There are no hotels or restaurants in Mongolia’s Altai Tavn Bogd National Park. Park headquarters are back in Ulgii, 180 kilometers away. Welcome to one of the most pristine, least visited places on the planet.
The steppe above Western Mongolia’s frozen tundra were not always off the grid; it was a gateway for several thousand years into China – especially for Genghis Khan’s conquering horsemen. Since 2010 Tusker has pioneered trekking in Western Mongolia with its culturally rich and adventuresome nature as a classic trek.
Any classic trek combines diverse terrain, spectacular scenery, a sense of history and a chance to meet locals whose culture has not been compromised by modern technology. Tusker founder Eddie Frank leads you on a 56 mile that combines these classic trekking elements and more.
You begin your trek outside Altai Tavn’s border and follows the Tsaagan Gol (White River) whose milky waters flow out of the glaciers within the park’s borders. You can either ride a horse, hike or combine the two.
The national park contains three large freshwater lakes and five mountain peaks over 10,000 feet that top out at 14,201 atop Khuiten Uul a perpetually snowcapped peak. You camp along the glacially carved Khoton Nuur (Lake) to begin the trek.
As you head through the V-shaped valleys leading to the park you will meet the Kazakhs and the eagles they use for hunting. The semi-nomadic Mongol herders whose horsemanship is entwined with the region’s history also live within the park’s boundaries and are welcoming hosts.
There really isn’t a trail, but tundra-like streamside tufts that lead trekkers through an outdoor archaeology museum. Some 10,000 petroglyphs dating back 16,000 years are sprinkled throughout the mountains above the river depicting hunter-now-extinct wildlife, hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and today’s semi-nomads. Tusker’s pace allows time to explore and photograph these mythical stone carvings.
Peak, glacier pay-off
Any classic trek has the big pay-off. It’s getting into the heart of Altai Tavn Bogd where there are more eagles, wolves, and martens than people. This is the province of the iconic snow leopard and its prey the red deer.
The park forms a 120-mile border with Mongolia, China and Russia and all you encounter is raw unfettered nature. There are 34 glaciers including Mongolia’s largest Potanini – a sprawling 23 square-mile hulk that sits in Khuiten Uul’s cleft. The trek up to the final camp offers panoramic views of the peaks and the glacier.
Sacred and silent
Despite harsh winters, The Altai Mountains have been inhabited for 12,000 years. They remain sacred to today’s Kazakhs, Tuvans and Mongols. The outside world has a small window to climb through to enter this sacred space. The snow melts by late May and when the tundra starts firming it is time to trek. Tusker returns to Altai Tavn Bogd in July 2018 for its next classic trek.
There are few places like it left in the world.