Around mid-morning we came across a small lake that was dotted with Whooper Swans. It was also home to a couple of Shell Ducks and other unidentified water birds.
Leaving the cars, we walked through White Grass to get a closer look at the birds.
Whooper Swans, Cygnus cygnus, are all white with black legs and distinctive yellow on their beaks. Cygnets are grey. Pairs mate for life. First described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, these are very heavy birds and need long stretches of water to be able to take off to fly.
Beyond the lake rose the snow covered hills that were our destination.
Reeds reflected in the almost still water.
Driving further into those hills, we enjoyed more wonderful scenery.
Finally, we came to the starting place for the walking part of this adventure. There waiting for us were the Bactrian camels and horses that would accompany us while we trekked through the Kharkhiraa and Yurgen massif area. The camels would be loaded with all of our trekking gear, camp needs, food and tents. They were to be a vital part of our trek.
The cream coloured Bactrian was the crankiest of the camel team.
Up close she was better looking than most camels but a bit aloof.
Horses also waited patiently for their passengers. Two of the group had chosen to ride rather than walk for the four days of our trek and they had previously ordered these horses. I, like the others, would walk most of the way. Other ‘riders’ rode for part of the way, sharing a couple of horses.
Before we farewelled our drivers, we had lunch… a late lunch! It was 15.00 before everything was finally ready for our departure. As we began our walk beside a snow and ice covered stream, onwards and upwards towards that snow line, I wondered what was in store for us over the next couple of days. One thing was sure, it would be cold and we’d need to be fit!
It wasn’t long before we were spread out ‘like Brown’s cows’
A raptor flew overhead… what a fabulous bird.
As we reached the snow line, I looked back down the valley.
A little further and we were well into a complete covering of beautiful powdery snow,
I think I look more confident than I actually felt.
Such beautiful scenery surrounded us.
Every footstep was a challenge as it wasn’t certain whether it would be onto loose rocks that would slip out from underfoot, hold firm, or a tuft of grass that acted like skating ice.
As the sun moved ever lower in the sky, we trudged on.
The camels were a bit more timid and less sure-footed than the horses.
On and on we trudged.
Finally our proposed camp site came into view but it was down a treacherous scree slope covered in snow about 15cm. (6ins.) thick. Cameras were put away. We needed our arms and hands to hold walking poles as we negotiated this section, thankfully successfully. Three of our six camels sat down at the top of the slope and couldn’t be coerced into moving until some of their load was removed… and that included a heavy fridge “Esky”. Our young cook found a different way of getting it down the slope. She ‘rode’ it, slipping and sliding her way down to the bottom. Much easier than carrying the heavy fridge – and a good deal quicker! I arrived at the camp site at 18.45.
Oh… it was so very cold as we pitched our tents on 10 cm. (4 ins.) of snow. I hadn’t envisaged any of this in my wildest dreams. It was a totally new experience for me. It was so cold that Tim told us to stay in our tents, in our warmest of gear, and get inside our sleeping bags. I had pulled on nearly everything in my pack. Dinner would be served to us in our own tents as it was far too cold to erect the mess tent.
Although Michael and I had paid extra for a single supplement, Tim suggested that we both share a tent for the extra warmth it would afford us. That turned out to be a very good idea… it was -15ºC (5ºF) at 20.15 but beginning to cloud over. That should mean the temperature shouldn’t fall much more. But, was this a pre-cursor to rain overnight and maybe into the next day? I didn’t mind walking in the dry snow as we had been blessed with a brilliant blue sky with just the odd wispy cloud now and then. But, I didn’t fancy walking in rain. My toes were already cold enough!
There was still no dinner in sight by 20.30 but some hot chocolate laced with cognac was a very welcome aperitif while we waited. A vegetable and meat soup finally arrived. I seem to be complaining but I’m not… I do admit that I wasn’t the happiest person in the world at that time. But spare a thought for the cooks who had to prepare this food for us out in that cold, cold, cold! We had it easy, snug in our sleeping bags.
As it started to get dark, the cold felt like a dagger plunging between my shoulder blades. And a sneaky wind had blown up, rattling the sides of our tent. Hot water was supplied to fill our ‘bottles’… I tucked it down beside my toes and, once they started to warm up, I started to cheer up. Tired out, probably more like exhausted, we both, in the end, slept well.
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