Fly to: Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia
Internal Transfer: Ulaan Bataar - Olgii (3hrs 30mins)
Ex-Soviet 4x4 Jeeps 9hrs driving without roads across the steppe to Potaniin Glacier, Altai Mountains
Visa required: Yes if British
Time Zone:+8hrs GMT
Day 8, 27/07/09: Mongolia - Altai Mountains
Up at Midnight to grab a bite to eat before setting off for our objective...either Khuiten or Nairandal. My preference still remains as Nairandal (Friendship) Peak. A last minute forecast revealed unyielding winds & potential for stormy conditions so at this point either objective seemed like an unobtainable gift.
As we set off the stars could only be seen intermittently, suggesting there was significant cloud cover; not a good sign...
At the glacier edge we decided to take our chances and continuously re-evaluate weather conditions, making decisions & route amendments when required. It remained dark as we made our ascent up the glacier; our target was a rocky outcrop situated directly above us, on passing this we would then skirt left where we would be able to observe for the first time the routes of both Khuiten & Nairandal. The noise of the glacier was immense; it literally sounded like we were walking on a thin crust, the water underneath was gushing, rapidly moving and at times more frighteningly, the water was visible! There hadn't been much of a freeze so therefore the conditions for a glacial traverse were far from ideal; it seemed obvious that as we didn't have an advanced base camp, time was of the essence. We would have to get off this glacier before ground conditions worsened.
As we reached the col between the peaks the wind erupted; it was ferocious. Steve, who was on my rope team kept stopping; which was making progress extremely slow & at times it felt like we were pulling a lead weight. Eventually he declared, "I'm f*cked". Back at camp we'd already had the discussion that if one member of the rope team can't make it, then the whole rope team turns back; shock resonated within me. If i'm honest my first reaction was one of disbelief, this was the guy who had harped on about triathlons; velodrome racing; iron man etc yet he wasn't even trying; this was followed by a internal anger, quite rapidly though this subsided, and i thought, 'it's only a mountain, what's my problem' - just as i accepted that notion; Steve shouted that he'd try again, if we slowed the pace.
At this point Gill was also struggling, so with the slowed pace & rapidly deteriorating conditions Nairandal became the sole objective as the trajectory of this peak wasn't as heavily constrained by the current wind & snow direction. Steve continued to keep stopping but credit to him, he did continue - on the final pull to the summit the snow became both soft & deep; we found ourselves repeatedly punching in which made the ascent harder & more tedious. Eventually the full team was stood upon Nairandal (Friendship) Peak; unfortunately the visibility was pretty much zero!
The summit of Nairandal froms the border of Russia, China & Mongolia hence its name Friendship Peak; not only had Giraffie accompanied me on this climb but we had also been accompanied by Yella Dawg. Yella Dawg was given to me when i was a very small child, a toy that i always carried where ever i went; a toy that was so much more than 'just a toy'. After spending a period of time working with psychotherapy and gaining a better appreciation & understanding of my 'self' - i had decided that Friendship peak would be the ideal place to bury laying to rest Yella Dawg - the time felt right & i felt it was the right thing for me to do for myself.
Due to windchill and rapidly deteriorating conditions we descended quite quickly off the exposed summit; punching in with every step; with our summit adrenaline used this rapidly sapped our energy. As we continued the descent we were caught in a few sporadic snow blizzards, but we were all more than aware that we just had to remain focussed, taking it one step at a time. Uskoo the Mongolian mountain guide had untied himself from the guys rope, this made everyone quite nervous as large holes were opening up underfoot.
We reached a section where a snow bridge tentatively arched over a revealing, dark crevasse; Uskoo shouted at Steve in front of me, "slowly, step gently" shouting at us to keep the rope tight; we did and as Steve crossed the bridge collapsed behind. 'Oh f*ck!' i thought...
The rope was tight infront & behind me, i knew that the moment i stepped onto the remnants of the bridge, the only place i was going was down - I took breath and made my move; the bridge completely disappeared under me; my body was engulfed by a rush of cold air. As i looked about me i realised just how big & dark this crevasse was - wow! Luckily we had all remained aware of the conditions and the guys had maintained a tight rope, so my drop was only enough to see how the glacier & mountain has to be respected.
The remaining trudge down the glacier seemed endless; when we reached the edge of the glacier we stripped our hardwear & continued down the morraine wall to base camp; we arrived in the afternoon & were met by Sandagash pouring us some delightful fruit juice. The acidity against dry lips stung but the cool, soothing sensation as it hydrated down my gullet was simply glorious.