in Mongolia seem well suited for life on the Steppe, and served as incredibly strong pack animals for our expedition into the Altai Mountains. Each day, our team would load a wide variety of bags, packs, and containers onto the backs of the camels, and off they'd go to our next destination. Often times they would pass us on the trail each day while we were enjoying lunch in some idyllic setting. More often then not, they would arrive at the new campsite well before we did, and we'd find our tents awaiting us. On occasion, the travelers themselves would be a bit quicker, and we'd all lend a hand in helping set up camp that evening. The entire operation, while time consuming, ran very smoothly, and was a testament to how well staffed and organized Tusker truly is. It isn't easy shepherding 13 clients around the wilds of Mongolia, let alone keeping them well fed, protected from the elements, and comfortable along the way too.

Our days out on the trail generally passed in this fashion. We'd break camp and begin riding (or trekking!) by mid-morning, stopping for breaks on occasion to allow the horses to rest and the riders to stretch their legs. Around noon or 1:00 PM each day, we'd find a comfortable, and usually very beautiful, place to stop for lunch, which was always simple, but very tasty affair, catered by the Tusker guides and delivered by a lone camel charged with sticking with the travelers throughout the course of the day. In the afternoon, we'd tend to press on a bit longer in the saddle, reaching our next campsite by early evening where we would enjoy a little reprieve from the trail, swap stories of previous adventures, and relax in the spacious dining tents. Snacks, drinks, and dinner were always a very communal affair, with the entire group laughing, getting to know one another, and developing deep bonds that would forever link them to one another. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging experience.

The first couple of days of riding were relatively easy, with trails that were clearly marked and free from any serious obstacles. On those days, the riding was straight forward and only helped to reinforce the connections between the horse and rider. In the days that followed, things would get a bit trickier, especially as we moved up into the mountains where the air thinned, the paths narrowed, and a bit more skill and attention was required. I'll have more to say about those experiences in a future post, but at the onset of the trip, it was very easy to get comfortable with the ride.

Within a day or two we fell into a good rhythm on the trail. The days were filled by riding and trekking in one of Mongolia's most spectacular outdoor playground, while the nights began with increasing camaraderie amongst the travelers, and ended with by crawling into a warm sleeping bag to get a good night's sleep in a quiet, peaceful setting. It was a wonderful was to explore a place that few foreign visitors get the chance to ever see. A place were nomads still roam as they have done for generations, and horses outnumber people by a considerable margin. There aren't many other places on Earth like that anymore, which is just one of the many reasons this trip was so special.

More to come in the next installment.

Mongolia on Horseback Part 2: Dirt Roads, Mongolian Hospitality, and the Ride Begins

If you read part 1 of my series on my recent travels in Mongolia you already know that I arrived in Ulaanbaatar to discover a thoroughly modern, well kept, and orderly city that served as the perfect place to rest and recover before actually launching into the meat of this adventure. I had traveled halfway round the world to join a group of like minded adventurers taking part in a fantastic itinerary that is offered by my friends at Tusker Trail each year. And while I certainly enjoyed my time in UB, after a day or two of recouping from the long flights, I was more than ready to see what Mongolia had to offer us.

On our third day in country we caught an early afternoon flight for the town of Ulgii, which is the capital of the Bayan-Ölgii Aimag province. The city is home to about 28,000 people, and would serve as the true launching point of our journey, which would eventually take us into the heart of the remote and spectacular Altai Tavn Bogd National Park that falls on the border with China and Russia.

When we arrived in Ulaanbaatar, my fellow travelers and I were warned about something called the "Genghis Factor." Much like when you visit Africa and everything runs on "Africa Time," there are often factors that are beyond your control that can keep everything from running on a tight, efficient schedule. That means that when a flight is scheduled to leave at 2:00 PM in the afternoon, don't be too concerned if it doesn't actually begin an hour or more later. That's just the way things roll sometimes in Mongolia, and the Genghis Factor isn't just confined to flights. It can impact all kinds of other things as well, and it is best to just accept it, be patient, and roll with it while you're there.

That happened to be the case with our flight to Ulgii, which was about three hours in length with a brief stop over to pick up fuel and passengers at an intermediate point along the way. Ulgii was starkly different than Ulaanbaatar in that it was much more quiet and relaxed. The rural town has plenty of restaurants, markets, and shops for visitors, but it is definitely far from the hustle and bustle of the capital.

Our accommodations for our night Ulgii were at a local Ger camp, where we stayed in the traditional yurts that are common amongst the nomadic people that inhabit the remote regions of Mongolia. The gers found there were basic and comfortable, but would seem like palaces once we struck out for the Altai Mountains. We enjoyed one last night's sleep in a bed before we'd be relegated to tents and sleeping bags for the majority of the trip.

After an overnight in Ulgii it was time at last to hit the road. The entire group was eager to strike out for the backcountry, and we knew we had a long journey ahead. Outside of the major cities in Mongolia, most of the roads aren't paved. That means we had to take Toyota Land Cruisers on seldom traveled jeep routes just to reach the starting point of our trip. That would prove to be quite an adventure in and of itself.

We made severals stops while en route to our first campsite, including visiting a Mongolian army base where we all checked in with the local authorities. But the most interesting stop was early on in the journey, when we met one of the legendary eagle hunters that call the region home. These hardy men use specially trained eagles to hunt down foxes that are found in the countryside. That activity typically takes place in the winter, and since we were visiting in the summer no one was heading out on a hunt. Still, were were able to not only get to see one of the hunters in his traditional gear, but also meet one of the enormous birds he uses for this task.

Our destination for the first day in the wild was a lake called Khoton Nuur. We would camp along the banks of that body of water for two days, allowing us to get accustomed to life in pastoral Mongolia while also meeting the horses (and horsemen!) who would see us through this adventure. But reaching Khoton Nuur would not be easy. It involved navigating narrow dirt roads for hours on end with only our guides' knowledge of the way to get us there safely. Along the way we would cross through rivers that were swollen with the summer melt-off following a snow winter and rainy spring. At one point, one of the vehicles even got bogged down in the middle of the water and had to be pulled out by another Land Cruiser. But eventually, after about six or seven hours of driving, we reached our destination, and it certainly did not disappoint.

Camping along the banks of the lake we could spot the Altai Mountains off int he distance. Snow glistened from their high peaks, while the tranquil waters of Khoton Nuur lapped lazily at the shore. The campsite sat on a wide open grassland, while the ger of a local family sat on a hill overlooking the proceedings. We all agreed that the site would be an amazing place to spend the first few nights in the field, and was an amazing scenic way to begin the first stage or our expedition into the mountains.

After getting settled into our tents and making ourselves at home, the entire group gathered in the two dining tents that Tusker has erected for us. These large, spacious, and comfortable shelters would become a refuge for all of us travelers in the days ahead, giving us a communal place to share stories, talk about the days events, and generally enjoy one another's company. They would also give us a warm place out of the elements where we could enjoy our meals too. Having climbed Kilimanjaro with Tusker last year, I knew that we could expect some exceptional food on the trip, especially considering our remote locations. Tusker cooks receive training from the Culinary Institute of America, and as a result they are often able to delight their guests with some delicious entrees that you would normally think would be possible so far from a "real" kitchen. Such was the case on this Mongolia trip as well, as Alex – one of Tusker's top cooks from Tanzania – was flown in just to ensure we had great meals each day. He achieved that mission throughout the journey.

After a good night's sleep along the banks of Khoton Nuur, we were all eager to get started the next day. Tusker's Mongolia itinerary is mainly aimed at exploring the Altai Tavn Bogd National Park by horseback, although clients can elect to hike the route as well. Most would choose one or the other over the course of the two-week trip, but a few of us mixed things up, sometimes riding and sometimes trekking depending on how we felt on any given day. This flexibility was nice as well, as not everyone was completely comfortable on a horse, much preferring to cover the distance under their own power instead.

On our second day along the lake we were introduced to the mounts that would be our companions throughout the trip. The family ger that overlooked our campsite was home to a group of exceptional horsemen who have carved out a living on the steppe for generations. They also happen to have a large herd of horses that have been born and bred to deal with the challenges that are found there. On that morning, they brought those horses to our camp, were we discovered that each of us had been assigned a mount that was suited for our physical stature and personality. My particular horse was a strong, sturdy, and sure-footed animal who tended to start out slow in the morning, lagging behind the group, but would have a little extra skip in his step later in the day. That suited me just fine, because I often feel about the same.

That morning we had a nice orientation ride with our horses, taking them out on an easy trail that allowed us to get comfortable with one another. It didn't take long to discover that these creatures knew their way around quite nicely, and were adept at carrying their riders safely from one destination to the next. When paired with a comfortable Australian-style saddle, it took only minutes for me to feel at home on the back of my steed, and as the days past my skill and confidence only grew as well.

After riding for a couple of hours we found ourselves approaching the family ger. The lead horseman – a large good natured man by the name of Karbi – invited us all to dismount and come inside their home. It was our first opportunity to see the traditional yurt as an actual nomadic family lived in it, and it was one of the early highlights of the trip. Inside, we found snacks that included fried bread, local cheeses, and various other snacks. We were also offered milk-tea, which was graciously accepted.

As you can imagine, the nomadic Mongols live a simple life free from lots of material goods. Still, there home was decorated with a variety of tapestries, photos, and other items, and their sturdy furniture was comfortable and accommodating. The ger was warmed by a single cookstove that used yak dung for fuel, and there was plenty of room – and food – for all of the guests inside.

Mongol tradition says that the nomads won't turn away even strangers when they show up at their door. Their sense of hospitality is such that they will extend every courtesy to anyone that approaches. We saw that first-hand with the wonderful way the welcomed our group into the ger, offering food, conversation, and entertainment. At one point, Karbi pulled out a traditional stringed instrument from the steppe and proceeded to play and sing several songs. It was one of those priceless moments that only comes through travel when you find yourself at the perfect spot, at the perfect time.

After spending an hour or so enjoying the company of our new Mongol friends, we remounted our horses and made the brief ride back to our campsite. That would be all for the day, but we would be setting out early the next morning for our next destination, and on the first actual horse ride of the trip. While we had gotten acquainted with our mounts, and gotten to know the horsemen who would guide us some, the following day would be very different. It was time to begin the real trip, and I for one couldn't wait.

We camped one more night on the shores of Khoton Nuur, dreaming about the adventures to come. It had already been an amazing experience in Mongolia, and the real journey was only just about to get underway.

Stay tuned for more soon.

Video: Mongolia with Tusker Trail in 100 Seconds

I'll begin sharing the tale of my Mongolia adventure tomorrow, but in the meantime I wanted to share a sneak peek at what my journey was actually like. I traveled to the remote Asian country with my friends at Tusker Trail. For about two weeks I explored the Altai Tavn Bogd National Park on horseback and foot. To say that this was unlike any other travel experience that I have had before would be an understatement, but as you'll see in the clip below it was an incredibly rewarding experience, and one that you'll want to have on your bucket list too.

Video: Mountain Biking and Packrafting Across Mongolia

What happens when three friends travel to Mongolia to mountain bike and packraft through the remote western region of that country? Why, they discover more adventure than they first thought of course! This video takes us along for the ride as these three travelers attempt to traverse the Altai region. Along the way, they discover stunning scenery, unique challenges, and amazing people. Check it out below.

Flashes of the Altai from Joey Schusler on Vimeo.

Video: Timelapse in the Altai Mountains

Located in Central Asia, the Altai Mountains stretch across Russia, Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan. Remote, rugged, and wild, the Altai's are stark in their beauty, challenging visitors with unpredictable weather and their distant location. But this video takes viewers to that amazing landscape and gives us a taste of what that part of the world has to offer. To say it is breathtaking would be an understatement.

Altai Mountains Timescapes from Eugene Bryohin on Vimeo.

Video: Altai - The Road and the River

This past summer, expedition kayaker Chris Korbulic traveled to the Altai Mountains of Russia to explore the wilderness and paddle the rivers found there. This short film shares that adventure with us, delivering some amazing images from that remote place, mixed with some impressive paddling on rivers that are seldom seen by outsider. Chris and his team discovered some epic whitewater along the way, with massive waterfalls, narrow canyons, and some truly wild destinations. This is a truly great piece of filmmaking with some breathtaking shots on and off the water.

Altai - The Road and the River from chris korbulic on Vimeo.

Video: Nomadic Asia

If you're starting to look for inspiration for travel destinations for 2015, perhaps this video will put some adventurous ideas into your head. It follows a group of travelers as they head into a remote region of Mongolia and the Altai Mountains, where they encounter nomadic herders and trading Eagle hunters. The landscapes are breathtaking and the setting is fantastic. Just the kind of destination  we all hope to find in our travels.

Nomadic Asia from Sibweek on Vimeo.