Mongolia

3rd September 2018

We call them adventures these trips but really it’s a mindest that unites them.

Quickly learning something new and immediately using it to open up a place meaningfully: that’s definitely part of it. And then, of course, there’s an acceptance of hassle and struggle. We don’t court discomfort but neither are we afraid of it, accepting things won’t always be effortless, accepting the mistakes as part of the journey.

It’s exciting to learn and freeing finding a way to make mistakes acceptable.
That’s the idea at least…

22nd August
Sometimes the most tiring days are the most interesting and yet I am at my least enthusiastic in writing about them. Tonight’s camp is beautiful but I think we will always see it as more of a refuge.

We cut up a spur only to find the other side steep and forested. In what we thought would be the trickiest moment of the day I led two horses down steep dense forest while Dave guided a wide and sometimes clumsy pack horse. But that was just the beginning. What followed involved fording a river, riding through dense shrub, stumbling over bog and marsh both on and off the horses and in the end leading them through a thicket of 8ft high bushes for over an hour.

Today felt like that exhausting aspect of adventure as we forged new and (sensibly) untrodden paths; today was a real test of our riding as the horses stumbled and shyed here and there; Today was an odd feeling of partnership as at times we helped the horses and at times they helped us; Today was exhausting. Today I was glad I was in company and that the company was Dave. I hope tomorrow will be easier but today at least was full of stories. Even if I’m too tired to tell them.

23rd August
The morning started misty but by midday was clear. Similarly our morning started tough – 3 hours battling the worst terrain but after crossing the river we hit the beaten track again and found a lovely pasture by the river. After taking a dunk and having a wash in the oh so cold water we both felt clean and refreshed.

24th August
We have made it to the lake! A glassy backdrop to a lovely camp with hills behind. Today we made good time over the most varied terrain. We were all tired and very happy to be here. I think we all need a break. It was tough going but the riding today was great fun. We haven’t seen anyone in I think 3 days now and to be free and alone riding up here!

When we went to restake the horses we found Fella lying on his side resting . He really is just a pony but an intrepid little thing bursting with character. I went over and he didn’t start so I just sat on the floor and stroked him like a big dog. When he has been stumbling and falling to his chest in bogs then scrambling and jumping out I have felt the power of his back legs. But lying down he seems so delicate.

I think we are ready to turn round now, to get back to easy pastures where every way is possible. But first our rest day! It has been beautiful, exhausting at times but lots of good feelings and, as with all our trips we have been learning, learning fast. And that is such a satisfying feeling. Even if my hands and feet are cut and blistered even if my muscles ache even if clenching my hand my fingers creak and jerk like they are filled with metal wire.

25th August
Rest day. Unfortunately it has been a very wet day too. We did a wash in the lake but it hasn’t dried, of course. We are also short of power given no solar charging today. Not quite the reset day we imagined. On the plus side we have been forced to rest! I had a good nap and we have also been able to chat a lot as the tents are very close….it might sound like a bad day but I have been quite happy. A lazy Sunday feeling.

26th August
Even if we didn’t know, the behaviour of the horses would tell us we are heading back. They have more natural energy in their step and are more willing to take on the rivers and bogs. When we accidently drop Buzz’s rope he often obediently follows regardless now. This combined with our added confidence picking his rope up from our saddles mean we often herd him to the other person to gather up.

It’s a good feeling to be turning for home. Some easy riding would be fun now too! It’s funny, from this idyllic camping spot looking back from where we’ve come the setting sun is red behind a dark band of cloud that abruptly finishes at our valleys edge. It looks for all the world like we have just left Mordor; or Scotland.

Today the horses had a big spook. Not sure at what. We kept our seats and the pack horse this time. Ever more of what I was taught about riding now makes sense. I would probably describe the feel to someone exactly as I was taught it yet it didn’t make sense before.

27th August
We rode past the point where we crossed the river into the tough terrain. So much quicker this route! The river was so much higher from the rain too.

Last night the full moon rose, back lighting some mist that had settled as a single low band in the valley . The dark shapes of the horses ambling and munching in front; the orange embers of the fire; the hills, the river all around, dark but visible in the moonlight: One of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen!

A week without seeing any other humans.
But today we rounded the escarpment and the great multispecies meadows opened out before us. We have made good time back from the lake and there has been plenty of time to trot and canter.

Two birds of prey circle overhead, seemingly with a nest nearby and there are tall blue flowers all around. It is a pleasure having a responsive horse in such beautiful surroundings.

28th August
Dave spent much of today on the wide valley meadows schooling his horse. I was very happy walking steadily and comfortably through the beautiful surroundings, with Buzz just off my right shoulder. He loves affection does Buzz and at his best you can coax him up close by calling him till his head sits just by your hip and give him a good pat. Gave me chance to practise my seat and posture. We then switched it up and I went trotting and cantering in the meadows which was as fun as it sounds though I felt how tired I was.

At one point we came across some wild horses. I cantered over on fella to take a look. The stallion then followed us back to take a look till a grumpy kick from the Colonel sent him packing!

29th August
It is funny how exhausting the body and occupying the mind with tasks seems to make the brief periods of repose particularly creative. Rest day today. We had time for a little washing and cooking, time to relax and chat in the late afternoon storm and doze in the morning sun next to the solar panels. The horses have so much pasture and our mid-morning peanut ritual and lunchtime twix seemed all the more tasty for not having been ‘deserved’ today. We have been out in the wild for nearly two weeks now.

30th August
We mostly trotted today with a few meadow canters. A small river crossing and some varied scenery rounded out the day. We are starting to see more gers again. The whisky is starting to run low but there was still enough to accompany the cigar. Together with the fire it put us into a rather pensive mood. There is something about activity of this sort that keeps you in the moment. The activity is distracting from say the beauty around of course but the emotions come pure and I don’t find myself lingering on past mistakes too much. Food tastes better than it has any right to.

Perhaps the funniest part of the day was the morning – we went to cross a tiny stream. As Fella lowered his head to drink I went to correct him but my saddle had come loose. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction; as I pulled on the rain my saddle instead slid along Fella’s thin pony-like neck and I went catapulting in to the water – to everyone’s surprise. To Dave it looked as though I had just dived from fella’s back into the water. Fella half spooked and then seemingly worrying it might have been his fault transitioned into a sort of sheepish dance. All this I missed. I was on all fours in a pool of water more angry than amused – but at whom?

31st August
Rest day but with a difference: we decided to keep camp in the same place but still go riding. After a leisurely start we left Buzz at camp hoovering up grass. The rest of us went exploring up through the forest and then after lunch we took our horses a short distance to do some trotting and cantering practice. A good session that left both of us feeling the improvement but also looking forward to having lessons again. Such is the way of adventure : you enjoy the freedom but then appreciate some instruction; you enjoy the wild but then enjoy the comfort; you enjoy the small becoming big and the big becoming small but then are happy to revert.

We also gave bareback riding a go. Three comments: the back bone is a lot harder and the body so much more wobbly without a saddle; I have new respect for the Mongolian horseman; It was extremely useful as a lesson.

Then something odd happened. Three Mongolians came strolling randomly up our deserted valley – a stroll, in the rain. They came straight to our camp but where then a little standoffish more interested in our horses and how many people we were. Two then wandered behind our camp to circle round (through a marsh) we shared tea with one and he then wandered off. Perplexed we wandered after them and found them round a corner sitting in a 4×4.

Odd? definitely! Suspicious? maybe – we had heard horse thieves can be a problem though they didn’t quite seem the type.

In the end we waited till dusk and quickly and quietly packed camp and made up through the trees as twilight fell. It was a likeable and short ride till we were up, far up and off away from the path in the dense trees. There is just so much space to lose yourseld in here!

We sat somewhat cautiously listening into the blackness of the nighttime forest, hearing the sound of dogs, or something, howling far off and had more of a dozing nights sleep with the crack of twigs through the night.

I write this the morning after sitting on a log as the sun starts to warm us and the ridge sits like an island in the mist which floods the valley below.


1st September
The wildlife here has been sparse but the sightings regular and good. A deer, horses , falcons, eagles and vultures. Today we saw a woodpecker : black, large with a red crest, American style. Chipmunk, rabbits and hares, weasels and various small rodents too.

A steady descent and a couple of long trots brought us here, a little higher, tucked over the ridge from our very first camp. The views from the summit 5 mins away and the ridge 5 seconds away are tremendous and look down on the road to Terelj and the wide river. We have phone signal for the first time in weeks.

It doesn’t matter how long you stay somewhere there is always the last night and it often feels the same. An odd eagerness to get on with it, to get it done. But the time has gone quick. It hasn’t felt like more than two weeks out here.

2nd September
We woke to drizzle. Packed up steadily – easier with no food (and no toilet paper) left. For the first time we packed with home in mind. And then away. A quick descent 45 mins of fun trotting over muddy tracks and streams in the rain – comfortable and settled now. And then the river. A quick re-tie of the bags and re-cinch of saddles then straight across. Easy. Wet jodhpurs and boots though. Not quite as elegant as the Mongolian girl who came after kneeling up on the horse’s back to keep dry. More natural though than the 4×4 that seemed to get washed away before emerging raucously. And our truck was there in time! 2.5 hours later we are back at camp – Buzz sticking his head out, visible in the wing mirror the whole way back – on our right side as he has been so often.

 

And the goodbye? A quick once over by one of the camp guys and before you know it bridles were off and they were bare, wild horses again. For a few hours we could see them grazing as a little three before they were swept up again , nameless, as part of the herd.