Excerpt from my field journal..
“If I didn’t already from previous work here so far, today was definitely the day where I earned my ibex horns….
Our host used his old, front heavy, Japanese pickup to drive my teammate and I to a site near a family I’ve already interviewed. In the last 2 years, they say they’ve lost 200 livestock from snow leopard attacks (though there’s a huge difference between actual losses, and perceived losses. Also losses from illness, or being too weak to survive the harsh climate). The route to the site proved difficult to make until we loaded a bunch of heavy rocks in the back of the truck bed. The vehicle wasn’t heavy enough to make it up the compacted snow covered hills.
It was assumed we would go up the mountain where the herder says the cats are coming from, try to find sign, and go back. A simple day. The majority of the mountains we climb here are more like strenuous hikes with a bunch of rock scrambling. There are plenty of occasions where we have to carefully maneuver across narrow ledges, hugging the rock wall. However, the usual treks are always doable….tricky but doable. This mountain was a challenge that stretched beyond my comfort zone of what should be attempted without climbing gear. Although it was small in comparison to the higher, snow coated ones in the area that we spend most our time on, it was a pain to navigate. The only way up and across was by somehow climbing up smooth, steep rock faces with barely any cracks for hand and footholds, or the sections that appeared to have “friendlier” routes (I say that loosely), were rockslides waiting to happen at the slightest bump of the wrong stones.
Not wanting to risk one of the incredibly sketchy, almost straight up, narrow-edged ways my teammate managed, I went down a bit and cut across, meeting up on the ridge further along. Even someone who spends every day of his life in this terrain admitted that this little mountain was dangerous. Needless to say, we had many “sentence enhancers” during the course of the day to express how we felt about it. It often took teamwork to help each other up the more precarious sections, a nice test for trust. We eventually made it to the top, only finding an old scat that wasn’t worth collecting and a track….also a lost goat that stared at us in confusion.
Despite the complicated climb of a mountain that was only a little over 2,000m, the view was fantastic. The snow covered nearby mountains reflected the sun back at us across the sparking, white steppe. In the distance, the peak of Otgontenger Uul, Mongolia’s most sacred mountain could be seen.
Seeing the sun was going to be setting in the next hour it was time to head back. But how?! For at least 10 minutes we were almost convinced we were stuck. Each direction was a pretty treacherous drop off. Going the way we came was out of the question as well. Not without ropes! After some pacing on the ridge and weighing our few options, we chose the lesser of the “evils” and carefully worked our way down. Each step sent the loose rocks and ice chunks tumbling. By now I’ve come to fully appreciate the grip in my Columbia omni-heat boots. They have been super trusty in more ways than I imagined on this trip.
Safely back at the family’s ger, we settled in for some dinner. I also took this opportunity to give them one of the solar powered Foxlights predator deterrents that Snow Leopard Conservancy sent me to test. Hopefully the device helps to protect their herd!”