As you may have read in the previous two posts, I rode a motorcycle from the city of Tsetserleg to the small town of Tariat to check out the Terkhiin Tsaagan Nuur National Park. I had planned to camp for several nights, but ended up staying at the Khorgo Ger Camp with the super nice and accommodating Mr. Bald and his family. The day after arriving, I set off on a long hike to check out the two things I’d come to see: Terkhiin Tsaagan Nuur (a huge lake) and the park’s resident volcano.
The eating area at my ger camp
After I caught my breath (I really hope it was the altitude getting to me, otherwise I’m in horrendous shape) I headed down the slopes towards the lake. As its name entails, Terkhiin Tsaagan Nuur (White Lake) was very white and frozen. Snuggled in a valley between ice-capped peaks and stretching off into the distance, it was a nice change of scenery from the barren and bleak hills I’ve seen so much of in Mongolia.
If you look in the picture above, you might be able to see a little finger of land sticking out of the right side of the lake with a hill on it. I hiked out to that hill for lunch and an extended relaxation time. Along the way, I enjoyed walking along the shore of a lake. It’s been a while!
I’d packed a few pasties from the Fairfield Guesthouse to eat in addition to my hoard of oatmeal, so I enjoyed one then. I found a nice little nook on the big rock and enjoyed the view while I stuffed my face with delicious food. Definitely my idea of a good lunch!
I walked a bit more around the lake before heading back to the small pass which entered the valley. My next stop? The volcano!
It didn’t look like very much of a hike, just a short jaunt across the field to the base of the cone! It turns out, the nice ‘field’ is a wasteland of volcanic debris and bubbled and cracked lava flows. I had to be very careful picking my way through it all: the volcanic stones made for very treacherous footing and sometimes gave way unexpectedly.
Surprisingly, I encountered more color and plant life in this apparent wasteland than in any other Mongolian setting I’ve seen. Peeping out of cracks and crevices, I found flowers, ferns, thorn bushes, and trees struggling to live. Atta girl, Nature!
Eventually, I made it to the cone of the volcano and began my ascent. By this time the sun was high in the sky and I was sweating like a pig. I found myself regretting not breaking through the ice and swimming in the lake as I climbed. I made it up, though, and was rewarded with a stunning view of the crater.
From the bottom, I couldn’t tell there was such a big crater but, as I stood on the rim of the thing, I was blown away (hehe, volcano puns) by the size of it. CRAZY! Naturally, I decided to go to the bottom of it.
There was a steep and hazardous path leading down inside. Remember that volcanic stone that was very difficult to walk/ride on? It turned a steep path into a rock slide as I skidded and slid my way to the bottom. The bottom was cool, just to say I’d been there, but then I had to climb back out. After several minutes of running in place on a natural treadmill, I gave up and clambered up a slightly different route where a slide of larger rocks provided more stable footing. Finally, exhausted and hot, I made it back out.
I was pretty hiked out at this point, and began the half-hearted trudge back to the ger camp. I stopped briefly on the way to snap a beautiful picture of the sun reflecting off the surface of a lazily winding stream. Of course, my camera strap managed to sneak into the frame, but I was able to salvage the photo by cropping it a bit. Still… stunning.