Round Square Adventures takes SEAT Ateca and their bike team through Western MongoliaKirsten Scully
New article by DAVID ESPALLARGAS for MTB-News
The long-awaited day is finally upon us. We have taken months preparing for this new adventure. Meetings, nerves, visas … and finally, just as if we were reenacting the story of Christopher Columbus’s three ships, we left with three SEAT ATECA s, destination Mongolia. We are not experienced captains like Martín Alonso Pinzón, Vicenta Yáñez Pinzón or Juan de la Cosa with their respective boats that departed from the port of Palos de la Frontera that August 3, 1492, but we have the same illusions to reach unknown lands.
More than eight thousand kilometers await us until we reach the city of Ölgiy, Western Mongolia. Once there, we will head to Tavan Bogd National Park, where we will make a circular route of several days where the lakes and the snowy mountains will be our traveling companions.
Driving through Europe didn’t present many difficulties, but the farther we go, the more complicated the roads have become, the sections without asphalt are increasingly numerous and the sections that are paved are under construction, causing huge queues that the locals deal with by driving on the verge or even in the opposite direction without any type of remorse or reprimand from the other drivers. For them it is normal and we have no problem following suit.
The days roll by and our first objective is in sight, but first, we have to cross the border Russian/Mongolian border, which will take us several hours of queuing and paperwork.
A long descent from the border takes us to the town of Ölgiy, where the team from Round Square Adventures are waiting for us. Having worked in Western Mongolia for several years doing fatbike tours, they will be our guides during this part of the adventure. They know the locals, the eagle hunters, the lay of the land and the weather patterns of this remote area. We feel that we are in good hands.
The next day dawns sunny and the 7am heat warns us that our first day of pedaling will be hard. Leaving Ölgiy, we are confronted by 60 kilometers of constant climb up the river Hovd until we reach a flat area of the valley where set up camp.
The following day we face more of the same; we pedal up, and up again but finally we are given a wonderful surprise at the top of one of the endless ups and downs. When everything looked like we would have to camp again on the banks of the same river, we topped a long ascent and were left speechless by a view of a huge lake with white sand beaches; Yes, miles of white sand beaches. A generalized madness bewitches us and we pedal with all our strength to get to the lake and a refreshing swim as a reward for our effort. Lake Khoton; its crystal clear waters reflect the surrounding mountains, offering dreamy postcard images.
From here on, the scenery changes dramatically. We wade through rivers, cross half-demolished wooden bridges and we climb and descend dozens of hills that fuel our fatigue. The days go by and the hard terrain is taking its toll on us and on the support vans, true all-terrain beasts that have to be repaired on a daily basis by their expert drivers who only take a few minutes to change a perforated manifold.
Without realizing it, nine days have passed, and as a farewell, today we have to climb to the highest point of the route. It’s called the Gardag Davaa pass that takes us back up to 2,700m. The views from there are spectacular, but the strong wind and cold leave us frigid, so we put on warm clothes and begin the descent, not wanting to acknowledge the ominous looking black clouds that have appeared out of nowhere to our left. It’s almost twenty kilometers of downhill, leaving our hands frozen to the handlbars. The only solution is to slow down and delicately prow our fingers away from the grips. Nature is capricious, and in a matter of minutes, what was a radiant day, becomes a real storm that unleashes all its fury on us, causing flash floods and totally destroying the dirt road we were following back to Ölgiy where we eventually arrive hours later. We are soaked, coated with mud and tired but smiling from ear to ear.
They have been hard days, but the images that Mother Nature has given us more than compensate for all the pain. Round Square Adventures helped us to get safely through mud, rivers and rock gardens, showing us the most spectacular scenery of the Altai Mountains. Now it’s up to us to return these three ships to a safe haven; a long trip of almost ten thousand kilometers, with plenty of time and space to dream of new adventures.