Day 7: Gobi Cold Camel Expedition
26th Jan 2018
It snowed last night and the wind is howling leaving us to battle our coldest day on camels yet. There are no words to describe the beauty of riding camels covered in snow while crossing steep snowy terrain and it's easy to ignore the cold as we appreciate the landscape we're passing through.
We're riding Mountain camels and it's my fifth camel in six days. Each morning we identify our assigned camel by the saddle they wear but I'm in love with a giant blonde camel and one of the guys offers to let me swap with him. I'm soon regretting my vanity as this camel is old, slow and the most uncomfortable so far! I name him Monroe - after both Marilyn Monroe and also Rush Monroe ice-cream because he's totally covered in snow.
It takes 15 kilometres to cross the mountains and we pass many Gers and herds of horses. It's unbelievable that nomadic families choose to live in these mountains when surely food is more plentiful in the valleys, but there is no denying the beauty of this harsh and rugged region.
As we climb in altitude we keep our feet out of the stirrups incase our camels slip and we have to jump off in a hurry to avoid falling. My camel seems quite clumsy and one other is also particularly unstable on the ice; both slip constantly. The herders hustle us on and we head up to a ridge line, before heading down the other side of the mountain.
Soon we're surrounded by huge tussocks and our camels stop every few meters to eat. The camels don't get fed at night or offered water - with their humps they have no need to eat or drink daily. It astounds me that the camels eat snow to stay hydrated and again I'm blown away by the resiliance of these remarkable mammals. In the deserts of Australia it isn't uncommon for the camels to go without food and water for weeks on end, which seems unfathomable, so we are more than happy to let our camels eat when they have the opportunity.
We stopped at a Ger in the mountains for lunch and I think we lacked the social graces of the Mongolians, the old lady seemed upset by us and I don't blame her. We entered the Ger in the wrong direction (you're only supposed to walk inside in a clockwise direction), one of the girls stepped through the central Ger poles which is taboo and a cup of hot tea and a bowl of soup was spilt.
Soon it's time to move on and we head into true desert country. A storm sets in with 22 knot winds and a windchill of - 37 and I add my 1200 down expedition jacket to the seven layers I'm already wearing. It buffers the cold nicely but with iced over goggles I can barely see a thing. It's pretty dark out and sand and snow is snaking across the valley relentlessly. Colours are muted and everything is in shades of black, yellow, brown and grey. I'm just thankful the wind is coming from behind us because on the occasion I look around the grit from the sand and snow blowing hurts.
I feel like I've lost four of my five senses. I can't see through the goggles, I can't hear through five layers on my head, I can't feel my knees they're so cold (although theres too much feeling in my lower back) and it's been days since I've been able to smell anything - probably a good thing as we've been a week without showering now.
We arrive at our night camp, and are relieved the storm is behind us. This is one of the most respected camel families, with over 600 camels, and they show us how to milk the camels and make camel vodka. I'm too cold and tired to stay outside long and head into the Ger to get some well needed rest - we rode almost 40km in the worst conditions today and I'm well overdue for some sleep. I think we're about 180km into our 300km ride so far.
Soon it's snowing again and I'm relieved we have a rest day tomorrow. After our evening meal the family come and party with us. Every time someone takes a drink they have to sing a song and soon we're lulled by beautiful Mongolian ballads - as soon as someone starts singing all the other Mongolians join in and their voices are truly spine chilling. I wish we'd all grown up singing songs around the fire so we could have done our country proud, but unfortunately we sing off key and no one can remember the words to songs.
Tomorrow we are off-roading through the desert to see the sights, then the following day we have another mountain range to pass. Every day the scenery gets better and better and I can't wait to see whats ahead.
[This is the seventh 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]!