Trekking with Camels through the Kharkhiraa Pass

13 Days, 12 Nights

Trek and camp in stunning canyons and mountains with the Khoton people—an ethnic minority group of nomadic herders who live in the remotest reaches of north-western Mongolia. The journey follows the Khoton’s seasonal migration route along the gorge of the Kharkhiraa River, making camp each night under the stars and taking in Mount Turgen and the snow-capped peaks of Mount Kharkhiraa along the way.

Trip Highlights

  • Trek to the summit of Mount Turgen in north-western Mongolia and gaze over expansive views into Russia
  • Make camp with the nomadic Khoton people and their Bactrian camels
  • Be invited into the homes of local nomads and share a cup of home-brewed milk vodka
Price
$3625 USD per person
Trip Activities
Trekking
Trip Length
13 Days, 12 Nights
Physical Level
Avid
Start/End
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Accommodation
Hotel (3 nights)
Camping (9 nights)
Age
Minimum 16 years of age
Meals not included
Lunch, Breakfast Day 1
Lunch Day 12
Lunch, Dinner Day 13
Flights Included
Ulaanbaatar to Uvs
Uvs to Ulaanbaatar

Day-by-day Itinerary

Expand All
Day 1
Arrival in Ulaanbaatar (UB)
Activities
None
Transfers
  • Van: 0.5
Description

Arrive in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. We’ll greet you at the airport and bring you to your 4-star hotel for the evening. Tonight, we’ll take you out for dinner to toast arrival in Mongolia and give you a brief tour orientation.

Transfer time: 30 minutes Included meals: Dinner Accommodations: Hotel Bayangol

Meals
  • Dinner
Accommodation
Day 2
Flight to northwest Mongolia and transfer to basecamp
Activities
None
Transfers
  • Van: 4.5
Description

Today we fly to Uvs Province in northwestern Mongolia, a rugged, remote region of the country inhabited by several ethnic minority groups, the largest of which are the Durvud people. The Durvud speak a slightly different dialect from the common Mongolian language and are famous for “nursing” some of the nation’s most legendary wrestlers. Mongolian wrestling is a revered sport, and good wrestlers are considered not only strong but also honorable.

Just before we touch down, you’ll catch a glimpse of Khyargas Lake, one of the country’s largest bodies of water. After lunch, we’ll drive 1.5 hours by car to the mouth of the canyon carved out by the Kharkhiraa River and set up our first camp. In the evening we’ll be joined by a group of nomadic Khoton people, who will make camp next to us and accompany us as our pack-camel drivers and local guides. From now on, their Bactrian camels will carry our personal baggage and camp equipment.

Meals
  • Lunch, Breakfast, Dinner
Accommodation
  • Camping
Day 3
Begin trek to the Kharkhiraa River source
Activities
  • Trekking: 6 hours
Transfers
None
Description

Today after breakfast we’ll begin walking upstream in the canyon of the Kharkhiraa River towards the snow-capped mountains on the horizon, which are the source of the river. Following the river, we’ll wind along rocky edges, steep cliffs and the occasional poplar grove. We will have to cross the river several times, and on the deepest crossings we will ride across on our guides’ horses. This same route is used by the Khoton when migrating from their winter quarters to their summer pastures high up in the mountains.

With some luck we may see a real migration: a few camels laden with unpretentious belongings led by horsemen moving quickly along the riverside. There are about 10,000 Khoton people living in Mongolia today. Although they are of Turkic origin, their language and lifestyle nowadays is Mongolian.

We’ll exit the canyon by the afternoon and make camp in a wide valley surrounded by a scattering of Bronze Age burial grounds.

Meals
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation
  • Camping
Day 4
Continue trek to the Kharkhiraa River source
Activities
  • Trekking: 6 hours
Transfers
None
Description

Today we’ll trek further upstream to where open views of the peak of Kharkhiraa and other snow-clad mountains await. En route, we’ll pass numerous ancient burial mounds with round and square borders.

We’ll also see the yurts of local nomads, along with their herds of animals grazing on rich mountain pastures. We’ll visit a family or two to say hello, sip milk tea and gain some insight into nomadic living.

We’ll set up camp in the evening.

Meals
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation
  • Camping
Day 5
Trek to the pass, source of Kharkhiraa River
Activities
  • Trekking: 6 hours
Transfers
None
Description

This morning we may have the chance to stop at a local herder’s yurt to see how homemade milk vodka is distilled, and we’ll certainly be invited to try a cup, too.

Back on the trail, the valley suddenly bends and once we’ve turned the corner, we’ll be treated to an impressive view of the snow-crowned Kharkhiraa massif. Its glacier-covered summit rises 4,037 meters above sea level. Having feasted our eyes on it, we’ll approach the main pass that divides Kharkhiraa from the neighboring Turgen massifs and camp just below the pass.

Tonight, our campsite will be just within hiking distance of the glaciers that feed the river’s headspring.

Meals
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation
  • Camping
Day 6
Trek to the top of the pass and climb Mount Turgen
Activities
  • Trekking: 7.5 hours
Transfers
None
Description

Today we’ll make our assault on Mount Turgen, starting with a short but steep climb that will bring us atop a flat pass. Depending on the weather we may find ourselves at the same level as the clouds, but we’ll still be a good 1,000 meters below the summit of Kharkhiraa. The scale of the view from this pass is immense: all around us are snow-capped mountains, distant desert plains and turquoise lakes glittering in the valleys below. On clear days, we will even spy the Sayan Mountain Range in Russia.

From here, we’ll continue to climb a lateral ridge of the Turgen Range up to an elevation of 3,600 meters to enjoy bird’s-eye views amphitheatres and cascades of ice that surround us. Although physically strenuous, this climb is safe with a well-established trail. We’ll return to camp late in the evening.

Meals
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation
  • Camping
Day 7
Optional trekking, climbing or rest day
Activities
None
Transfers
None
Description

Today, you get the freedom to choose the adventure you want. We can climb the Turgen Ridge if the weather didn’t require us do it the day before. Alternatively, we can trek around a few alpine lakes that lie at an elevation of 3,000 meters in the inner bend of the Turgen Range. Or, if you’re tired, just spend the day lazing, relaxing and enjoying the scenery from our camp as you rest and restore your energy.

Meals
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation
  • Camping
Day 8
Descent
Activities
  • Trekking: 6 hours
Transfers
None
Description

We’ll begin our descent today with a route that lies across a high mountain plateau dotted with lakes and mossy hills. Looking back, we’ll be able to see the west face of the Kharkhiraa Mountain. The number of nomadic homes, though still sparse, that we’ll start to see this afternoon speak for the relatively low altitudes that we’ve reached.

Tonight we’ll make camp by a small stream and let the sound of the gurgling, babbling water lull us to sleep.

Meals
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation
  • Camping
Day 9
Trek downstream along a canyon
Activities
  • Trekking: 6 hours
Transfers
None
Description

Today after breakfast, we’ll leave our small stream behind and hike along the top of a deep canyon. This trail takes us across open country and follows the seasonal migration route of local nomads. After covering about 17 kilometers, we’ll eventually make our way to the bottom of a wooded gorge with some rapids. We’ll make camp here among the trees and near the spray of the river—it’ll help us feel refreshed and rejuvenated after our long trek.

Meals
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation
  • Camping
Day 10
Trek and rendezvous with support cars
Activities
  • Trekking: 6 hours
Transfers
None
Description

The final day of our trek will be an exceptionally scenic day. Emerging from the gorge, we step onto a highland that soon gives way to mountainous semi-desert with open, distant views of boundless deserts, pasturelands and rolling hills.

Upon reaching our rendezvous point, we’ll make camp for the evening and bring the trekking portion of our adventure to an end.

Meals
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation
  • Camping
Day 11
Transfer to Bayan Olgii
Activities
None
Transfers
  • Van: 6
Description

Today we say goodbye to our Khoton guides and drive 5 to 6 hours to the city of Olgii, the capital of Bayan-Olgii Province. This province, which borders Kazakhstan, is Mongolia’s western-most province. Ninety percent of the local population is Muslim Kazakh.

Upon arriving in Olgii we’ll settle into a cozy hotel and take the rest of the afternoon relaxing and preparing for our flight back to UB. For dinner tonight we’ll be invited into the home of a local Kazakh family. In this intimate setting, we’ll enjoy the traditional delicacies and songs of this unique region.

Meals
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation
  • Eagle Nest Hotel
Day 12
Return flight to Ulaanbaatar
Activities
None
Transfers
  • Van: 3
Description

At Olgii Airport we’ll catch our 3-hour flight back to Ulaanbaatar today. Upon arrival in Ulaanbaatar, we’ll bring you to your hotel and give you some free time to explore the capital, do some shopping or just relax. In the evening, we’ll all gather for one last dinner together.

Meals
  • Breakfast, Dinner
Accommodation
Day 13
Departure
Activities
None
Transfers
None
Description

Today we’ll bring you to Chinggis Khan International Airport, say goodbye and wish you a safe return flight or onward journey.

Meals
  • Breakfast
Accommodation
None