After driving through sleet and snow from the sand dunes of Khongoryn Els, the skies clear a little over the magnificent Gobi landscape when we arrive at Bayandalai where we make a short stop. When we left our camp that morning, we were told that we should pick up "a tourist" here, but he mysteriously disappeared, so we continue. Whenever the clouds lift, we see snow on the Gurvan Saikhan mountain range to our left, and we are getting always closer to the mountains. Then, unexpectedly, the driver steers our car on a steep slope, into a narrow, grey canyon below through which a river is flowing. Soon enough, we realize we have arrived at Dugany Am, which is the adventurous way to approach Yolyn Am, our destination of the day. On both sides, vertical cliffs rise from the bottom of the canyon, and the two walls stand very close to each other. We get off and run ahead, to have a better look at how our driver steers the car through this impossibly narrow passage.
After squeezing our Landcruiser through the rocky entrance, the rest of Dugany Am canyon keeps us in suspense. Wild landscapes on all sides, we often drive through the river, and our driver steers the car past rocks and boulders, while keeping an eye out on both sides. Apart from the small pikas running around everywhere, we finally see a fox with furry tail climbing the mountain on our right. It is only when our driver stops the car, that we realize we have been going up ourselves all the time: we have reached the end of Dugany Am at a mountain pass. Ahead of us, clouds hover over snow-capped mountains. A little later, we reach the parking spot for Yolyn Am, and start our hike into the canyon. At the beginning, a wide valley, but soon enough, we turn left, and the gorge narrows rapidly. We hike down, frequently have to cross the river, sometimes by stepping on small stones, or just jumping. By now, it is clear the clouds will not lift anymore for the rest of the day. It means the steep peaks of the mountains on both sides of Yolyn Am are covered in clouds. Soon enough, we see our first patches of ice, and then icefalls. Actually, we are in the wrong time of the year: Yolyn Am sees a thick layer of ice in winter, and remains covered in ice in summer as well. Water is starting to freeze again, and surely, the canyon will be filled with ice probably already within weeks.
The Yolyn Am canyon becomes narrow, and the going gets tougher: we have to cross the river all the time, sometimes walking on rocks at the side of the canyon. Then, a small waterfall presents itself, and passing it is a little tricky. The rocks are slippery because of the drizzle; the alternative is to step through part of the river. This is where those on horseback must return. I continue by myself, go up a side valley, and continue down the canyon which gradually becomes wider again, and the walls on both sides lower. It also means I can see further ahead. I even spot flowers, a dead pika. Parts of the grass at the river is covered in ice. When I turn around, the drizzle is turning into snow, and soon enough, the landscape around me turns white. When I reach the narrow section of Yolyn Am canyon again, I hear the chirping sound of shoes on fresh snow, and leave a trail behind me as if I were the first visitor to Yolyn Am. I pass an ovoo covered in a delicate layer of snow, and then reach the small waterfall again, manage myself up the slippery rocks, and continue on an ever thicker layer of snow through the canyon until I reach the wider section again. In the distance, a small group of horses walks into a side valley. When we finally leave the valley, I hope to be back here one day when the canyon still has a thick layer of ice. It is getting dark when we drive through the valley over a snow-covered road, when we have to slow down for a large group of horses. Once installed in our ger camp (the first one we try turns out to be already closed for winter), the snow continues to fall, enough to make a snowman. The next morning, icicles fall off the roof when we open the wooden door, and we are in a white world under a bright sky. The view of the mountain range is breathtaking, and when we drive away, for the second day in a row, I get this doubt: shouldn't we go back to hike Yolyn Am again, now under a sunny sky?
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Yolyn Am (Mongolia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Yolyn Am.
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