Last night after dinner I was looking for company and people to chat to about heading west, so I walked down Peace Avenue past the pickpockets, beggars, and endless banks, to a place called 'sub baatar, the only subs in Mongolia'. It had no notice board, so I went to leave, when I noticed a girl playing guitar, and decided to linger. 3 hours later the proprietor, an expat from Nova Scotia called Tyler, had told me his (fascinating) life story, I randomly met someone who knew someone who I almost met in Beijing, who is going west tomorrow. Soon enough we're chatting, and raise the possibility of walking across Bogd Khan Uul, to the south of the city.
Next morning I found his hostel, but missed him, withdrew half a million Tugriks, paid for an airfare to Hovd (on Sky High Airlines), and negotiated a cab to take us to Manzushir (ex) monastery. Destroyed by the soviets, it is now a couple of museums, some with temple functionality, and a Ger camp. The drive was spiced up when the driver ran off the dirt road into a ditch at high speed, narrowly missing several large immobile obstacles. I would be lying if I said we were wearing seatbelts. I did, however, get a first class lesson in swearing in Mongolian!
At about 12:30, in 35 degree heat, we set off up the mountain. At 2258m it's taller than Australia. The first part of the walk was on a well marked track, and no hazards presented themselves aside from some water fighting, vodka drinking locals, who very nearly induced us to join them chugging spirits in the sun! We reached the summit, pretty tired, and looked to the west. Ulaanbaatar shimmered in the heat and dust, deceptively close. We set out, but were unable to find a track. Following a compass bearing, we walked about 8km through pine forests, wild flower meadows, bogs, dusty moss and lichen, huge boulder fields, and other navigational hazards. Apart from birds that laughed at even my humour, the only mammals we saw were too tiny chipmunk like things, and a larger squirrel apparition with a penguin colour scheme!
Before long the day begins to fade and we're still jumping boulders and falling into sinkholes, walking along fallen trees and photographing the amazing view, but apparently still at least 6km short of our goal. Just when the terrain began to steepen and become even rougher, we chanced upon a narrow, overgrown, and unmarked track. Following it compulsively we finally averaged more than 800m/hour and climbed a steep rocky ridge with excellent views of Ulaanbaatar and the prime-minister's fortified compound. We even got to the bus terminal at Zaysan memorial before it got dark.
One crowded and distinctly flakey bus ride later, I was back home, at which point I realised I had barely eaten anything all day. Ah well, easily remedied.