27-Jul-2004 -- The visit to Khovd in Western Mongolia was planned around a seminar on crop diseases. Of course, once the destination was agreed, we looked at the maps to see if there were any CPs waiting to be bagged. Most of the CPs are either too distant or too difficult in the time available (3000 metres up in the Altai Nuruu mountains). On the 1:500,000 scale map one point seemed very close to Khovd with just the minor drawback that it seemed to be a few millimetres into the Khar Us Nuur (Black Water Lake). After a few calculations the few millimetres turned out to be at least 1.5 km – unlikely to be within wading or swimming distance. Boats are not common on Mongolian lakes so I prevailed upon Sean Grenville-Ross to lend me his collapsible sea kayak. He was thoroughly enthusiastic about this barmy adventure and said yes straight away. Unfortunately it is rather heavy and only made for one person. Although Sean has two we took just one as I was frightened of the excess baggage cost. After a lesson in putting the boat together we were ready to go.
We had a free day in Khovd so set off with two cars and 9 people (these trips grow arms and legs as they go along) to the lake. The lake is shallow, freshwater and nearly 16,000 sq km. There are no rivers flowing out of Western Mongolia – the rivers flow into saltwater lakes which evaporate. There are several large freshwater lakes on the rivers before they reach the final salt lake. The CP lies near the large delta of the Khovd River. As there are extensive marshes around the lake we had to stop 3km from the point and 1km from the lake shore.
After putting the kayak together two drivers/porters (!) set off for the lake with the rest of us following. Within a short while we were up to our knees in water and then up to our thighs. The last 100metres was through a floating raft of dense reeds up to 4 metres high. Rocking the “ground” below our feet was quite alarming! Launching was easy and I left my companions playing at the bank. Paddling at 5kph I reached the point in just over 30 minutes. It is amongst islands of reeds and the water is covered by water lilies in places.
Having taken the photos and done the dance in the kayak I returned to the shore. Without a GPS, finding the launch site again would have been very difficult.
After my return everybody had a go in the kayak – It is quite stable but if you have never paddled before it takes a while to work out whether to push or pull!
Once back at the cars and the boat packed away we were ready to depart. Then we realised that we were one short. Mrs Davaa (our lecturer on plant diseases) had turned back earlier when the water was 20cm deep and had not been seen since. After 10 minutes shouting and hooting car horns we started a search. The area was quite flat with a few low hills just big enough to restrict view. We went back to the lake in case she had got into difficulty in the water or tall reeds. After 30 minutes of searching she was spotted calmly walking back towards the car. She had got lost in the taller dry grass and had ended up walking in circles for a couple of hours. Anyway all was well and we could move on.
Soon after leaving we came to a point where the road went all the way to the lake – a slightly longer paddle and without the excitement of the “trek in”!
On the return flight we had a good view of the CP area and also came within 2kms of a second point – but at 5800 metres above the land and 451 km per hour this does not even merit an “incomplete”. Another day perhaps.