Exercise Dragon Mongolian Odyssey was a mountaineering expedition undertaken by 10 members of 42 Engineer Regiment (Geographic) to the Tavan Bogd Mountain Range on the Mongolia, China, Russian border, with the intention of qualifying junior soldiers with various mountain foundation qualifications, knowledge and experience.
The location of the expedition was in the western most point of Mongolia, in the Tavan Bogd National Park, which is considered sacred to local Tuvans and Kazakhs. We went with 3 instructors and 7 novices to one of the remotest places we’ve ever taken a group on adventure training.
It took us nearly 5 days travel from London, via Beijing. We then flew to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, then onto Olgii, a small outpost town on the edge of the nowhere. We spent a day here finalising any kit that we needed and sourcing additional food and fuel for the expedition. We then had a 200km drive to the national park ranger station, followed by a 14km trek to base camp, next to the glacier, before we even started our training.
With access to most of the mountains only accessible across the Potaniin Glacier and the Alexander Glacier, we had to take every responsibility that each individual was trained and confident with various skills that may be required on the glacier if we got ourselves into difficulty. We split the group in two, as it allowed better instruction on a smaller scale, and the instructors spent time teaching the groups how to use various winter mountaineering equipment before setting off across the glacier. During this phase, we learnt a number of skills including:
- how to use crampons and ice axes;
- how to recover ourselves if we fell;
- how to rope up and walk as a group across the glacier – this was a safety measure due to all the crevasses that covered the glacier;
- crevasse rescue drills and climbing up and down ice walls gaining confidence in the equipment that we were using.
We spent any of our spare time at base camp learning new rope skills, how to abseil as individuals and as a group, and also did acclimatisation walks around the local area, traversing one of the ridge lines that ran along the Russian border, always overlooking the glacier.
As a group, we summitted Nairamdal (4180mtrs) and Malchin (4050 metres) some of the highest peaks in the mountain range. We couldn’t attempt Khuiten (4374 metres) due to bad weather and a lot of snowfall when we had to dig out some of the tents when woke up one morning.
During our time on the expedition, we experienced nearly a 50 degree temperature change, ranging from about -20 on the summit with wind chill to nearly 30 degrees in the cities.
Each person in the group learnt new skills and found new confidence in themselves and their abilities as an individual and working as a team, as we were reliant on each other the whole time for safety and support.
Being able to take individuals on exercises like this, challenges even the most experienced ones of us, as it was a completely unkown territory to all of us. However much planning and preparation we took, we were still unsure on what to expect until we actually arrived, but that is part of adventure training, expect the unexpected and be as fully prepared as we could possibly be.