Your Cart is Empty

Walking On Ice - Mongolia Part One

April 10, 2024

Walking On Ice - Mongolia Part One

Written by Mont Ambassador Geoff Murray 

In March this year I boarded a plane in Hong Kong. The temperature was a balmy 23°C. Four and a half hours later I stepped off that plane into -14°C at Chinggis Khan Airport near Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

March in Mongolia is late winter and my destination was a lake in northern Mongolia called Lake Khovsgol. This lake stretches north 135kms from the village of Khatgal to within 25kms of the Russian border. In the savage Mongolian winter, where temperatures can drop below -50°C, the surface of the whole lake freezes to a depth of approximately 1.1 metres. Cars and trucks are able to drive on the lake which is quite a unique feeling when first experienced.

After spending a couple of days looking around Ulaanbaatar (with temperatures hovering around -20°C), I caught a bus to the city of Murun, almost 800kms away. This was a long bus ride by any standards, 13 hours, but at least it was cheap.....AU$28 :)

At Murun I was met by a driver from the guesthouse I would be staying at in Khatgal and we drove the 100kms north to the village. This was the first meeting of a man who I grew to have implicit faith in when driving on the ice. 25 years of ice driving experience enabled him to read the ice like a book and eventually we drove 270kms together on the frozen surface. Sometimes, at 10kph as we negotiated pressure ridges and cracks in the frozen surface, at other times at remarkably high speeds, at one stage we even slipped up to 150kph......!

The cold in Mongolia is deceptive. It was always strange to feel your nose hairs freezing the moment you walked outside, and yet at the same time it didn’t really feel cold, certainly not as much as I expected. Of course, I was wearing plenty of Mont clothing.  Mont Polartec thermals, Slinx Polartec Powerstretch top, and my toasty warm Icicle jacket. Mittens were essential.

Every now and again I would be reminded that it really was quite cold. I walked out of the wash house at the guesthouse one day with wet fingers and when they touched the outside metal door handle they instantly stuck to the handle like superglue....

I went for a walk around Khatgal, a village of less than 3,000 people which is slowly becoming more and more tourist based. I had a companion on the walk, a dog called Max who could easily pass as a wolf. A magnificent dog and great company.             

After a couple of days preparation I had my sled packed and my driver drove me down to the lake and dropped me off.

The plan was to basically go for an extended wander on the lake, camping both on the ice and the lake shore.

I started walking up the lake and within half an hour a pair of dogs had joined me. The Mongolian dogs I met were almost universally very friendly and this pair was no different. I only walked for a couple of hours before setting up camp in a really pleasant spot 10kms from Khatgal.

Walking on the ice requires wearing Microspikes which worked brilliantly. Apart from providing great traction they also didn’t alter the characteristics of walking normally in my boots so extended periods walking with them was completely comfortable.

One of the features of this walk was that of the 7 days I walked the lake, every single day I had 1 or 2 dogs walking with me and sleeping outside the tent. Being a dog lover this was very special to me and really added to the trip.

The first night the temperature dropped to a quite mild -17.6°C and naturally I was warm in my Spindrift 1000 bag which was rated to -25°C.

My sleeping arrangement for this trip was a bit different from my usual sleep setup. At very low temperatures, moisture from the body will freeze before exiting the sleeping bag, resulting in the gradual build up of a layer of ice inside the bag’s shell. To prevent this from happening, a waterproof shell, a vapour barrier liner, is used inside the bag, effectively isolating the bag from any moisture. I was pleasantly surprised at just how comfortable this was. I had been expecting to wake up each morning looking like a prune but that wasn’t the case. I wore my thermals and socks in the sleeping bag and there was no clamminess at all.

Naturally my sleeping bag hood was cinched all the way down with just a small breathing hole and that was totally coated in ice in the morning but once the bag was draped over the tent in the sunshine any ice soon sublimated off.

The next day I loaded my gear up and headed off north with my two furry friends in tow. This day there was a lot of snow on the lake and dragging the sled through it was very tiring.

I eventually came to an abandoned hut on the lake shore and set my tent up next to it. Setting the tent up when using a sled is particularly quick. I had fixed the double tent poles in the eyelets on one side of my Supercell EX tunnel tent using cable ties. This meant that when I collapsed the tent, I just slid the tent material half way along the poles, folded the poles more or less in half then rolled the tent up like a sausage. The rolled tent was stored inside a silnylon bag and strapped onto the top of the sled. Putting it up only took a few short minutes, something that can be very important if conditions go south.

And it doesn’t take much. During the last kilometre of this day’s walk a breeze sprang up. Only 8-10 knots but at -15°C I found that my cheeks and nose rapidly went numb so I had to cover my face as I walked until reaching the hut.

The night was the coldest of the trip, -25.3°C but it didn’t really seem much colder than the previous night. One dog left through the night, the other one slept happily outside.

It’s a tedious process emerging from the tent in the morning. Once out of the sleeping bag, and trying not to bump the inner of the tent which results in a shower of freezing hoar frost, I would don my Bimberi trousers over my thermals then my Mont High Altitude trousers, followed by the Slinx top and my Icicle jacket. This gave me an instant layer of warmth. Inner socks next, a plastic bag over each sock as a vapour barrier then warm outer socks over the bag before putting my boots on. I wore a fleece balaclava in the sleeping bag and i would put my Fjellraven insulated, fur rimmed hat on over that, a pair of mittens and I was ready to exit the tent.

I had picked up a respiratory infection a couple of days earlier and this knocked my energy levels quite a lot. As a result, my daily distance dropped and I didn’t walk huge distances each day. I walked a further day north before turning south and heading back down the lake.

I had just finished dinner before receiving a message from the owner of the guesthouse to say that I had some bad weather coming for a couple of days. I decided to call for a pick up to wait the weather out. It’s odd being able to do that, but there didn’t seem any sense in having to sit in the tent for a couple of days waiting for the weather to clear. A couple of hours later I was sitting in front of a log fire at the guesthouse sipping a vodka :)

Part one done.


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in The Mont Blog

Making the most of Earth Day 2024
Making the most of Earth Day 2024

April 03, 2024

As we celebrate Earth Day 2024, let's celebrate this beautiful planet that we all love exploring. Whether you are attending local events, participating in activities from home or simply taking a moment in the great outdoors to appreciate nature, your actions matter. Together, we can protect and preserve this planet for generations to come.
Read More
Annapurna Base Camp Trek: Planning your trip
Annapurna Base Camp Trek: Planning your trip

April 03, 2024

The Annapurna Base Camp trek is one of Nepal’s most spectacular high altitude hiking routes! Plan your trip with some of our helpful tips.  
Read More
Climbing Lurking Fear- El Capitan, Yosemite
Climbing Lurking Fear- El Capitan, Yosemite

March 26, 2024

I had climbed El Cap before, but this adventure held a special significance, as I was sharing it with my brother, Joe. The bond between us, forged through countless shared experiences, made this journey all the more meaningful and reminded me of the value of family and shared passions. The beauty of Yosemite Valley served as a backdrop to a cherished memory in the making. 
Read More