River deep, mountain high…but mostly river deep

I had woken several times during the night to hear rain battering on the ger (much quieter than a tent – but it does still tend to leak in around the bottom a bit), so it was no great surprise to open the door to a damp and misty Mongolian morning. Whilst we were packing up and sorting stuff out before our departure the rain kept coming and going. The river was even higher than last night and I must admit to some slight apprehension at the thought of our riding today. Any apprehension, though, was outweighed with excitement at the prospect of our first full day riding in Mongolia.

Even the low clouds did little to detract from the dramatic mountain scenery as we set off along the muddy track, now with many deep puddles, back to the road and into Olgiy to find fuel. There had been rumours during our time riding through Kazakhstan that there was a shortage of fuel in Mongolia. Russia had cut supplies to Mongolia and the price had risen steeply and rationing had been introduced in some areas. As a border town, Olgiy was well endowed with petrol stations, but not that well-endowed with petrol. After trying three or four stations without luck we had to settle for filling up with 80 Octane fuel. It would be a good test to see how the bikes went on lower grade fuel, as this was probably about as good as it would get until we hit Ulanbataar.

We headed out of town on tarmac, but before long we were onto a dirt track, heading off towards the hills. As we headed up into the hills the track became more gravelly and shalely. I was really beginning to enjoy myself, even though the rain was coming down harder now.

Then, disaster! I came around a corner to see people in the track and a bike on it’s side. Sam had come off. Somehow he had lost control and pitched off to the right of the track and had landed amongst some fairly large boulders. He was obviously a bit shaken and stood by as we hauled the bike out. The truck was right behind us as, we were only a few miles out of town, so Mike the Medic jumped out to assess the damage.

Man down! Poor Sam

Not sure why we're all looking so happy!

At first it seemed that Sam wasn’t too badly injured, but he didn’t really feel that he wanted to carry on riding so he went off to sit in the truck while we had a look at the damage to the bike. Apart from the usual bent levers and stuff it appeared to have landed pretty well, until we got it upright and we realised that the crash bars had pushed in and split the tank – petrol was gushing out. Tony the mechanic set to work on it but it looked as though that bike would be spending the rest of the day on the trailer.

Sam had started to feel a little worse and it was suspected that he may have broken some ribs, so it was decided that one of the support vehicles would drive him back to Olgiy, where there was a small hospital. The rest of us set off to catch up with the leading group to let them know what was happening

Damp, dismal and muddy - hanging about in the rain

We caught them a little way up ahead after an interesting stretch of very slippery mud. After quite a while the truck caught us up. We had some lunch, wandered about and dozed. We realised we could be here for a few hours.

Cheer up it's only a 4 hour wait in the rain

Aliens in an alien landscape

Catching up on the zeds....

At least it had stopped raining by now

I took a little walk along the track and up the hill.

No chance of getting lost here then...

...but maybe some had taken the wrong road. Perhaps a previous Kudu expedition had passed this way.

After about four hours, Jeff caught up with us in the other truck. Sam had broken several ribs and would not be able to complete the trip. There was actually a small airport at Olgiy and he would be flown to Ulanbataar and then back to Canada. In a way, he had been lucky having sustained his injuries so close to Olgiy.

But at least the sun was out....YEEHAAA!!!

The rain, the mud and Sam’s accident and the 4 hour wait should perhaps have conspired to dampen my spirits, but it is hard to express just how great it was to be in the wilds of Mongolia. We were certainly well off the beaten track. During our four hour wait we had only been passed by about three vehicles and a father and son team on a motorbike, who stopped for a quick chat and mutual bike examination (Mongolians always seemed particularly interested in the suspension – perhaps not surprising given the state of the roads).

We set off, now bathed in sunshine. As we came over the ridge and into the next valley we were greeted with a fantastic vista of criss-crossing tracks stretching into the distance across the wide valley floor. The riding was good, the tracks had very quickly dried out and were quite firm, with a sandy, gravelly surface. Good progress could be made but it was important to maintain concentration as the tracks weaved and crossed each other, avoiding deeper craters and muddy sections where vehicles had churned it up.

We soon reached the river.

At first sight it didn't look much - but this was just the minor tributary before the main event

Mark regrets trying to forge his own way across as he gets swept down the river by the force of the current - we only just managed to grab him and drag him in

After Mark’s little foray we decided to take a bit more time to weigh it up. There were a couple of locals on bikes trying to cross and we decided to follow their lead. The river was pretty full and had spread out over quite a wide area, with areas of shallows and gravel banks. The best approach seemed to be to try to zig-zag across using the gravel banks as temporary havens. Niall waded out and forged what looked like a reasonable route. One of the locals revved his bike and set off. To the sound of our cheers of encouragement he made the first bit and then the second section. He paused for a moment and gritted his teeth and set his jaw for final assault on the deepest, fastest flowing section. With a screaming engine and assistance from Niall he plunged into the water and powered across. We had been shown the way.

We stationed ‘spotters’ on each section to assist. Jason was our first man across and he attacked it in typical Jason style – full revs and full voice, shouting and swearing all the way across. One by one we followed. There were remakably few mishaps, and those that took a dunking didn’t get much wetter than those of us that were knee deep in the river assisting progress. The bikes that went down all started straight away and obviously had not taken any water into the engine, which was pretty good as they had been fully immersed with engine running.

Mark crossing - with team assistance this time

My effort

Drip drying

Eventually we were all across.

It had taken another big chunk of the day to get everyone across the river and we were starting to lose the light. We rode a little further looking for a suitable camping spot…and what a spot we found…

What a day! I finished the day exhausted and totally elated. From the morning of rain and Sam’s accident, through sunshine, superb scenery and excellent riding and the drama of the river crossing to a camp in a totally awe-inspiring wilderness. What a day. This was what I came for – and it had lived up to all my dreams and expectations.  All the trials and tribulations of reaching this point seemed petty now. How glad was I, that I hadn’t bailed out in Almtay.

Sorry Jason – just had to include this clip  – courtesy of Big Al:


9 thoughts on “River deep, mountain high…but mostly river deep

  1. Mike, a great description of the day. Being an off road novice I found the conditions quite daunting. The road just before Sam’s off was like a small roller coaster where you travelled over a series of small rises followed by ditches filled with water. The river crossing was a fantastic experience including dunking the Yamaha. Only three things worried me on the day, Sam coming off, the realisation that Kudu had no satellite phone to communicate with once out of mobile phone range (ie 99% of Mongolia), Mike the medic declaring that he had inadequate medical supplies and me coming off in loose sand before we reached camp. Okay that’s four things!

  2. Okay we get it River Deep, Mountain High, yadah,yadah,yadah. What came next, “Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening!” oh no that was back in Germany I think.
    It’s nearly Christmas you know.

    • Next up – ‘Riders on the Storm’ (thinking back to a couple of weekends ago! – You missed a real treat not coming on our little bike ride on the Saturday morning) then maybe ‘Funky moped’ or perhaps ‘We wish you a wombling Merry Christmas’

  3. Hi Mike, been reading your (our) exploits in very great depth, and I don’t mean the water, and thoroughly enjoying your narrative. The reason for this note is that I’m really impatient and can’t wait for the next chronicle – suffering from information impairment!!!
    Anyway have a good Christmas and to all who may read this missive, especially those on the mongol jaunt and Ross get some sleep!!!

    • Hey Gerry! Hope it’s nice and warm out there for you! Winter setting in big time here. The dark nights should make it easier to sit down and rattle off a bit more of the blog, but loads of crap been happening in the last few months (maybe worthy of another blog on its own!). New installment due out this week…probably! Good things come to those that wait!

      • 32c here in Melbourne today. We’re starting to produce a Mongolian Simmer Sauce this month. I haven’t been able to convince the team to make it just like in Mongolia. You know, pissy looking water with an oil slick floating on top! Gerry, watch out for it coming to a Coles store near you in Feb.

  4. Hi mike, great blog mate. I’m doing the road of bones section this year and maybe I’ll try and do something similar for that trip as I have not found one for the kudu trip yet.

    If you could give me (and if you don’t mind) say 5 tips of must haves for the trip. Give me as many as you want of course. I haven’t bought gear yet so trying to work out whether my normal helmet will do the job. anything at all that you thought on the trip ” I’m glad I had____” or “I wish I had”


    • From what I can gather from talking to the guys that continued on to Magadan, it was bloody hot and they were eaten alive by mosquitos. So my list would be:
      1. Mosquito net hat – something like this http://www.cotswoldoutdoor.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/products.detail/code/B3110010
      2. Good sleeping mat – nothing worse than not sleeping well
      3. A good sense of humour
      4. Make sure you sort yourself out for water (and beer!) – you won’t get any from Kudu!
      5. Your own puncture repair kit (and know how to use it) – Kudu seem to spread the required bits between the group, which is useless if you end up split from the group.
      6. A good medical kit of your own – Kudu’s may a bit lacking
      7. Full repair kit and parts for the Kudu support vehicle – cos they won’t have what they need.
      8. An electric winch to pull Kudu support vehicle out of the swamp.
      9. Satellite phone to call for international rescue! (Spot tracker looks good if you want to keep people at home updated with where you are – http://international.findmespot.com/#

      All joking apart – I’m sure you’ll have a brilliant time! Let us know how you get on – and give me link if you get your blog up and running.
      As for riding kit – enduro style helmet tends to be a bit cooler than a full-face and you can wear goggles if you want (good to keep the dust out). It will be hot, so lightweight gear with ventilation good – and with armour ‘cos you’ll probably fall off!

      P.S. Say ‘Hi’ to Jeff from me!

  5. Oh Ross, do you liven Australia. If so, what gear did you use? All the ones kudu recommends are not sold here as far as I can tell – ie, jackets etc

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