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Snowstorms in the desert

From Dalansadgad to Gurvan-Saikhan nuruu

all seasons in one day 8 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

We headed to a national park called ‚Gurvan-Saikhan Nuruu‘ (the three beautiful ridges) to see a beautiful canyon. After a couple of hundred meters of hiking into the deep cut valley, with lots of rock formations along the way that resembled various animals, we suddenly hit snow. By the time we reached the end of the canyon, we were walking on a thick layer of snow that reached from one side of the canyon to the other. And then there was a massive frozen waterfall - an amazing sight knowing that in fact we’re in the middle of the Gobi Desert. I must admit that I usually associate desert with heat, sand and lack of water – and in this case, none of those three elements proved to be true.

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For sure it was not hot. Rather the opposite: we were freezing not only due to the low temperatures, but more so because of the heavy wind. Faced by weather like that, we took a quick decision to discard the plan to camp that night and to rather check if we can find a ger / yurt to sleep in for the night.
And indeed, we were lucky: we found a great looking yurt for the night. Inside it was very comfortable and – thanks to the oven that was fired with camel dung – pleasantly warm. Fitted with four beds surrounding a low table, we had all that we needed for an enjoyable night. While we marveled at the nicely decorated construction elements of the yurt. It can be assembled of disassembled in just an hour if there are a couple of people helping together and the various parts can be easily transported even by a camel or horses – the perfect home for a family of nomads that is moving to three of four different pastures in the course of a year.
Outside it was so windy, that Max and Sam had perfect conditions to test the paper planes they’ve built. One of the two models they built, flew a couple of hundred meters! And it was not just windy, but also extremely cold, temperatures around freezing. Walking the distance from the outhouse back to our yurt against the wind proved to be quite a challenge and we were more than happy to have such a comfortable home for the night.

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The next morning did not bring any relief in regards to wind or temperatures. Rather the opposite: as we headed out of the ger camp, we found ourselves in the midst of a snowstorm in which the snow came towards us sideways.
Despite the awful weather, we wanted to explore today’s destination, the Lammergeier Canyon anyhow. All of us dressed with as many layers of clothing as we had and then we headed out. It was freezing. It did not help that most of the canyon floor was still covered by a thick layer of snow and ice, allowing the wind to chill down even further.

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We realized only after hiking into the canyon for quite a bit that coming back out was actually much worse: being cold already from the first part of the hike, now we had the wind in our face and soon felt that it was not just wind. It had picked up significant amounts of sand and we soon found ourselves spitting out the sand in regular intervals.

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All of us were more than relieved to finally make it back to the relative warmth of the car. And lucky us that we had the protection of the car: on our way back down towards the entrance gate, we got caught in a small sandstorm twisting its way up through the valley. We would not have wanted to be in that unprotected.
While the museum of the national park was not heated, it still felt extremely comfortable due to the absence of wind. We used a traditional Mongolian horoscope: by throwing four small bones, we got to count how many sheep, camels, horses and goats we rolled. Depending on the outcome, we were able to predict our future. It was fun, even though some of the predicted results left us puzzling what they actually meant. That was fun. But yes, we also toured the museum to see which animals and birds to look out for in the national park in the coming days.
Given the cold and the storm, it was not even a discussion if we should camp tonight. We all agreed that a ger would be a much better and warmer choice. So just outside the Lammergeier Canyon we headed to a small group of yurts and moved our stuff in for the night. Our plan was to have lunch and just to wait in the ger to see how the weather would develop.
Well, once again our plan did not work out: the owner of the ger was afraid to light the oven due to the heavy wind. And we were not able to light our gas stove, as somehow the gas bottle was leaking. Fortunately, we had a full thermos of hot water from this morning, which we were able to use for making hot instant soup. While we were eating, we repeatedly were afraid that the yurt would not resist the heavy wind and take off. The few times someone was opening the door, we were able to see the snow storm raging outside – with the snow coming sideways vs. from above. Eventually we realized, that the plan of staying in a yurt was not good enough for the storm we were facing.

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A couple of phone calls later, Amgaa identified a new option for us: he found a hotel room for us in the nearby town of Bayandalai. We were relieved: even if the hotel room was not heated, it would at least stand up to the wind and we’d be safe. Still, sitting in the heated car, none of us was keen to leave it and we used the excuse that Max had fallen asleep to sit there for another while until he woke up.
In the little hotel we also met another Austrian / German couple. It was fun chatting with them. They are traveling the world for six months and we had many similar experiences to chat about.
After dinner, the fierce wind finally stopped and gave Sam and Max a chance to head outside to the playground. I used the opportunity to have power available (as unfortunately the inverter we got to load our laptop via the car lighter did not work) to use the laptop and get some typing done. Even though we might not be having a possibility to upload any blog entries in the next couple of days, I still tried to stay somewhat up to date.

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The next morning we headed off towards the singing dune ‚Khongoryn els‘. The storm had stopped the night before and we had no problems on our 130km drive. Well, the track was fairly bad, but that just what you get when trying to travel the backroads of Mongolia.

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Shortly before we arrived, it starting snowing again. Amgaa found the right track without any issues such that we arrived in time for lunch at the nomads we’d be staying at for the next two nights. Uelzi and his family welcomed us in their own big yurt. As per local custom, we were offered milk tea and the snuffbox.
They had just arrived in their summer camp three days earlier, but the yurt was fully furnished and everything had his place as if it would have been there for ages. Even though we did not understand Mongolian, Oogii did an excellent job in translating what was going on for us. We learned that Uelzi’s nephew had hurt his elbow in a wrestling match with his cousin. We were able to provide him with some paracetamol and it did not take long that his face looked much more relaxed.
In the meantime, Uelzi’s wife prepared lunch for us. She cooked rice in black tea and then added dried camel meat. The soup tasted much better than expected. The only challenge was the chewy consistency of the meat that made it difficult to eat without the use of a sharp knife.

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Even though the snow storm had stopped while we were in the hosts’ yurt, it continued being very cold outside. So we spent the remainder of the day in our own yurt. We fired the oven and it got nice and cozy inside. The only notable exception was around sunset. The colors were so nice that not even the cold could keep us inside. Still, once enough photos were taken and the atmosphere absorbed, we all huddled around the oven again.

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To make sure we’re not running out of fuel for our oven, Sam and Max spent the next morning collecting camel dung. Once they had collected six big rice bags full of dung, they figured that it should be enough to last not only us until the next day.
Around lunch time, Uelzi took us on a ride with his camels. We were sitting comfortably between the two humps of the camel. That was also quite warm – contrary to the outside temperatures. The slow swinging movements of the camels took a bit of getting used to, but were very relaxing.

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To celebrate an already great day, Sam prepared Kaiserschmarrn for all of us. In retrospect eating that much Kaiserschmarrn was not a very smart idea. After all, we headed out towards the sand dunes that afternoon. And let me tell you: hiking up 200 meters of altitude on a steep sand dune is exhausting no matter what. But with a full stomach it is even more of a challenge.

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Sam had a short moment of shock when suddenly his camera was not taking any pictures. It took him a couple of minutes of shaking the camera in all directions and suddenly it worked again. It would have been a very unpleasant thought to also lose Sam’s camera just a few days after our mobile phone gave up on us. Not having any possibility at all to take pictures of the remainder of our trip to Mongolia would not have been good at all.

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It was warm enough such that we could head up the dune without shoes and just with our socks. But as we neared the top of the dune, we realized that we were not the only ones heading up there: we suddenly saw a cow up there at the top of the dune in the sand. By the time we got up to the top ourselves, it was gone. And due to the strong wind, there were no marks remaining to tell which way it had gone.

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On our way up, we were also treated to the spectacular ‘singing’ of the dunes. Actually, it was more of a humming sound, a bit similar to the noise of airplane turbines. The sound is created by the wind blowing the sand down the dunes. But we were suddenly creating it ourselves when heading up through the deep loose sand of dune. There was so much sand coming down as we moved upwards that we even felt the vibration of the sand and the associated sound. Very cool!
As the top of the dune we had a great view in all directions. Sam got a bit jealous when four motorbikers turned up and starting riding in the dunes. But the nice atmosphere at sunset compensated him.

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It was really nice in the dunes as the sun went down. But the colorful evening continued much longer and back at Uelzi’s place, Sam got some nice motives with the yurts and the camels in the last light.

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And with all the sand we had on us, we all enjoyed a bucket shower before going to bed.
We were sorry to leave the next morning, as we had truly enjoyed our stay with Uelzi and his family. And even though it had been pleasant to stay in yurts and hotels during the last couple of nights, we were looking forward to do some camping again. At least the weather forecast was favorable, so we were hoping that it would hold true.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 02:28 Archived in Mongolia Tagged snow desert canyon storm museum sand dune cold yurt

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