Major Award 2015

Tomos Davies, Joshua Hosford, Jack Morphet

horseride around lake khosvgol, mongolia

Their story, in their words…

“Mongolia – land of eternal blue sky. This is where we three companions found ourselves on the 23rd of July, in a country that would test us in ways we didn’t even know existed.

After spending two days in the fairly grimy capital of Ulaanbaatar, we took a domestic flight to the frontier town of Moron, the place we would launch our expedition from heading through the Mongolian steppe northwards, into the taiga.

In Moron we had the difficult task of acquiring five horses. This proved to be slow and difficult due to the language barrier, hard-nosed nomads and poorly conditioned horses.

After five days of living in a ger near the outskirts of Moron we managed to purchase three lead horses and two pack horses. We also assembled all the equipment which included tack, pack saddles, rope, stakes, bits and bridles. Much of this gear we prepared, modified and repaired ourselves, especially as the journey progressed.

On the 30th of July we finally began our trip, riding from the dusty city of Moron to the southern tip of Lake Hovsgol, continuing up the Eastern side of the lake, aiming for the Russian border, where we aimed to reach the small town of Khankh. A trip that would span 250miles to eventually complete.

The first four days involved riding for many long, hard hours in the blistering sun which hit temperatures of 30 degrees. The area was in the midst of a drought, so finding water for our horses became difficult as most of the streams and rivers that we saw on maps were dry river beds.

The size of the steppe and endless plains was something that proved difficult to become accustomed to, as landmarks that appeared a mere hours ride away, would still look just as far away at the end of a days ride.

Averaging 6-7 hours of riding a day, was tiring enough on tatty, uncomfortable Russian saddles. Yet come nightfall, our day had not finished. We had been warned many times of opportunistic horse thieves and we were determined not to have this fate fall upon us.

We decided to organise a night watch which we rotated between us evenly through out the night. We kept a fire burning all night to ward off not only thieves but wolves, which are known to be fairly common across Mongolia. This also helped us deal with the extreme fall in temperature at night, especially the further north we travelled. On more than one occasion we had to break the ice off our tent when waking up for our morning porridge.

Gradually the landscape turned from open steppe to a more alpine environment. The west side of the Lake was fronted by 3,000-4,000m peaks, and was itself roughly the size of Wales. The scenery here was truly breath-taking however with our limited time frame our expedition was slowly morphing into an endurance event.

We unfortunately overestimated the amount of food we would be able to gather from the land and water so were left with a diet of only 1000 calories a day; consisting of unpalatable freeze dried meals, rice and oats.

It had been a steep learning curve however with 40 miles to go, despite all of these difficulties we felt as if we were finally getting to grips with the day to day skills needed to travel through this land. This was when disaster struck.

At around 4 am in the midst of the graveyard shift, a thundering of hooves followed by a rope snapping was heard. Tom quickly roused us and we ran after them however in the pitch dark with limited battery life in our torches we could do little until morning. With first light Tom and Josh set off with two of the remaining horses, leaving Jack and Gromit (the remaining horse) to guard our belongings. We searched high and low all day, asking various nomad farmers if they had seen or heard of our horses but had no luck. The day was coming to an end but a nomad encampment on the horizon caught our eye and we decided to try one last time. This proved to be a godsend as we found an incredibly helpful and knowledgeable nomad farmer who broadcasted our message to all the locals and also spent hours tracking and searching for them on his motorbike. Eventually the following day we had given up all hope and packed up camp and continued along the trail on foot. Halfway through the day our nomad friend from the evening before rode up to us on his motorbike to say he had found our long lost steeds. A few hours later and our crew was once again whole. One more days ride got us to Khankh, with hours to spare in which to sell our horses and arrange someone to drive us south, back to Moron. Thankfully with a little bartering and more help from a few generous souls all was arranged and we embarked on one of the oddest parts of the trip. 14 people crammed into an old soviet van with seats designed for only 8. We trundled into the night, torrential rain causing us to slide about on and off the road, getting stuck multiple times and breaking down all too regularly.

21 hours later we were back to Moron, very sore, hungry and tired but with a sense of enormous satisfaction and achievement.”