Showing posts with label Khövsgöl Aimag. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Khövsgöl Aimag. Show all posts

Monday, June 8, 2020

Mongolia | Khövsgöl Aimag | Darkhad Depression #4

After our late lunch we continue northwest up the valley of the Ikh Cöögt towards 8,550-foot Deed Khets Davaa. The snow-drift lined pass is broad and long, a miniature plateau actually, almost a mile long. Finally we come to an ovoo, seventy feet lower than the highest point of the pass, which overlooks the Buural Gol valley. From here we walk our horses down through a larch forest just over 1300 vertical feet to the banks of the Buural Gol, a major tributary of the Khoogin Gol, whose source is our next desination. The Buural Gol starts about five miles from here, just northwest of Belchir Uul.The Mungaragiin Gol, which we have just come from starts just to the west of Belchir Uul. Another river, the Delger Mörön, starts just south of Belchir Uul and flows southwestward to eventually combine with the Ider to form the Selenge Gol, Lake Baikal’s largest tributary. Thus at the base of Belchir Uul, the nexus of the knot of mountains we are in, begin rivers which flow both into both the Shishigt-Kyzyl-Khem-Yenisei and the Ider-Selenge-Angara-Yenisei branches of the Yenisei River System.
Looking up the Buural Gol Valley from the western end of Deed Khets Davaa (click on photos for enlargements)
Upper Buural Gol Valley
Beginning the descend into the valley of the Buural Gol
Looking toward the source of the Buural Gol. Belchir Uul is hidden between the ridges to the left.
It occurs to me that the area we are in might well qualify as the “Heart of Asia.” Now I admit that the epithet “the Heart of Asia” is much overworked. The seed of this chestnut might well be Sir Francis “Guns to Lhasa” Younghusband’s 1896 The Heart of a Continent.” It may have reached its full flowering in Nicholas Roerich’s 1929 Heart of Asia and continues to bloom in titles like The Lost Heart of Asia and The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia and The Heart of Asia: A History of Russian Turkestan and the Central Asian Khanates from the Earliest Times and Through the Heart of Asia: Over the Pamïr to India. If I had the time and inclination I could compile a list of dozens more books and articles which somehow manage to drag in the phrase “the heart of Asia.” Indeed, years ago I had made a silent vow that when writing about this area I would never, under any circumstances, resort to the phrase “the heart of Asia.” But if any place actually deserves the epithet “the heart of Asia”—or at least that part of Asia north of Himalayas—it is this knot of mountains centered around Belchir Uul. On its slopes begin rivers which feed both major branches of the Yenisei River System, the largest north-flowing river in the world and the main artery of northern Asia.

I am still ruminating on this as we head down the Buural Valley. Soon we come upon a hunter’s shelter made a logs where Batmönkh says we will stop for the night. Hunters from Ulaan Uul come here in winter time to hunt deer, he says. He himself has stayed here in his younger days, when he was an avid hunter, but he says that now he now longer hunts. Immediately claiming the shelter for myself I spread out my carpet and sleeping bag inside, then get a fire going up brew and up a much needed pot of Yunnan Black. Actually is it the time of the day for Formosa Oolong, but after the strenuous descent on foot from Deed Khets Davaa I thought something a bit more robust and reinvigorating was called for.

We all sit and drink tea as Nergui prepares dinner. She points out that I neglected to bring a spatula along with my cooking gear. She had been using the dipper as a spatula but it really was not satisfactory for her culinary endeavors. Not to worry, says Batmönkh, he will make a spatula. First he cuts out a foot-long section of a log with his axe, then splits the section in two. From one of the halves he splits off an inch-thick slab. This he roughly shapes with an axe. Then with one of my Xinjiang Black Steel Knives that he has taken a liking to (I had fortuitously put a razor-sharp edge on it using a Arkansas Whetstone back in UB) he carefully whittles a very serviceable spatula. Nergui is tickled pink with her new implement, which she quickly utilizes to cook up a big patch of tsuvin, or fried noodles with beef and vegetables.
Batmönkh concentrates on carving a new spatula
Batmönkh understandably proud of his new spatula. I now use it in the kitchen of my hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi.
Nergui making gambir—fried flat breads
Batmönkh and Yooton in the hunters’ shelter. I claimed it for the night.
Nergui emerging from her tent after a night of sound sleep
The next morning the peaks at the head of the valley are shrouded in gray clouds and mist and rain seems imminent. Batmönkh says we must hurry as it will probably snow on the pass and it could get real nasty by late afternoon.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Mongolia | Khövsgöl Aimag | Darkhad Depression #5

We head down the left bank of the Buural Gol through thick taiga to its confluence with the Ulaan Ongo Gol. The source of the Ulaan Ongo, seven or eight miles upstream from here, is only about a mile and a half from the source of the Khoogiin Gol, where we are headed, but Batmönkh says the head of the Ulaan Ongo Gol dead ends in impassable cliffs, making it impossible to reach the Khoogiin Gol from there. Instead we will head farther down the Buural and follow a small tributary of the Buural to a pass leading to the Khoogiin. The trail meanders through thick stands of willows and larch. At places the Buural Gol flows under ten-foot thick-football field-sized slabs of ice which Batmönkh says never melt during the summer.

Soon we come to the small unnamed tributary tumbling down a deep ravine to the left. We turn off and follow a vague trail up the right side of the ravine up through a thick larch forest. The misting rain slowly builds into a steady shower. Up ahead, through the mists and clouds, we can make out the snow already falling on the pass.

The trail gets steeper and steeper and we have to make many detours around fallen timber. On one particularly steep section Batmönkh, who is riding right behind me, shouts, “your girth strap has come loose.” He no sooner says this than my horse lunges upward over the steep trail. I feel the saddle sliding beneath me and I topple off the right side of the horse. The horse, with the saddle dangling underneath its belly by the front strap, goes berserk, bucking like a rodeo bronco. Hanging onto the lead rope I am dragging a couple of yards before the horse makes a final lunge and jerks the rope out of my hand. The horse promptly starts trotting back down the trail the way we come. Bayarkhüü rides off in hot pursuit. This is not good. After running off like this horses are notoriously hard to catch again, and especially by one person, like Bayarkhüü, on the thickly-forested side of a ravine. Batmönkh finds the saddle and inspecting it discovers that the girth strap had broken off where it attaches to the saddle. It is not clear, however, if this happened before or after the saddle came off.

After a half an hour Bayarkhüü appears with my horse in tow. My opinion of his horse-handling skills, already high, soars. Batmönkh jerry-rigs the strap back onto the saddle with a scrap of rope—some essential part, I can’t make out what, is missing—and soon we are back on the trail. Another half hour later we emerge from the taiga onto the tundra leading to the pass.
On the tundra below the pass (click on photos for enlargements)
Looking back the way we came
As we approach 8356-foot Khushit Khem Pass it starts snowing in earnest, big wet flakes which quickly soak through the deels of the horsemen, who have no rain gear. They hurry on across the pass. I linger behind with Nergui, who has no raingear either, but seems oblivious to the snow.
Nergui at 8356-foot Khushit Khem Pass. This is in the middle of June.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mongolia | Khövsgöl Aimag | Source of the Yenisei River

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 (eight year-old "Autumn Di Jie" brand puerh tea from Yunnan Province, China, with earthy hints of tobacco and chocolate), 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 our 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 the 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 Wanders 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 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)