Altai Mountain Horse Trek

Ride high in the Altai Mountains of Western Mongolia

Travel through a truly unique environment of arid plains, high mountains, alpine meadows, and dense forest, to experience the welcoming nomadic culture of Mongolia's Kazakh minority.

Trip Length:
Trip Length:
17 days

Daily plan

Price:
Price:
$4,995 NZD

What's included?

Time in the Saddle:
Time in the Saddle:
12 - 13 Days

Scheduled Departures

Including current availability

31 Jul - 16 Aug 2022
Don't forget our later season Eagle Festival trip
When would YOU like to travel?
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Ride high and far

If the thought of riding deep in to the Altai mountains, through the untracked wilderness of 'no-mans land' along the Chinese border gets your heart racing, this is the trip for you.

The Altai Expedition takes us to a remote and beautiful corner of Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, amongst the snowy peaks forming the border with China. This is an area normally closed to foreigners, so you are unlikely to see anyone else here. Luckily we have a good relationship with the Mongolian border patrol - everyone knows everyone around here.

Our local friends who will be accompanying you on this trek know all the secret game trails and hidden passes from the days when they hunted these mountains.

 

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Who is this trip aimed at?

This area is remote and mountainous, with demanding terrain. Therefore it is essential that you are fit and active and willing to take on a challenge. The camping is basic, and we cook simple meals over an open fire. If you are not familiar with the outdoors, or are unsure whether this is the right trip for you, we are happy to discuss.

The pace is generally slower than our other treks, due to the terrain, so is suitable for less experienced riders. But for experienced riders there are some spots that are great for a gallop.

The biggest challenge on this trek is the mountain environment. The weather can change quickly, bringing snow at any time of year (don't worry, it's more often warm and sunny). Those who do not have a lot of experience of wilderness camping may struggle initially, but the rewards are great - to ride where few outsiders have ever travelled.

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The horses of the Altai Mountains

Born and bred in the mountains, these horses are perfectly at home in even the most difficult country. Compared to the horses on our Zavkhan Classic trek, they tend to be calmer but still need to be treated with respect. No flapping raincoats please.

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The journey

We start off riding across open country and through valleys inhabited by nomadic herders and then begin to climb in to the mountains, as we set off for 12-13 days exploring on horseback. After riding in to the National Park as far as the 4WD support vehicle can accompany us, we reach our base camp, with our large ger (or yurt, the traditional felt tent used by the local people) to retreat to if the evenings are cool.

From this point there are no roads and barely a game trail to follow, so we will need to load up the pack-horses (or camels), and be fully self-sufficient to continue further.

When it comes time to retreat back down from the mountains, we head over the Pass of Death. Not a fun place if you are scared of heights, but for most of us it's exciting rather than dangerous.

A taste of the Altai

To get an idea of what this trek is all about, have a look at this video, from a group of friends who rode with us in August 2019. You've got to love the drone footage!

 

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Meet the colourful locals

The local people are ethnically a mix of  Mongolians and Kazakhs. Their generosity and friendliness to strange foreign horse riders has to be experienced to be believed. There will be plenty of opportunity to enjoy their hospitality during our journey, including seeing their hunting eagles. Most people in the area are related in one way or another to our team.

Amangul, our main guide, is something of a local celebrity, famous for her singing and playing of the two-stringed dombra. Her balzak (rather like a deep-fried donut) are fabulous too.

Our local team are not 'tour staff' in the usual sense, they are herders and horsemen who put down their tools when we arrive, to show us their beautiful backyard.

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Mini-Eagle Festival and horse games

It wouldn't be right to come all the way to the west of Mongolia and not get a taste of the famous Eagle Festival, held later in the year. Toward the end of this trek we invite our eagle hunter friends to join us and demonstrate this fascinating part of their culture. Learn how young birds are caught in the wild and trained to become much-loved hunting companions.

As at the annual Festival, there will be horse games too, but the difference at our mini-festival is that you will be able to participate, rather than just watch. OK so you won't be playing bushkazi with a goat, but tug-of-war from horseback with an old sack is just as much fun. You also get to chase your fellow riders at the gallop, with a horse whip (not that we encourage that sort of thing of course). 

Trip Plan

As with all our treks, the exact route taken will be weather dependent (for example snow can block the mountain passes). We also like to explore new trails when we have the right group of riders. This Trip Plan (we don't like to use the word itinerary) is an example of the route we may take. Think of our treks as non-itinerised.

Day Activities
Day 1 Arrive in Ulaanbaatar. We meet you at the airport/train station and take you to your hotel. You are free to explore this fascinating city before we gather for an evening meal and meet your fellow riders.
Day 2 Fly to Ulgii, the main town of Bayan-Ulgii aimag (province). From here we drive south to reach the edge of Altai Tavan Bogd National Park (4hrs), and meet the horses. We start with a safety briefing and pointers about the local riding style, and then begin matching you to your ideal horse. A ride around the local area in the evening will allow you to decide if this is the horse for you.
Day 3 Set off riding across arid open plains, stopping for lunch with our wrangler Hatran's family at their summer camp along the way. Camp on the shores of Chigertei Nuur, a lovely freshwater lake.
Day 4 Climb up to Jalanash Pass, snow-covered for much of the year, and over into a hidden world of alpine meadows, forests and fast flowing streams. Camp near a pair of ancient khun chuluu, or man-stones, from the Bronze Age.
Day 5 Ride through a military checkpoint and in to the border zone. Keep your passport handy, and your camera lowered. Reach our base camp, beside a fast-flowing mountain stream and nearby forest.
Day 6 A day ride to explore the local area, following game trails up through dense forest to reach alpine grasslands. The views west in to China are spectacular. Keep a watch for elk and ibex. 
Days 7 to 9 To explore further we need to load up the packhorses. Follow horse trails used by the border patrol to head down-river, establishing a second base camp for the next two nights. This is remote and spectacular country - Mongolia has a lot of beautiful places, but there is nothing quite like this. We ride up high again, through lush meadows and forest, following narrow game trails. Horse trekking paradise we like to call it! By Day 9 we return to our first base camp, riding high above the river valley this time.
Day 10 A rest day for the horses - it's hard country even for these amazingly tough horses. You may be ready for a rest yourself. Relax and read a book, or go for a hike in search of wildlife.
Day 11 It's now time to start making our way back out of the mountains, via a horse-only trail, including one night along the way with the packhorses. Camp above the tree-line, amongst craggy peaks local people call the Eagle's Nest.
Day 12 Continue up and over the Pass of Death. It sounds ominous, but that's just the name we gave it when we first came this way many years ago. A series of steep switchbacks drops you down to the valley below. Even in summer, snow is always a possibility. Camp beside Khunt Nuur (Swan Lake).
Day 13 Ride down the valley and over to Shar Gobi Gol (Yellow Gobi River), where we first met the horses right back at the start. Keep an eye out for petroglyphs as we ride along - ancient rock carvings depicting wildlife and hunting scenes.
Day 14 Today we make the most of the wide flat valley to do some fast riding, after all the mountain trails. For those who are keen you will find out just how fast these horses can really go. In the afternoon we have an informal mini-eagle festival and horse games.
Day 15 A final half-day ride to finish in Altai village, from where we drive back to Ulgii. Stay in a ger camp outside the town.
Day 16 Depending on the flight time, we may be able to see the sites of Ulgii, including the local market, a women's craft cooperative, and the provincial museum. Fly back to Ulaanbaatar. Meet in the evening for our final group dinner and a well-earned drink.
Day 17 We will help with finding any last minute items to take home for friends and family, and if there is time you can see some more of the city. Finally we take you to the airport/train station and say bayartai.

The area where we ride

This map shows the area of Altai Tavan Bogd National Park where we ride, close to the Chinese border. [better to use an image showing the route?]

What you need to know about riding on our Altai Mountain Trek

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What's included in the price for the Altai Mountain Trek?
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Straight From the Horse's Mouth

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Find out more about our Altai Mountain Trek

Amangul and her trusty team are ready and waiting to take you on an adventure you won't forget. Contact us to learn more.