Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mongolia | Khövsgöl Aimag | Darkhad Depression #3

I rose just as the last stars were fading from the sky. Only Jupiter still glowed brightly over the southwest horizon. I kindled the fire, brewed up a pot of Puerh Tea, and sat on my carpet drinking tea as the sky shaded from pearly gray to azure, with not a cloud from horizon to horizon. Two hours later everyone was finally up and we discussed your plans for the day. Batmönkh said the source of the Mungaragiin Gol was just over a low pass to the southwest, where Jupiter had been shining in the morning. The route to our next destination, the source of the Khoogiin, however, was over the pass at the head of the valley we were in, to the northwest. He now suggested that Bayarkhüü and I ride to the source of the Mungaragiin ourselves while he and the others stayed in camp. When we returned we would break camp and cross the pass to the northwest. This way we would not have to backtrack with the pack horses. I agree to this. Yooton announces that she does not want to miss out on anything and will come along with Bayarkhüü and me. That’s fine with me.
Valley of the Mungaragiin, with Belchir Uul in the distance (click on photos for enlargements)
The low pass is only about a mile and a half away. To the left, down the valley of the Mungaragiin Gol, can be seen Mungaragiin Nuur (lake). At the valley, at its head, we get our first glimpse of 10,994-foot Belchir Uul, the highest peak of the mountains to the west of the Darkhad Depression. The source of the Mungaragiin Gol is right at the base of this mountain. Heading upstream, we ride by a small lake dotted with sea gulls. Had they come from the ocean? The Arctic Ocean is over 2000 miles away to the north. Further on is another small lake, this one still almost completely ice covered.
First Lake
We ride on another half mile to yet another small lake. According to my map, there are several small ponds still further on in the cirque directly below Belchir Uul, but there is no water flowing down the rocky ravine above the third lake we are on. The ponds apparently drain underground into this lake. Thus the outlet of the lake is, at least at this time of the year, the source of Mungaragiin Gol.
Horses at Second Lake 
Source of the Mungaragiin Gol, and one of three sources of the Yenisei
10,994-foot Belchir Uul
The Mungaragiin Gol, I have determined, is one of sources of the Yenisei River System. The Mungaragiin flows west of here and combines with the Guna Gol to form the Bakhmakh Gol, which we had crossed on the way to Batmönkh’s Ger. According to most sources, including Batmönkh, the Bakhmakh combines with the Altgana Gol, flowing in from the mountains to the east of the Depression, to form the Shishigt Gol, which then flows into Tsagaan Nuur. Some say the river known as the Shishigt Gol begins not at confluence of the Bakhmakh and Altgana but at the outlet of the Tsagaan Nuur. In either case, the Shishigt Gol flows out of Tsagaan Nuur and continues west to the Russian border, where it combines with the Busiin Gol and the Bilin Gol to form the Kyzyl Khem. The Kyzyl Khem then continues west to the city of Kyzyl, capital of the autonomous repubic of Tuva, where it combines with the Biy Khem to form the Yenisei proper. The National Geographic Atlas of the World lists both the Biy Khem and the Kyzyl Khem-Shishigt as the two sources of the main branch of the Yenisei (zoom in on the Lake Khövsgöl area of the map).

In 1993 I had hiked some sixty miles to the source of the Biy Khem in the extremely remote East Sayan Mountains in the Autonomous Republic of Tuva. A geographer at the Russian Academy Sciences in Irkutsk, in Siberia, where I was living at the time, had opined to me that this was the real source of the main branch of river known as the Yenisei, since the Biy Khem is bigger than the Kyzyl Khem in terms of volume of water where the two come together. But he allowed that the actual drainage area of the Kyzyl Khem system was larger than that of the Biy Khem so it too had a claim to be the source of the Yenisei. It should be pointed out that there is no scientific definition of the source of a river system, and almost any finding is open to interpretation; hence the long running dispute over the source of Nile, for example, which ended up with One Of The Disputants getting so frustrated he allegedly committed suicide.
Source of the Yenisei-Biy Khem in the East Sayan Mountains, in the Autonomous Republic of Tuva
In any case, it would appear that the outlet of the lake where we are now standing is at least one of the sources of the Yenisei. The location is N50º51.382' / E098.41.223' and the altitude is 7,802 feet. One atlas (no two agree) states the Yenisei branch of the Yenisei River System is 2537 miles long, although it neglects to mention which source it is using as the beginning of the river.

But the hydrology of the Yenisei River System is extremely complicated. Where the westward flowing Angara River, the big, fast-flowing river that runs out of Lake Baikal in Siberia, and the northward flowing Yenisei branch of the river system combine, the Angara is almost twice as big in terms of water volume. Thus by some definitions the ultimate source of the Yenisei River System would be at the beginning of the Angara branch of the system. The largest river flowing into Baikal is the Selenga (Selenge, in Mongolia). The Selenge, in turn, starts at the confluence of the Delger Mörön and Ider rivers in Mongolia. Since the Ider is bigger in terms of water volume its source would be the beginning the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge branch of the Yenisei River System. The Times [of London] World Atlas considers the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge the main branch of the river system and gives its length as 3448 miles, considerably longer than the Yenisei-Biy Khem branch. And it is not clear if the 281 mile-long Ider is included in this measurement. If not then this branch would measure 3729 miles long. This would be in line with the figure of 3742 miles given to me by the geographer in Irkutsk for the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge-Ider. In either case, it would rank as either the fifth or sixth longest river in the world, depending on which atlas we consult. In terms of water volume it is the Largest North-Flowing River in the world. In 1997 I visited Zavkhan Aimag and rode three days by horse to the source of the Ider, which I located near 11,873-foot Öndör Ölziit Uul, at an elevation of 9,880 feet, as described in my book Travels in Northern Mongolia.
Source of the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge-Ider Gol in Khangai Mountains, Zavkhan Aimag
Another view of the source of the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge-Ider Gol
As we sit by the outlet of the lake, the source of the Mungaragiin Gol, I explain all this to Yooton, who sweet girl that she is listens patiently and nods knowingly every so often to indicate that she is paying attention. I suspect she does not have the slightest interest in what I am talking about. Not everyone shares my fascination with the sources of rivers. Finally I ask Bayarkhüü if this lake has a name. He says not to his knowledge. I say that I will name this lake. This morning I had been teasing Yooton, calling her moo busgui (bad girl) since she had been the last one to get up every morning so far. I now christen the lake Moo Busgui Nuur (Bad Girl Lake). “I am not a bad girl! I am a good girl!” she insists. Whatever, I say, you now have a lake named after you. Finally it is time to leave. Two hours later we are back in camp where Nergui has a kettle of Yunnan Gold and dinner ready for us. Now I have now been to all three sources of the Yenisei River.
Three sources of the Yenisei River (base map courtesy of The Encyclopedia of Earth)

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