From the Archive: Adventure on the Orkhon River, Mongolia

My good self, pumping up our raft at the put-in. Orkhon River, Mongolia. Photo by Jane.

My good self, pumping up our raft at the put-in. Orkhon River, Mongolia. Photo by Jane.

The day before this photo was taken, Jane and I were sitting in a cafe in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, talking with expat Chris about paddling a river in Mongolia. After sizing up our paddling experience, Chris recommended the Orkhon River.

According to Chris, the Orkhon was a pleasant mix of mostly grade 1 and 2 rapids, with the odd grade 3 rapid section in the crux of the river, The Gorge. The river was remote, with just one settlement along the length we would be paddling and it was long. We would be looking at 15-days and what would turn out to be 500-km of paddling.

Given the map we were looking at had a scale of 1:1,000,000, it was impossible to ascertain any real details about the river. Chris didn’t have any river notes, except to say that probably about 4 parties had paddled through The Gorge and there were no waterfalls to worry about.

That afternoon Jane went shopping for our food, while I went with Chris to his gear shed and sorted out all our paddling gear for the trip. Next morning we were picked up by Chris’ driver and driven to the start of our trip.

To say I was nervous, would be an understatement. Though I had previous paddling experience, it was on much larger rafts, with much larger groups of people. Yet here we were, dropped in the middle of the Mongolian steppe, next to a river we knew very little about, with a two-person raft, the type of which I had never paddled before. We had no support. Just a satellite phone and an agreed date and pick up point.

We were looking for adventure though and that is what the Orkhon River dished up. Over the next 16-days (more about the extra day it took us, in another post) we would get caught in freezing cold afternoon thunderstorms, flip our raft at critical moments in more than one rapid, lose our only sunscreen for the whole trip, have daily struggles with sourcing clean drinking water (the river was in flood at the time), and come to a point in The Gorge, where we actually considered walking 15 to 20-kilometres to the nearest road to get picked up.

Paddling the Orkhon River not only stretched us physically and mentally at times, it taught us what we are really capable of achieving.