A Unique Adventure Destination: Siberia’s Altai Mountains

altai mountains If you’re looking for a colorful and unique adventure vacation, look no further than Siberia’s Altai region. In the Turkic and Mongolic languages, the word Altai means the “Golden Mountain.” Once you see the area up close, you’ll understand why the name is so fitting.

Along with its rare beauty, the destination also presents unique ecology and geology. Located in East-Central Asia, the Altai Mountains are a mountain range where Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China and Russia come together. The natural attraction extends for about 1,200 miles from the Gobi Desert to the West Siberian Plain, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to the area’s unique geology and rare biodiversity. In fact, this region features the most complete sequence of altitudinal vegetation zones in central Siberia and offers a home to endangered animals like the snow leopard. You’ll find over 1,400 plant species, many of which an endemic, over 70 mammal species and more than 300 types of birds. Moreover, with origins dating back to Caledonian-Hercyninan times, this range has seen five glacial periods, which can be seen through the multitude of lakes and 1,499 glaciers in the region.

When visiting this region, you’ll be able to take in the beauty of this untamed land while white water rafting, horseback riding, hiking and mountain climbing. Moreover, if you’d just like to relax and clear your head, that can be found here, too. Visitors can choose to go camping or stay in one of these rustic accommodations, and also have the option to book a tour.

For a visual idea of this unusual destination, check out the gallery below.

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[all images via Big Stock]

Transmongolia – Part Three: the Road to China

Transmongolia: Part Three – Click above to watch video after the jump

As soon as dawn broke, I could hear rustling coming from the other tents scattered around the convoy of rally cars. Bitter cold winds whipping across the open desert prevented me from moving or making any attempt to unzip my sleeping bag, but we needed to get moving in order to cover as much ground as possible.

The night before had been an impromptu birthday celebration for a rallyer named Andrew; now 25 years old. We sat around a campfire, listening to iPod playlists blasting from one car’s deceivingly powerful sound system, sipping on flasks of Russian-made vodka to keep warm. Under the most vivid blanket of stars I’ve seen in my life, I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that I was getting to celebrate a stranger’s birthday with a group of new friends, hours away from any familiar form of civilization.

As we set off, I began to accept and adapt to my new environment for the next week; the ambulance’s olive colored walls, coated with dust that seemed to stream in from all directions, shuddering relentlessly – it was everything I had ever hoped my Mongol Rally experience would be.


Transmongolia – Part Three: the Road to China

Climbing into higher elevation, our convoy’s engines struggled to climb up long sections of mountain switchbacks and cross picturesque streams. Apart from a few lone nomads on horses and the occasional yurt far in the distance, the only evident signs of life were the goats and yaks that grazed the open landscape.

After hours of forward progress, we came upon our first Mongolian prayer flag; a bright blue piece of cloth in the center of a pile of rocks. The Buddhist practice calls upon travelers to circle the rocks three times and add a stone to the pile; ensuring safe travels and good spirits to accompany those who trek that path.

For us, it was a welcome excuse to get out of the car and move before settling in for another hour of being tossed around, so we vowed to stop at every flag we saw – little did we know that their frequency would dramatically increase as we moved closer to Ulaanbaatar.

Riding in the back, staring out the small side window, I suddenly heard a loud gasp from up front. ‘Well look what we found!!” was all I could hear over Olive’s wheels striking rocks and shifting from side to side. Then, out of nowhere – silence. No vibration. Just silky smooth, freshly paved, blacker-than-the-night-sky asphalt (or ashphelt if you’re Australian, apparently).

We couldn’t believe it, but we were too eager to. Driving at an unbelievable speed of 80 km/h, we forged ahead in any direction that the magic strip of tar would take us. That is, until we started realizing that our compass needle wasn’t pointed in exactly the right direction and that there was an alarming amount of construction equipment with Chinese lettering on it.

Stopping to seek advice from several locals that communicated mostly via gestures and pointing to our worn-out map, we confirmed that we were heading toward the Chinese town of Altai rather than our intended destination of Altai in Mongolia. Just a couple of hours and we would have been face to face with some imaginably unimpressed Chinese officials.

Not only would we have to retrace hundreds of miles, but we’d have to abandon the beautiful asphalt road and forge a new, unknown path to try and cut some time off our overzealous mistake.

With no other option, we forged ahead – hoping we’d calculated our direction correctly this time, venturing further into the middle of nowhere.

For more information about the Mongol Rally, including how to sign up for the 2012 rally or tips for entrants outside the EU, visit the Adventurist’s website – or view the Adventurists’ 2011 trailer here!

Transportation was made possible by the scholars & gentlemen at the Adventurists. No editorial content or opinions were guaranteed, and nor was anyone’s safety or hygiene.

Transmongolia – Part Two: Hitching a Ride

Transmongolia: Part Two – Click above to watch video after the jump

After gaining my bearings in Ulaanbaatar and making a few friends over rocket propelled grenades, I set off for Ölgii – a dusty city of roughly 29,000 people and the capital of the remote province of Bayan-Olgii Aimag.

From Ulaanbaatar, the flight to Ölgii Airport was just 2 1/2 hours in a noisy Saab 340B. Flying over the wide expanses of the Gobi desert and Altai mountains, it was difficult to imagine that I’d be traversing everything that was passing below me in just under a week.

Joined by Mel, a journalist from an English newspaper, I arrived in Ölgii without much of a plan; to get a ride into town and hope to hitch a ride. But in order to find a team to ride with, the only thing we could do was sit by the side of the town’s one main road and wait – hoping that whoever came along would be willing to pick up two outsiders carrying cameras and notepads.

So, we waited. We wandered markets and sat by the side of the road. After just a few hours in the sun, we were relieved and exhilarated to see a convoy of four brightly painted cars and one ambulance heading in our direction. We were no longer lost in the Gobi; we had found the chariots that would (hopefully) take us across Mongolia.


Transmongolia – Part Two: Hitching a Ride

Luckily for Mel & I, we quickly made friends with a team dubbed Party of Five; consisting of a team of three (one member had dropped out) friends from Australia and their mutual friend from England. They were proudly commandeering an old Ford ambulance that they had named ‘Olive’ – a reference to the lovely interior paint job in the back of the ‘ambo’, which had served as their home for the past several weeks. With just enough room for two more people and our bags, we hopped in and got on the road; eager to begin our journey.

It was short lived; only a few kilometers down the road, we encountered our first breakdown – a car that had left Ölgii before us had lost the use of one of its tires after slicing through the rim of the wheel. The unforgiving nature of the dirt tracks that served as highways here, suggested that we’d see many more breakdowns in the coming days. The dust, rocks, and bumps would surely put everyone to the test. So after a quick push to turn it the broken vehicle around for towing, the convoy packed up and headed out to scout for the evening’s camp site.

Finding the perfect spot wasn’t very complicated; we pulled off to the side of the road, looked for a flat place to pitch our tents, and set up camp for the first night in the wilderness of Mongolia.

For more information about the Mongol Rally, including how to sign up for the 2012 rally, visit the Adventurist’s website.

Transportation was made possible by the scholars & gentlemen at the Adventurists. No editorial content or opinions were guaranteed, and nor was anyone’s safety or hygiene.

Adventurer trekking solo across Mongolia

British adventurer Ripley Davenport is in the middle of a spectacular solo journey. One that if he finishes, will put him the record books for the longest solo and unsupported trek in history. But before he’s done, he’ll face harsh weather conditions, inhospitable terrain, and one of the most demanding routes ever undertaken by man.

Ripley’s adventure is dubbed the Mongolia 2010 Expedition. His plan is to travel alone for 1700 miles across the vast, open wilderness of Mongolia, a country that boasts one of the lowest population densities on Earth. Along the way, he’ll travel on foot across the Eastern Mongolian Steppe, through the Gobi Desert, and over the Altai Mountains, while pulling all of his gear and supplies behind him in a specially designed cart that is the lifeline for his trek.

The expedition initially began back in April, but just three days in, the cart broke down on the harsh terrain. Undaunted however, Ripley returned home, made some important modifications to the design, and returned to the trail once again in late May. Since that time, he has completed the trek over the Mongolian Steppe, and is now nearing the end of the Gobi. According to his latest blog posts, Ripley has entered the foothills of the Altai Mountains, which will present an entirely new set of impediments to his progress.

At the moment, the former British Army officer is roughly halfway through his expedition, with plenty of challenges yet to overcome. But his spirits are high, he is focused and determined, and after more than 40 days on the trail, he is confident in his skills and equipment. The redesigned cart is working well, and is vital to Ripley achieving his goal of going solo and unsupported. Traveling by himself, he has the solo part well covered, but in order to achieve “unsupported” status he needs to finish the expedition without resupply or outside aid of any kind. His cart not only carries his gear, but also his food and water too, and without it, the journey wouldn’t be possible at all.

Check in on Ripley’s blog for regular updates from the field as he shares his adventure with the rest of us.

[Photo credit: Ripley Davenport]