Day 10: Gobi Cold Camel Expedition
29th Jan 2018
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine how high we'd traverse over the mountains during our time in Mongolia; riding camels at 7000ft was like being on top of the world and the snow capped peaks were breathtaking.
Before lunch we cover 12km, but with the steep terrain it's one of our longest rides. At the highest peak we stop to appreciate 360 degree views. The diversity we've seen in the scenery so far is mind blowing - Big Man has selected an incredible route for us to explore.
On our way down from the mountain we see a herder riding a camel as he herds goats and sheep. Although it's steep, his camel gracefully makes it's way down to say hello and he rides the final few kilometres alongside us. We pass fresh leopard prints in the snow and are told wolves and snow leopards are plentiful in this region.
Finally we're down the mountain and at the head of a valley we stop for lunch with the herders family. The snow is the best it's been and Chloe Phillips-Harris: Adventurer pulls out a snowboard and boots which we've carried across the Gobi for just this type of occasion. The family gathers to witness what is very likely a world first; snowboarding behind a camel. It is without a doubt one of the most bizarre things I've seen as the camel trots down a snowy slope with Chloe in tow.
After lunch we say goodbye to our Mountain camels and swap back to Umba's camels; he's bypassed the mountains and herded them 80km so we can finish our journey with them. I'm sad to see my saddle isn't on Ollie (my favourite camel from Day 6 who loved cantering) and instead I'm on a slightly slower one which doesn't bode well for a race we're about to have across the valley.
First through we pass through a herd of about 25 horses who run wild, yet are owned by a herding family. One has a long mane to show he's the stallion, and any trained for riding have their manes cut. All are branded. Sometimes the horses will roam hundreds of kilometres from the family Ger in the winter (as they aren't ridden and food is sparse) and it's not unheard of for them to take a year to find, but every herder knows each animal individually and they are eventually reunited.
The horses disappear into the distance and we line up for a camel race. It's 2km this time, double the distance of our previous race and I predict I'm going to come third from last, of 11 camels competing. True to form my camel is slow and I watch Ollie near the front, cantering eagerly, although he can't catch the front runners who only trot. As expected I finish in ninth position, just like I'm guessed. That in itself feels like winning.
Within moments of the race finishing a windstorm blows in at 20 knots and everyone is chilled. It's only been about -15 today so we're not dressed for the sudden cold of -30 with the windchill factor. It's the first day I haven't worn my neoprene balaclava and the double layer of down and merino on my face soon freeze solid and rub. I'm also not wearing goggles and I turn my head away from the wind so sand and snow can't fly into my eyes.
We arrive at our camp for the night, another community hall in the middle of nowhere - nothing else is within sight. It's freezing cold inside the building and no one removes their layers of clothing. A fire was supposed to have been burning all day but we find out the herder lost his stock in the recent snow storm and is out searching for them; time is critical if he needs to dig them out of the snow.
Because it's so cold, Big Man and the herders have set up a second fire, with a temporary chimney twisted out the window. The rest of the window is taped with tin foil to keep the cold air out and slowly the room warms. Tess translates as Big Man tells us stories of Yeti's stealing Mongolian wives, winged horses, horse racing and wrestling. In Mongolia no one needs to learn how to ride, they just do. By the age of three to five most girls and boys are competing in horse races between 12 and 30km. They also don't get taught to wrestle, yet the men are some of the best in the world. Apparently the instincts they pick up from working with the animals as young boys translates very well to fighting later in life.
10 hours later we awaken to a smokey haze, the chimney has failed us and the room is full of coal smoke. It's -32 outside with windchill but I dash outdoors for some fresh air - I imagine this is what it feels to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. Even one of the guys lips are lined with soot.
[This is the tenth update in a 15 part series, if you'd like to follow the rest of my journey in the Gobi Camel Camel Expedition LIKE my page for daily photos and blogs]!