Jargalantyn Mukhar: the driest cold (2/3)

Journey photo album

My plane landed on 12th January in the morning at New Ulaanbaatar International Airport (Sergelen area). After solving the main issues regarding the forthcoming trip in Khovd aimag (local SIM card, arrangement with 4 wd driver) with my old friend/ guide Gansukh, I rested a little in my hotel room (lucky number 1111!) then went for a short evening walk to the city center. I take this as a humble acclimatization-intro as the weather forecast rushes me to reach the research area as soon as possible.
First measurement near my hotel. The city is significantly warmer than the airport area, especially the old one, which reaches 6-7 degrees lower temps during characteristic “good weather” pattern. Now the difference is small as there was some wind: -28.4 at Buyant Ukhaa (falsely named “Songiin” station in the Ogimet database). Bayan Uul (false “Gandan Huryee”) of Dzavkhan aimag was the coldest in the country: -47.2 C, followed by Tsetsen Uul with -45 C. The anticyclone is here, I definitely want to reach the research area during the following night.
View from my hotel room. The famous UB smog is not so bad today, the wind had somewhat dispersing it. We soon go back to the airport as my plane to Khovd will depart in the early afternoon. The driver knows my plan, he contacted a local family who lives in a yurt not far from my target and told them that I will stay around a week in the area.
Flying above Otgon Tenger (4030 m), the highest peak of the Khangai and one of the most iconic mountains of Mongolia. The weather is great, the awaited cold snap descended and covered the entire country.
In Khovd the driver was waiting me and we went for shopping a few things (mostly food for the one week home-stay), respectively eating and repack my luggage before starting the trip towards M√∂st sum after sunset. Most part of the road is good chinese asphalt. Nonetheless, we just started when the car already showed signs of internal troubles. After passing Mankhan it broke down completely. It seemed that I will lose this first important research night, but miraculously some good people of the village helped to repair the car in the evening. No problems from now on. We met our host where the asphalt ended and following him on the dirt track we made the last 20 km or so to the spot from where I will start the lonely walk to the research area. No snow, nor moon yet, still better without the headlamp as the contours of the track are visible in the dim light. It’s around 11 PM, pretty cold with some light wind, probably around -25 C or lower.
The enthusiasm softens the combined tiredness (little sleep, cold car, acclimatization deficit) and after around 5 km I decided to rise the tent. The col is a little farther, but there should be more wind. My head is somewhat confused, still can properly handle the challenges. After a quick “dinner” on my knees I am heading towards the main target. The moon appeared just when started the descent into the endorheic basin. The light color of the bottom (salt marsh) is in front of me, the direction is evident without any gadget. Around 2 AM I’m there and soon the tripod is rised on the northern fringes of the solonchak, where the gravely surface meets the saltier one. The attached logger was started at 2:26 AM. Before leaving I saw -33.2 degrees Celsius. I’m content.
I rested a little at the camp, then returned to the basin (2.5-3 km) in the early morning. Usually I don’t put the tent so far from the measuring equipment, but now the context was different (night, wind, tiredness). As I don’t need to cover big distances otherwise, it’s okay this way. The night was entirely clear and there was only weak wind. In the col I measured -26, -27 degrees with some wind. Meanwhile complete calm dominates the basin floor.
Marco Polo sheep (argali) horn not far from the tripod
The installation before sunrise. The sensor of the logger was placed inside the Barani radiation shield at around 170 cm ground elevation.
Success, the logging is okay. The temperature wasn’t lower than in the deployment period, actually exactly the same
More happy than tired
The night’s minimum reached -34.1 degrees Celsius, a decent value in this context without any doubt. I never saw a lower temp without snow cover anywhere. Below -35 is certainly possible, -40 …maybe? I must confess, this is the Holy Grail for me ūüėČ
Real serenity, strong feeling of fulfillment
I took a small reddish pebble with me as a souvenir, it’s very representative here
The sun will reach soon the salt marsh on the bottom
View of Jargalantyn Mukhar from a smaller peak just east of the col. The mountain in the background is over 3600 meters high, still mostly snow-free. This place reminds me of the Atacama Plateau in Bolivia, around 4500 meters elevation.
Descending the other side towards my tent
After a little rest I went back to the col to make some photos in the more pleasant early afternoon period
There is an “invisible motorcycle” in this picture, approaching the col. He probably will be amazed to see my tent beside the dirt road.
From the top I can see the ice covered Mönkhkhairkhan range. This high mountain is the cause of the rain shadow effect here, so I am thankful of its existence.
Let’s check the elevation
The Zobject at sunbathing
View towards SSE, from where we came yesterday
The first sign of life, a big herd of mixed sheeps/ goats with the shepherd also present
Three yurts not far from here. I knew it could be as I saw the dark spots on Google Earth, but wasn’t sure about the winter situation.
The bearded vulture is pretty common in the area. This big bird’s diet consists mostly of bones (scavenger), he even drops down the bigger pieces from above to broke them.
Heading back to my camp. A very long second night is waiting for me soon.
The next morning, checking the instrument. This night was also entirily starry, but towards the end became windier. Thus the morning temperature was a little moderated too, the night minimum being -33.6 C, quit close to the previous one. I measured -27 degrees inside my tent, so it seems that the inversion is not that strong here, probably because of the lack of snow. What’s really weird is the complete absence of hoarfrost at these frigid temperatures, the humidity must be extremely low here.
Before sunrise the first cirrus clouds appeared
Cracked clay surface (tak√ģr) surrounds the dried salt marsh (solonchak)
After securing the tripod with some improvised weight (hanging rocks in a bag) to can handle windier conditions too, I left the research area
The road on the western side of the basin
Lichens on the desolate surface, another peculiarity of this weird place
Modern art-like “double-head” structure not far from the col
Around noon I’ve packed my things and soon was heading towards the meeting point with the driver (same spot)
Another herd was just beside the road. No dog?
With some delay he appeared and started running in my direction. After he was convinced that I’m pretty far to constitute a danger for the herd calmed down and just watched me from the distance
Looking back towards the col
Incredible synchronization: even if there were more than 20 minutes to the exact meeting moment, the driver came there in the same minute as myself
First we went to take water from a nearby source (breaking the ice). Our host filled 5 big 20 l canisters in a pretty short time.
Approaching my new home. The driver already slept two nights here, there will be four more before we leave. The yurts are situated between 2600-2700 m elevation, a few km’s from Davst Nuur lake. The all area is named Davst (salt).
The locals knew that there is some signal near the lake, so we went there to use the Internet. Pleasant atmosphere inside as the greenhouse effect was warming the car before sunset.
First night in the yurt was nice, the dogs were surprisingly calm, no barking at all. The morning was overcast, thus the temperature moderately cold.
Day start in the Altai mountains
There are three yurts, the middle one is our home
The right one is only for younger sheeps/ goats during colder weather
Today I went to a hike in the surroundings, starting with Davst Nuur
The ambience is pleasant as there is no wind at the moment
The lake is shallow and extremely salty, therefore doesn’t freeze even in the frigid winter
Yeah, that was expectable. Who wants a bath? ūüėČ
You again. Forgot it, I need my bones.
The clouds are thickening from the south-west
On the way to Nogoon Nuur (green lake) the wind became active, thus the real feel was much colder than before
So that’s why “green” is its name. Some plants are sticking out under the (probably) very shallow frozen waters. The locals said it’s a fresh water lake.
Some very weak snow showers here and there. The severe cold make the cumulus clouds look more like a “low flying” cirrus spissatus.
These guys are very resilient, I saw them thrive in the harshest climates, on almost any kind of terrain and elevation
On the way back, while mainly following the contour lines I decided to climb the highest peak of the surroundings
The last, steeper part. The wind is not active on this side.
On the top there is a little new snow, the same can be seen in the distance on the mountain which I climbed on 14th. This one is slightly higher, the GPS shows around 3150 m elevation.
The crescent shaped Nogoon Nuur seen from near the top
The other, slightly lower peak is the one above our yurt. That’s my direction, maybe I can see some ibexes.
On the top I spotted a guy watching around, then disappearing soon
Davst Nuur, the unfreezable lake
Wind sculpted strange formation of the rocky peak
Another, even more interesting
Baatar Khairkhan (3984 m) in the eastern background
Again a cloudier morning with similar temperature
He/she came for breakfast too
The locals say that the wolves are coming from the other side of this mountain
Heading to M√∂st sum’s center (also known as Ulaantolgoy) to buy fuel
This is not the same dirt road we came on 13th, the previous pass was higher and with more snow
The 4200 m high Sutai Uul, the tallest mountain in Gobi-Altai province
Soon we reach the smooth chinese asphalt which gently descend into the Tsetseg basin where Ulaantolgoy is situated. The bottom of this deep endorheic basin contains Tsetseg Nuur (lake) and the nearby settlement with the same name, which is the coldest populated place in Khovd aimag.
At M√∂st weather station. I found out that the lowest temp on 14th January was -30.1 degrees Celsius here (also without snow) and actually was the coldest day of this winter until now, slightly colder than both 13th and 15th. Tsetseg instead reached -34.4 C, even slightly lower than my logger in Jargalantyn Mukhar, situated more than 1000 meters higher. Actually I kind of knew that the medium-high basins of Mongolia can be the same or even colder then the highest ones, the inversion strenght being stronger with the decrease of elevation. Though, I’m not very sure if Tsetseg station’s surroundings is completely snow-free, which could change the game.
Okay, they have the Vaisala too
But the good old Stevenson screen with the graphs inside can’t miss from a remote place like this, right?
Finally this was our main purpose. One litre of gasoline is around 75-80 cents here, the UAZ consumes around 20 l/ 100 km.
View of the village from a nearby rocky outcrop. Möst in mongolian means ice, maybe because the flooded plain freezes in the often snow-free winter.
Two cinereous vultures were feasting on a horse corpse beside the road and they doesn’t looked too bothered because of our presence
It’s the largest old world vulture (and flying bird for that matter) with its wingspan up to 300 cm, exceeded only by its relative from South America, the andean condor
Horses on the way back to Davst
Before returning to our yurt we went up the mountain pass where the son of out neighbour lives
The host showed me a small frozen pond which in the warmer season is a mineral water source…
…but I was more interested in climbing to the top of the huge red sandstone boulder (from behind). Yeah, there was some adrenaline in the latter part, especially on the descent.
Aha! He was the guy I saw yesterday on the mountain top. Actually he was looking for yangyrs (ibex) and saw around 20 of them on this side.
Driver Ganbold with his old UAZ and “my rock” in the background. From the reactions I concluded that they think I’m a little crazy. Could be true.
Big bustle in goatland
A typical mongolian evening
Next morning just a few meters from the yurt
Even milder now than in the previous two days, but the sky cleared up completely after a pretty windy night. The old black dog went crazy and literally barked almost all night long. Maybe the wolves, who knows?
Yeah, this is a nice refreshment after the noisy dark hours
A neighbor with his companions
Today we will do a trip to the small salt lake, which according to my online searching sits in the very highest endorheic basin of Mongolia (around 2935 m elevation). The place is about 20 km from here in the direction of my research area.
While passing near the salt marsh I checked with the max zoom if everything is OK with the tripod. It was.
Crossing the rusty landscape of Jargalantyn Mukhar
This is it, the frozen shallow lake is named “Tavyn Tolgoy” (five heads) referring to the surrounding peaks. The windchill is pretty strong here.
They say its salty, but looking at the rockhard surface must be far from the concentration of Davst Nuur
The basin is around 20 meters deep which per se should be enough to cool down efficiently during the night, but I think that the location in a high pass makes it susceptible to the wind most of the time
On the border between Möst and Mönkhkhairkhan somoni, looking down towards the latter
The rain shadow-maker high ridge in the south-west
The highest peak is 4230 m, second in Mongolia after Kh√ľiten (4374 m) in Bayan √Ėlgiy aimag
An eerie place for sure
The ice has a grey hue, probably because of the sediment underneath
On the way back we stopped to measure the lowest col of Jargalantyn Mukhar, situated on the NE corner. It seems that the elevation is a little lower than Google Earth shows, thus the endorheic depth is closer to 70 than to 80 meters.
Some local shepherd boys visiting our car
Indeed, despite the cold, there is some activity going on here
Crossing the arid plateau
View of Jargalantyn Mukhar from the southern col
The sky is extremely clear today, this photo was taken using a pretty big zoom
My host searching for yangyrs
As the man is determined to help me see the ungulates we climb the pass from the other direction, which seems even more difficult than where we first went up. Ganbold certainly knows his job very well.
Altaian atmosphere
From the col we headed towards the rocky peak
Maybe?
He just went to check the other side when I saw his body language turning enthusiastic
That’s right, we found them
A herd of 15-20 exemplars. They were pretty far, but not too far to can observe and film them.
8 days old mongol bankhar (also known as tibetan mastiff) puppies
In the afternoon we went to Davst Nuur to collect the local treasure: salt. They said it’s naturally pure, doesn’t need any posterior treatment.
Back to the mountain yurt
Relaxing after work. The salt plates were left to dry on the rocks.
My bed with the many horse race medals hanging above. How I didn’t dreamed with them?
The last night was the coldest. I’m glad, also because the dog behaved well this time. Maybe he just needs more cold.
I think his alive
Ganbold preparing his car for the long trip back to Khovd. This time there is frost on the ground, I’m curious how cold was in the researched basin.
Before 10 AM we said goodbye to the nomad family and headed to collect the measuring equipment
Last time here, at least this year
Okay, the installation looks right
Now -25 degrees and the minimum didn’t surpassed the old record. The maximum reached -10.9 degrees on 17th.
In 4 out of 6 nights the temperature dropped below -30 degrees, including this last one.
That’s it, the research is over. The results are good, I’m content.
The UAZ is waiting for me
Surprize: before leaving the closed basin we will visit the family who lives the closest to my measuring spot. Our host announced him beforehand about my presence and activity and now we brought them a little present. The final part of the road to this yurt was even more extreme than the second climb to the local boy’s place. Pure insanity.
So they are the guys living in Jargalantyn Mukhar during wintertime. Through my driver’s russian translation I found out some interesting infos from the family head, like that the “biggest snow” here is around 5 cm, there are 8 wolf families in the surroundings and that in the summertime a lot of rain can occur and the formed lake can reach 2 meters depth.
Melting the ice on the stove. It’s the single reliable source of water here, they are collecting the chunks from a few km’s away.
We left the mountain people and started our journey towards Khovd. This time we will travel on another, more difficult dirt road until Mankhan, passing through Mönkhkhairkhan village.
The highest pass (above 2950 m) is the one near Tavyn Tolgoy lake, where I already made a short hike yesterday
Starting the descent. Pretty steep, but without ice seems okay.
The road first went down into a valley then climbed back to another pass above 2800 m elevation
Approaching Mönkhkhairkhan settlement
“We are searching the weather station”. – “I am the meteorologist”, said the archer guy.

The weather station of Mönkhkhairkhan
The office with a red-billed chough flying above. The coldest day here was 13th January, when the minimum reached -30 degrees Celsius, while on 14th only -28 C (also without snow cover).
The road became even more adventurous downstream the village
Golden eagle patrolling
There were 3 or 4 aquilas and while I was observing them, first I didn’t saw the fox which was actually hunted by them. But the photo camera captured the red coated just before he was attacked.
The driver checking the ice
Other winged creatures trying to reach higher on the rocky slope
We are literally driving on pure ice
There are a few wood bridges also
Ganbold stopped to help a family with their broken car. This is very common among mongolians and it’s based on the harsh reality that it happens pretty often here and anybody could be the next victim.
Yes, this is the road
Wild, remote cliffs on the right side of the gorge. Snow leopards probably live there.
The worst part is over. We are out from the mountains and slowly descending towards Mankhan through the barren gravel desert
Jargalant Khairkhan (3800 m) seen from the asphalt road around sunset. From here the remaining km’s will pass much faster.
In the dusk we spotted a pair of saiga antelopes
Khovd the next day after spending the night at a very hospitable family. As there were no free hotel rooms in the entire town because of the forthcoming “Ice Festival” at Khar Us lake, Gansukh saved the day by contacting some local aquintances.
Awaiting for the challengers
The weather station of Khovd, just from the balcony of our hosts. I got important infos also from them, namely the minimums of some local stations of the aimag for each year between 2012 and 2022. Tsetseg stands out by a mile with -47.5 C recorded in January 2016 (of course with snow cover).
They even gave me a huge bottle of sea buckthorn concentrate as they saw I liked so much
Leaving Khovd province
First the plane went to Ulaangom and only then to the capital
Ulaanbaatar the next day. It’s colder now and on 23th the weather could turn especially frigid.
Chinggis Khaan history museum is a huge collection of old artifacts housed inside a well maintained monumental building on 6 levels, each representing a particular period. Downside: no photos allowed.
And no mongolian journey could end without Gandantegchinlen monastery. Thanksgiving time.
Cold and warm at the same time
Giant Buddha inside (26.5 m), claimed to be the tallest indoor statue in the world
The number was indeed lucky
Next day we visit a tuvan man who stays in the wintertime near the capital with his two reindeers as tourist attraction beside the local hiking trail. Tuvans are living in the northermost parts of Mongolia in Kh√∂vsg√∂l aimag, respectively in southern Siberia’s Tuva Republic
I couldn’t resist…
Later we went to the old airport to visit the weather station. We hardly could found anybody in the whole area. But nice decoration, anyhow.
I chose a place in a dried riverbed for the tomorrow morning cold hunt, when we will come back here for measurements
Next morning near my hotel, waiting for Gansukh. That’s pretty good for the city center…
…and that’s VERY good: back to Buyant Ukhaa
I mounted on the tripod another logger, which can measure below -40 degrees (it was for the hypothetical “B Plan”) to record the coldest early morning period
I can feel that it’s brutally cold, my hands are unusable after very short time while doing the photos
The sun reaches the higher topography
It’s probably rare when a selfie can be really helpful. This time it was: uncovered, my face was literally on the way to playback Han Solo’s case from the Starwars
We visited the weather center in the capital where I asked the unusual question if they have a statistics regarding the lowest temperatures measured without snow cover. They didn’t have, but together searched for Tsetseg station (which I think it could be the best in this context) specifically and found a -36 degrees Celsius on 23th January 2012. Nice value, the quest will certainly continue.
This was the minimum recorded by my device in the morning. Could have been even close to -44 as the gadget was set for 5 minutes intervals and there were pretty big fluctuations in a short period of time around 8:30 AM. Nice bonus for the final part of the journey anyhow.
It’s my last day in Mongolia, tomorrow in the early morning we are going back to the airport, this time to the new one
Mission accomplished

To be continued…

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