MONGOLIA

Ride into the Altai

DATES: 01 Sep 201917 Sep 2019 COST: £3,199

The vast plains of the Eurasian steppe are tightly weaved with equine tradition. In Mongolia horses have shaped the nation, from the war steeds of Genghis Khan to the herds of the modern nomads, even today they outnumber the human population. Get under the skin of this wilderness by exploring the far reaches of Mongolia’s national parks on horseback and grasp Kazakh and Mongolian culture at a local Eagle Festival.

Setting out into the sweeping steppe on horseback, you’ll enter the foothills of the Altai mountains deep in the heart of Altai Tavan Bogd National Park in Far-Western Mongolia, which shares borders with China and Russia.

Adopting the traditional way of life on this wilderness journey, you’ll develop your riding skills, covering varied and challenging terrain in the company of experienced Kazakh Eagle Hunters. By night, you’ll combine rustic wild camps with overnights at nomadic encampments. To conclude a successful journey, the expedition will end with a celebration at the Sagsai Eagle Festival to see first hand over 6,000 years of Kazakh culture and eagle hunting skills.

Highlights

  • Stark scenic beauty of Mongolia’s National Parks.
  • Find companionship in your native Mongol horse.
  • Ride with the locals – horse breeders and Kazakh Eagle Hunters.
  • Diverse riding terrain; meadows, woods, open steppe and alpine passes.
  • Traditional nomadic culture and hospitality.
  • Learn key skills from your hosts and guides, passed down for generations.
  • Try your hand at local horseback games.
  • Fascinating Eagle Festival

What our teams say

“I have been with numerous expedition companies over the years on high altitude trips, and I have been impressed with most of them. But it has to be said that Secret Compass have impressed me the most.” – Roy Partington, 2016 teammate.

Land of the Blue Sky

As the most sparsely populated unitary sovereign state in the world, getting a taste for the sheer scale of the Mongolian wilderness can be an overwhelming experience. Leaving Ulaanbaatar, the world’s coldest capital city, the team will venture across the country to the far west to explore the foothills, forests, meadows and lakes of the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. Known as the ‘Land of the Blue Sky’, the nation possesses seemingly boundless swathes of open land from its green valleys, to its arid foothills and its snowcapped mountains.

Nomadic Lifestyle

While around three million people live in Mongolia it’s estimated that somewhere between 25 to 40 percent of them live nomadically. Experience nomadic life for yourself as you disconnect from the bustle of routine to embrace a completely different way of life. Under the expert guidance of your local guide and wranglers, get to grips with your Mongol horse, a native breed known for their small but sturdy build, stamina and hardiness in extreme conditions.

Then, supported by 4X4 vehicles or additional pack animals, you’ll discover why nomadism still exists amidst the Mongolian wilderness and get to understand some of the challenges facing the rural nomadic communities in an increasingly connected world.

Eagle Hunting

Eagle hunting has for over 6,000 years been a major part of tradition on the Eurasian steppe, a once threatened way of life which is now experiencing a resurgence among local communities. Throughout this expedition, the team will be joined by experienced Eagle Hunters who will show off their skills and teach the team Kazakh horse games whilst offering a window into their lives. The expedition will finish at a local Eagle Festival in time to witness many of their new friends take part in the daring displays of horsemanship, and get up close themselves with the awe-inspiring creatures who are so evocative of traditional Mongolia.

Safeguarding Heritage

Whilst horse-herding, eagle hunting and a nomadic lifestyle all may seem romantic, an uncertain future sees ever increasing numbers of young people migrating to towns and cities for work and away from these traditions. Due to a concerted effort by the Kazakh community in Mongolia and further afield, the historic skills and the associated culture of eagle training and land management are now being revived and maintained for future generations, efforts which your expedition will directly support by investing in the local economy.

In addition, by accessing more remote regions of the country and developing a responsible approach to tourism in partnership with the local staff and providing investment within these communities we hope will help to reverse this trend, safeguarding a way of life for future generations.

Secret Compass runs expeditions with framework itineraries, rather than guided tours with set daily plans. Read more about Our Approach here. The following is the outline plan for this Classic expedition. A fuller itinerary is provided in the Mongolia Expedition Handbook which is available on request or upon application to join the team.

Teammates arrive

The expedition will start in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, a bustling centre at stark contrasts to the vast wilderness you’ll soon enter. After an evening briefing over dinner, the team will head to bed ready for a domestic flight the next day. Crossing almost the width of Mongolia towards the far western border, the team will meet the local support team and their all-important equine partners to prepare for the expedition ahead.

On expedition

Setting off into the heart of Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, the team will soon discover the joys of a nomadic way of life – wild camping under the stars, trading stories around a cosy ger and seeking mountain lakes or streams to complement remote stops for lunch. Days will be spent riding on a combination of woodland trails, mountain meadows and untracked steppe with opportunities for more experienced riders to go further, faster and over more challenging terrain – each night will be spent studying maps of the area as the team works together to pick out a route for the coming day and take advantage of local conditions. After exploring a section of the National Park, in the shadow of Mongolia’s highest peaks, the team will head towards Olgii to reach a local Eagle Festival.

Final Celebrations

In the company of the local support team, everyone will attend the Sagsai Eagle Festival with the opportunity to experience 6,000 years of Kazakh culture distilled into epic displays of strength, agility, and eagle hunting prowess. After a return flight to Ulaanbaatar and an evening to celebrate, the expedition will end.

Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. Team members should be willing to be part of a team working together throughout this expedition and bring a positive mindset and an adventurous, robust spirit. At a basic level, you should be comfortable jogging for at least 45 minutes and ideally riding confidently at canter in an outside environment – complete beginners with a very positive attitude are welcome to apply for this expedition but we strongly suggest booking a lesson or two to determine that you’ll enjoy the experience. The biggest challenge on this expedition will be multiple days spent in the saddle if you’re not used to regular riding. Teammates must be prepared for the following.

  • Ride: averaging 6 hours a day
  • Terrain: mixed terrain from forest trails to open steppe and alpine passes
  • Climate: temperatures ranging from 20C to 0C at night
  • Altitude: generally around 2500m
  • Age: 21+

Upon application, prospective teammates will receive a Handbook with further expedition information. Teammates who arrive without meeting the agreed minimum fitness requirements can jeopardise themselves and the expedition’s goal so do take training seriously, prepare as appropriate and arrive fit and ready to go.

Included

• Secret Compass expedition leader.
• local guides, support team and drivers.
• All meals.
• All transport as outlined in the itinerary including domestic flights and support vehicles.
• Mongolian horses suitable for a wide range of riding abilities.
• All camping and group equipment.
• All accommodation (twin share in Ulaanbaatar) including tents.
• All local permits.
• Secret Compass Operations Room.

Not included

• International flights and taxes.
• Transfers from airport to hotel.
• Visas.
• Travel insurance (compulsory)
• Excess baggage on domestic flights.
• Tips to local guides.
• Beverages and any costs of a personal nature.
• Personal equipment (your Handbook will contain a kit list).
• Any activities, accommodation etc outside of the Secret Compass itinerary.

On application, potential teammates will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some expedition-specific questions and our general FAQ will answer many other questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.

I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?

Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.

I don’t have a lot of riding experience, is this expedition right for me?

We’d always suggest team members have a riding lesson or two before signing up for this expedition to ensure they enjoy the experience however you don’t need to be a seasoned pro. There are a wide range of horses available and time is allocated at the start of the expedition to correctly matching riders and mounts to cater for all experience levels. The daily route planning will offer options for faster, longer or more challenging riding but ultimately the distances covered will be constrained by the slowest/least confident team member and everyone signing up needs to be aware that this is a team expedition and approach the trip accordingly.

What kind of riding set up should I expect?

We’ll be riding like the locals on this expedition using comfortable ‘pad’ style saddles (not the ornate wooden ones you may have seen in photos from Mongolia!) – these are eminently suited to long days in the saddle and surprisingly forgiving! Standard bridles are used and the horses are trained for western-style neck reining. Don’t worry if this all seems to be a foreign language, your expedition leader and local team will talk you through the basics and you’re encouraged to pitch in with the wranglers to learn about tacking up your own mounts. Horses are the lifeblood of the region and families have bred them for generations specifically for the varied terrain that Mongolia offers – our wranglers are understandably proud of their herds and excited to show them off to visitors.

Can I arrive a day late?

As The Plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates out to the start of the ride and back to Ulaanbaatar so start and end dates are not flexible. You’re welcome to extend your trip ahead of, or after, the Secret Compass itinerary.

Can I charge all my electricals?

This will be very challenging with limited access to power once the trekking section begins. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration. We suggest embracing the opportunity to unplug and disconnect during this expedition.

How can I find out more?

Apply for this expedition team using the button on this page to receive your Expedition Handbook with fuller details. The Application page explains the joining process. Secret Compass is then on hand to answer any questions or to firm up your place on the team.

Expedition dates not suitable? Contact Secret Compass about a Bespoke Departure or Tailored Adventure.

The Journal