Thursday, June 3, 2010

How to Stealth Camp in Mongolia

What is stealth camping?
Given Mongolia’s vast emptiness and dearth of B&Bs the cycle tourist will need a comfortable tent. When the light starts dimming and legs begin to tire you’ll know it is time to hike out to a secluded site and set up for the night. Going unnoticed from the road to an isolated, safe location, pitching the temporary home and spending the night is Stealth Camping.

Get a spot
Mongolia is basically a series of very high plateaus with frequent mountain ranges. The expansive nature means you need to anticipate when your day of cycling will end and start eyeing off prospective hideaways 10-15km in advance. Failing to predict bedtime will leave a cyclist tired, hypoglycaemic and rather exposed in the flat steppe. Dunes, hills and mountains all give good cover and are generally in easy access from the road.

Get stealthy
Try to exit the road when it is light on traffic to avoid being seen. Motorists usually number 10-20 per day on a lot of roads so this shouldn’t be a problem. Disembark and commence the push to pitch. 300-1000m can usually take two overworked legs to an isolated area out of view of the roadside.

Get relatively alone
It is rare that there will be no gers in view of the campsite . Although gers can be some 10km away, the herder’s monocular makes the steppe a very small place. The primary use of the monocular is to see passing cycle tourists, however spotting wandering yaks and camel are a useful additional perk of this viewing device. Herders have often come up to our camp at night or the in morning and gestured that they saw us along the way when we thought we were in the middle of nowhere, isolated and alone. Thus aim to be a generous distance from gers, but don’t expect to go unnoticed. Of course asking to camp alongside a family and getting another taste of nomadic life is also a good way to mix up the camping.

Get protected
The main predator in the Mongolian outback which threatens the stealth camping cyclist is wind. Often this hungry beast will present itself early on, allowing optimal tent alignment. Yet it is well within the nature of the gusts to hunt in packs. A westerly may blow for most of the day, luring campers to a spot with westerly protection before a brutal easterly attacks by night. Our most restless night was when a perfectly calm evening gave us no hint as to how to align the tent and invited 10 hours of cross winds to rock our home. Imagine a drunk negotiating a fine-china store whilst holding hundreds of rustling plastic bags.

Get cosy
Having a view of spectacular mountain ranges, rivers, snow caps and sunsets comes complimentary with every Mongolian stealth camping experience. So lay out your ground sheet. Put some river water on the boil and practice the broken Mongolian small talk with which to greet the local nomad who’ll visit next morning…. ‘mal sugreg targan tavtai yuu’ (I hope your animals are fattening up nicely).

Stealth camping


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