Khuvsgul Dogsled Expedition – Mongolia 2009

The Khuvsgul Dogsled Expedition 2009 paid tribute to the Mongolian nomads and the wild beauty of this country.

Dogs have always been an integral part of Mongolian nomadic life, but only after French Joel Rauzy came with his dogs to Mongolia dog sledding began to catch on as a Mongolian winter activity.

The Khuvgsgul Dogsled Expedition 2009 circled the Khuvsgul Lake, baptized “the blue pearl of Mongolia”, during a 15 days long dogsled expedition.

On the trail we met and stayed with the local nomadic people, paying tribute to and learning from their knowledge and wisdom to survive in these typical, sometimes harsh circumstances.
We also achieved the winter ascent of the Munkh Saridag (3492)

The treasure of Mongolia is not only in its beautiful landscapes… The treasure of Mongolia is the country itself, its roots, history and traditions. Mongolia is one of the last nomadic countries in the entire World. Nevertheless the population is becoming sedentary, the nomadic way of life, result of thousands of years of experience, is disappearing… And by the same way the economy is changing drastically, the society is searching itself for a new way of life.

Raising awareness for the Climate Change – also in Mongolia!

Mongolia, temperatures rising twice as fast as global average!! Clyde Goulden, a researcher from Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences who is studying the ecology of Lake Hovsgol, notes that higher temperatures have already begun thawing the permafrost and disturbing the soil structure around the region’s fragile trees.

Mongolia has been hit especially hard by global warming, with temperatures rising, on average, twice as fast as the global average – winter temperatures have jumped 3.6°C over the last 60 years.

The grasslands are on the verge of ecological collapse. The environmental problems are closing in on two fronts at once.” Dubbed the “blue pearl” for its pristine state, Lake Hovsgol, besieged on two fronts by harmful land-use patterns and the effects of global warming, risks tipping into an “alternative stable state”:

“This transformation could be a one-way ticket. A long-standing question in ecology is whether communities of species can be tipped into “alternative stable states.” The steppe grasslands, for example, have proved for millennia to be a robust solution to life in cold, dry Mongolia. But once widespread conversion to semi-desert occurs, it might be virtually impossible to reverse.
In the taiga, even a temporary loss of permafrost, combined with extreme drought and fires, might be a point of no return.

The receding permafrost has left large areas of ground uncovered, accelerating soil warming and chipping away at the taiga forest. Spurred on by the region’s wildfires, which have been steadily increasing over the last few years, and droughts, the region’s remaining swaths of forest and grasslands risk being lost in a single summer – leaving behind a spare, “semi deserted” ecosystem. Looking back on our dogsled expedition

Looking back on a fantastic expedition

Whaw, how privileged have I been to live this wild and beautiful experience” is the feeling I have, back home and looking to find my old habits and occupations. Our Mongolian “Khuvsgul Dogsled expedition” was an experience we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

Getting to the starting point was an expedition itself, 700 kilometers on roads, only existing on the roadmap of Mongolia, several flat tires and other mechanical problems were all part of it. The driver was the last to worry about all this.

A bit shaken and well stirred we started our dogsled expedition on Mongolia’s Blue Pearl, at the outskirts of Khatgal, heading North for Khankh, near the Russian border.The weather was unexpectedly mild, temperatures just below, and sometimes slightly above zero felt incredibly warm because of the dry air, the always present sunshine and the absence of the feared Khuvsgul winds.

Nevertheless, once the sun set behind the spectacular mountain ranges, temperatures dropped suddenly and without mercy to minus 15 and less (during the night).

Untitled-27The nomads we met on our way were proud because of the interest we showed in their lifestyle and culture and they overwhelmed us with their hospitality and respect for our endeavor.

We talked over and over about the surprisingly ‘strange’ weather; on how these totally new situations change their lives. Timeframes known for generations are all of a sudden becoming ‘dangerous’. The nomadic herders need the frozen rivers to move their herds for the winter camps to the summer camps. They seem to have to move sooner every year. Of course the nomads notice something is happening, but as these people have been “trained” over the generations to be inventive, flexible and open minded to adapt to whatever they get to deal with, they do not complain too much and adapt accordingly.

Once we arrived in Khankh, the pressure built up quickly as we prepared for the winter ascent of the Munkh Saridagh. With the approval of the local Shaman, we started the climb. We first took a horse ride to the mountain foot. We offloaded the horses and got our gear ready to give it a go.

From the beginning, the steep approach was hard on our bodies, lots of rocks and stones made the climb exhausting and technically difficult. At about 2500 m the altitude and heavy backpack took their toll on our bodies and the progress was slow.

On a ridge at about 3200m we installed our base camp and had a meal before hitting the sack under a minus 25 C full moon sky.

The following day we reached the peak at 12:10

After the well-deserved pictures we immediately started the descent, back to where we had left the horses behind. The herders welcomed us with respect and deep joy.

Our way back to Khatgal, this time via the eastern shore of the Blue Pearl wasn’t any easier than the other side. The ice conditions, a very fine layer, melting and freezing over and over again, never seen before and of course due to the too-mild temperatures, was extremely hard on the dogs and we permanently had to put make them wear new self-made “booties”.

Also more and more crevasses and stretches of open water had to be handled with care.

The arrival at Khatgal and the logical end of the expedition was as joyful as abrupt and even a bit painful. You can’t prepare for this moment: Although you feel somewhat proud and happy you achieved the goals, but all of a sudden all the adrenaline is gone and you don’t know quite well what to do or even what to say or think.

Mongolians, I am thankful to have witnessed the beauty of your country, please handle it with care. Throughout the expeditions we have seen strange weather phenomena’s and the nomads confirmed our observations. More abrupt changes in the Mongolians and global climate could mean disaster. Mongolia has everything to become an ecological example for the rest of the world, if….

If the future economic goals go hand in hand with a strive for an ecological balance.

Kiki, Bayana and Joël, you were a dream team, thank you!


Khuvsgul dogsled expedition 2009