3Nations: Evacuation Day

Right, before I get started... if you havn't read them already, visit the Expedition page and follow the 3Nations Expedition from the start.

This post has been rated PG and contains scenes of mild-peril*
No Networkers were harmed in the making of this post.
*Trace amounts of other types of peril may be present.

Tuesday 21st July 2009

Well, this is probably the most memorable day of the expedition for all involved... and not for the right reasons... but before I get ahead of myself I should really start at the beginning of this rather eventful day.

We were to get up early this morning to make sure that we would be able to set off on the hike that our aravt was programmed to do. Given that this is Mongolia, and they generally have little use of maps, we had a Mongolian who was going to guide us on the hike.

Time keeping in Mongolia is a tad different from here in the UK. Generally when we say that we will set off around 9am, then we will try to set off as soon to that time as possible. In Mongolia they will wait for a good omen until they set off. This can mean that they will wait several hours until the omens are right.

I don't know what the omen was on this particular day, but it was actually nearer ten when we set off, heading just over the hill into the next valley and the entrance to the Bogd Khan National Park.

Once in the national park we headed to the museum and the ruined Manzhir Khid monastery. The place really was beautiful and rather awe inspiring.

One of my favourite pictures (that I took anyway). The blue cloth is used in prayer.

I just love the detail!

From the monastery we headed/scrambled up the steep slope behind it to the top of the hill, which is where our first mishap of the day happened. To be honest I am not entirely sure what happened, but one of the girls had a bit of a run in with a snake or something... anyway, she was a tad freaked out and required a bit of consoling. Once she was ok to carry on we set off again.

This smaller shine was part way up the slope.
Occasionally we would pass something similar to cairns randomly dotted in the hills, they would also have prayer flags attached to them. We were directed by our Mongolian guide to pick up some small stones, we were to walk round all of these cairns while adding our stones to it three times; first for luck, then for sorrow, then for luck... so that your journey will start and finish with luck.

It was about 12noon ish that we reached this really large one at the top of the hill, and after doing our circuits of it for luck we stopped to take some photographs of the stunning view.

The approach...
Woo hoo! I got there!
It doesn't really show well on camera... but out there, the horizon just keeps going further and further back. It's like the longer you stare at it the further it goes.

The guide set off again... wait a minute... we came from THAT direction... why is he going away from the site

"now we head for the summit"

.... oh crud...

We thought that we were at the summit already! We had been told that it would be a short walk and that we wouldn't need to take much in the way of supplies. But then again, we still hadn't got used to the Mongolians concept of time just yet.

It was actually 4 hours later that we reached the actual summit, with no food or water left... we were all starting to suffer from dehydration in the hot weather. But we were happy we had reached the summit.

To our left we could see Zuunmod...

to our right was Ulaanbaatar...

... and what's that thing in the middle...

... ohh yeah.... that'll be the biggest storm that they've had in 20years!

... ohhh and look, now its turning towards us

double crud!

We only stayed at the summit for a short while, as we raced down the mountain ahead of the storm. Unfortunately the storm won, it was only maybe 40mins or so after we started our descent that we were hit. This, ladies and gentlemen, is when the excrement collided with the propeller.

We got soaked. But why only be soaked by rain when you can be pummeled by hail stones that were the size of a 20pence piece. And believe me... they hurt! We were carrying our small day sack over our heads to try to provide a little bit of protection while we walked... but there was more than once we had to run for cover under the trees.

I know, I know, you don't need to tell me. Hiding under trees in a thunder and lightning storm isn't a good idea. Frankly it's dangerous. But at that point we were in too much pain to do anything but. Even when we were under the trees, with our bags over our heads we were crying out with pain when hit.

I managed to get one quick photo during one bit of hiding... just before we were told to turn everything electrical off so that we wouldn't attract any lightning.

The rest of the hike down to the site is frankly a bit of a jumble in my head. but there are certain things that stick out in my head.

Like the moment the lightning struck a nearby hill top, you could feel it through your entire body,  and our guide.... the ONLY person who knew where we were... curled up in a ball and started screaming like a little pansy.

I also remember getting scared senseless by the marmots, who had been forced out of their holes (as they were overflowing with water) and were defending their territory against us.

Or the 5 rivers of ice cold water, that hadn't been there that morning, which we had to wade across and which went half way up my thigh.

But, thankfully, we all made it back to the site to find chaos. The flash flood had ripped right through the camp. The people that had been onsite that day had been running around trying to secure everything and reduce the damage as much as possible. They had been panicking about us as they hadn't been able to get in contact with us (everything electrical switched off remember?) and had made sure that there was a ger heated up for us to get immediately bundled into.

We actually had to be stripped out of our wet clothes by the others, our hands had gone so numb that we couldn't bend our fingers. Basically they started treating us all for hypothermia and dehydration (remember we had run out of water as the start of the day had been gloriously hot and sunny).

Once we had recovered enough, we were moved back to our our ger to rest and recover more while the others finished securing the site. By this point it was about dinner time, so we took the decision to make ourselves useful and make dinner for everyone on site (as the others were so busy they didn't have any time to prepare anything).

It was once we had dinner ready that we had been told that the storm may be returning and we were to evacuate.

Everyone and all personal belongings were to be removed from the site... NOW. The race was back on, and we were determined to win this time. All of our stuff was packed, but we also had to pack all the gear from the people that were in Zuunmod and Ulaanbaatar, so we went from ger to ger grabbing things and stuffing it into any bag that you could find. It could be sorted out later.

Those that were on the hike and those that were ill were to be evacuated first, so that included my aravt. We were to be taken to a boarding school that was empty for the summer. It was like a refugee camp...

...mass confusion, stuff everywhere (chain gangs to move gear from the buses inside to the corridors), people going around trying to find their bags... even a hospital room for those that were in bad shape. It was good when I found Eds little room of calm. He had imposed a rule that anyone coming into the room was not the panic and just RELAX.

I remember writing up my diary that night, up until then I had usually done some little funny notes of things that had happened that day (which I have tried to share with you).... but I made a conscience decision not to make too light of a day that could have gone horribly wrong.

Thanks again to those I borrowed photos from

Please be reassured that everyone from the expedition fully recovered from the effects of the storm, it was later reported to us that 8 Mongolians in Ulaanbaatar died... my thoughts and prayers go out to them and their families.