Rensina Heuvel writes about a scary moment in Mongolia
Mongolia this year at the end of September and we are usually well on our way home, back to Australia. We were still in Western Mongolia, driving the seventeen hundred kilometres back to Ulan Bataar. The weather turned without warning as it can and often does at that time of the year. It snowed. We had planned to cut across to Tserserleg, over a mountain pass, to cut off 100 kilometres, to get back to the capital as soon as possible.
We continued to climb and the more we climbed the more it snowed and the more the temperature dropped. The entire landscape had changed from dry and cool to icy and freezing then frozen solid. As we drove further into the mountains, the gers in which the nomads live became very scarce. We were now in a remote and uninhabitable area. The snow began to fall heavier as the hours went by and the track became only distinguishable by the long tufts of grass, which grew either side of it.
We eventually came to a point where there was a total white out and the track was completely invisible. We were close to the top of the pass but could no longer see anything that was ahead of us. Then Allen lost the track completely in the whiteout and we went over, into a gully which must have full of massive rocks. “Hang on”, he yelled at me whilst he tried to drive back out of it. The boulders were huge as we slammed into each one and the Fergon was almost on its side one way, then thrown the other way. We, of course were thrown with it like two rags dolls.
That was when I can honestly say that I was feeling a bit scared and for a few soul searching seconds, really did deep down, wonder if we were going to get out of there. My sobering thought was, “We could freeze to death up here. No one knows we are here.” “No way”, I remember thinking….that is not in my life plan.
I got out and walked in knee deep snow to try to find out where the gully ended and where the boulders were. I fell many times and we both knew that we had to dig out way out. Allen with the shovel and me with my large frying pan (is that symbolic? Ha Ha) Funny now but not at the time. Allen got the vehicle started and attempted to drive out on the path we had cut in the snow. After a few goes and sliding back in, the front wheels of the Fergon (Russian 4wd) found some ground to hang on to and Allen eased it out.
I walked back up the snow covered places where I thought we may have lost the track and looked for some clearance. We decided that we would have to backtrack and go back down, following our tyre tracks, the way we had come up the pass.
It was too risky to try to go on and try to get to Tsetserleg. I walked in front of the Fergon and guided Allen back to the wheel tracks which were there before we went off into the ditch and we successfully (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this in Africa) found our way back to the town we had fuelled up at hours earlier. We went south and away from the snow altogether. If we’d have had some local knowledge, that day, perhaps we would not have ventured into the territory way up there on the mountain pass. Who knows?
With extreme weather conditions….snow, ice, blizzards, sandstorms, deserts, cyclones and flash flooding, the reality is that it IS unpredictable AND even armed with all the knowledge, you can still come unstuck.
Take extra precautions before you drive into unknown, harsh environments. There are already enough risks in being in these countries. Possible sickness, unknown viruses, ‘iffy’ water, animal excreta, food touched by many hands, dust, flies..etc. Experience is fabulous BUT she can be a brutal teacher!
Just be prepared. No actually do more than that…. OVER prepare. You cannot have too much food. Take more water than you need. Take first aid stuff, car spares, medicine and stacks of suitable clothes, especially suited to the climate you are in. There is always a chance that you will get stuck somewhere…no matter how experienced you think you are. It can happen to you.
Join her on one of her trips to Mongolia or Morocco.