LabRat Run '19 - Mongolia Altai
Mongolia's Alti Mountains
LabRat Runs have quickly become a PaintedRoads tradition. A group of easygoing and adventurous regulars, The LabRats annually sate their appetite for adventure by joining the inaugural running of a PaintedRoads adventure tour.
2017’s LabRat Run, through Mongolia’s Alti Mountains, was such a success that in 2018 it was our most sought after tours. And for 2019 the ‘Rats wanted more - Mongolia higher, more remote, more removed from the 21st century,
And so the LabRats will once more team up with our trusted and much respected local crew and head for the very edge of Mongolia, to cycle the tracks, trails, and gravel roads of the country's highest and wildest region. It is to be an adventure on the edge of the modern world, where nomads roam the mountains and plains on horseback, living in gers, and hunting with eagles amongst the crystal clear lakes, snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and emerald meadows that form the border with China’s Xinjiang Province and Russia’s Siberia Province. It will be epic!
Please Note: The images in the gallery below are from our regular Mongolia tour in the Kanghai Mountains.
At a Glance
Total Days: 15
Cycling Days: 10
Daily Average: 55km
Max. Alt.: 3000m
2019: 13 Jul - 27 Jul: $3500.00
By invitation only. This year’s LabRat Run will take a group of PaintedRoads regulars to the far west of Mongolia to explore the country's highest mountains - the formidable border with Russia and China.
The cycling is 90% unsealed roads and trails through a rugged and beautiful mountain range.
The climbs are higher and tougher than our ride through Mongolia’s Khangai range. Whilst a high level of technical skill is not needed, this is a cycling holiday for more experienced riders and some off-road experience is necessary. There are on occasions short steep sections where we cross passes on rocky trails with loose surfaces, and these need to be approached with caution and a willingness to perhaps push your bike at times, both up and down. There are also rivers to ford by foot, so wet feet are to be expected as part of the adventure.
On the whole, we are riding on gravel roads, grass trails, hard-packed dirt tracks, and some single track.
The distances may look short in kilometres, but with some long climbs and unsealed conditions, the days are full and not to be underestimated.
Once out of town this is purely a camping expedition. This means four nights hotel and ten nights camping. Whilst camping we use three man dome tents each shared by two people. Those who opt to pay a single occupancy fee will have a three-man tent to themselves and a hotel room alone for four nights.
Along with our sleeping tents, the campsite features a dining/mess tent, a kitchen tent, a toilet tent, and a shower tent with hot water.
Although we usually recommend using your own bicycle for tours, the logistics of getting from Ulaanbaatar to the Alti Mountains means that the support vehicle with our equipment will leave Ulaanbaatar 3 or 4 days before we fly west, and will not arrive back in UB until several days after we finish riding.
If you feel anything other than a 100% desire to use your own bike it would be beneficial to use a rental bike as this also avoids the possible luggage delay issue with a bike for those flying through Beijing or Moscow.
Fortunately, the bikes we supply are well maintained Giant XTC hardtail mountain bikes. With an aluminium hard frame, front suspension, hydraulic disc brakes, 27.5" wheels and 30 gears these bikes are ideal for this tour and the rental fee is just US$100.
Although our rental bicycles are ready to ride, if you have a saddle at home upon which you are comfortable we strongly recommend bringing it along. Likewise, if you use clip-less cycling shoes such as Shimano SPDs please be sure to bring matching pedals. We are of course happy to help you with fitting these items.
If you do feel that the only way to really enjoy the ride is with your favourite bike please get in touch to discuss what bikes are suitable and the general logistics for this tour.
Rental Bike Fee: US$100
For Those With Their Own Bike:
Spares and Repairs
We will be in the wilderness for the entirety of the journey with no bicycle shops or availability of spares. It is therefore essential that you ensure your bicycle is serviced and properly maintained.
If you are unsure about the mechanical side of things a professional service at a reputable bicycle shop is essential, make sure the bike shop is aware of the circumstances of your journey
Spares to consider include:
• tyre x 1
• inner tube x 2
• sealant if you use tubeless tyres (also bring 1 x tube even if you are running tubeless).
• puncture repair kit
• chain link
• spokes of the correct length (spokes have the ability to know if you are carrying spares - Murphy's Law applies).
• derailleur hanger
• brake pads
• chain lube
Also useful is a means of carrying your camera, sunblock, rain jacket etc. such as a lightweight backpack, or something from the variety of bike-packing bags that are now readily available.
Clothing and Sleeping
Temperatures can vary considerably with night-time temperatures between 5º and 15º, and daytime temperatures between 15º and 35º. Layering is always a good idea and for these conditions merino wool is excellent. Rain is possible so a waterproof jacket is essential. A down jacket is a good idea for the evening.
You will need to bring your own sleeping bag. Pillows are not provided, a down jacket makes a good pillow, alternatively, bring along a travel pillow. Sleeping mats are provided.
Arriving at Ulaanbaatar airport you will be met by a driver and guide and transferred to our joining hotel where you will be met by David, your tour leader.
Early Arrival - Ulaanbaatar.
Ulaanbaatar is a town well worth arriving early for. Despite a population of one point three million people, the centre has a relaxed small town feel and a surprisingly modern vibe. There are museums to visit, and the restaurants, cafés, and bars where the staff speak good English. As with any new town to just wander and absorb the atmosphere is a fine introduction to a new land.
If possible early arrival is recommended to allow time to overcome the ravages of a long flight before we head out to the steppe.
Moscow and Beijing airports have a reputation for baggage delays. In our experience up to 50% of luggage from these airports is delayed and arrives up to 48 hours late. Please keep this in mind when deciding on flights and arrival dates.
NB. Of the two airports, our experience is that Beijing is constantly the worst offender.
Maximum Elevation: 3000m
Proficiency: Moderate to demanding
Day 1: Arrival to Ulaanbaatar
Upon arrival in Ulaanbaatar (UB) you will be met by your guide and transferred to a hotel in the city centre. Time permitting you will be taken on a guided tour to some of the city’s highlights, including a giant Buddha statue at Mongolia’s main Buddhist centre, the National Museum and the central square. A traditional throat singing and contortion performance will be presented at the end of the day. At a welcome dinner, you will be given an informal introduction to the tour ahead of you.
Day 02: Contingency day
Day in Ulaanbaatar for rest and contingencies.
Day 03: Fly western Mongolia and Begin Cycling
Transfer to airport and fly to the westernmost province of Bayan-Olgiy where the country’s highest mountains lie. We will meet our support crew with our bikes and equipment at the airport from where we shall mount our machines and begin our ride heading directly to the mountains where we begin to acclimatise to the dry air and altitude. The initial 55km tarmac stretch is the only sealed part of the entire 550km ride across the Altai mountain range. Tonight we camp not far from the Mongolian-Russian border in our three-person dome tents provided on a twin share basis. The campsite also boasts a mess tent, a hot camping shower, and a toilet tent with a seat placed over a cat hole.
Day 04: Cycle to Khaishintsar Mt.
Two-thirds of the way is a gradual ascent along the Russian borderline on desolate mountain roads and faint tracks until reaching the day’s highest point at 2575m. Vast numbers of domesticated animals, mainly yaks and goats grazing on steep slopes and rugged ridges can be often seen. They belong to local Muslim Kazakhs whose felt-walled tents known as gers or yurts can also be seen dotting the landscape in twos or threes. An occasional encounter with a curious shepherd or local children always offers a chance for taking some good photos. The last 20km is downhill to a grassy campsite by a small stream. We sleep at almost 2200m.
Day 05: Cycle to Baga Oigor petroglyph gallery
We cycle further west across the mountainous desert with terrain that requires more climbing than the previous days. Although the riding surface is dominated by packed soils rocky tracks and loose soil are also present especially near the tops of mountain passes. The destination is the Baga Oigor valley, the site of an extensive petroglyph gallery included in the UNESCO "World Cultural Heritage List. Stone and Bronze Age rock carvings here are scattered across an area 15km long and 500m wide. Images depict wild and domestic animals and scenes of human life such as hunting, herding, worship etc. Here we set up our tented camp and explore the rock art gallery.
Day 06: Ride to Tavan Bogd National park
We continue a short while along the rugged folds of Baga Oigor valley and stop at a border patrol station to settle formalities. The road then climbs up a grassy shoulder between two dome-shaped mountains. This brings us to an enormous V-shaped mountain valley with clear streams running down from glaciers that cover the ridge top. The main feature of the mountains here is the alternation of grassy slopes with massive walls of loose scree. Here we cycle by some alpine lakes, a summer base for local Kazakh herdsmen. They live in large mushroom-like yurts and tend their massive flocks of yaks and goats. It will be interesting to visit them and learn about the way of life which seemingly hasn’t changed for many hundreds of years. At the day’s end, we arrive at Tavan Bogd NP gate, a few yurts - home of local rangers at the foothill of even bigger mountains.
Day 07: Ride to Tavan Bogd Viewpoint and descend to White River
We pedal and push the bikes on the high mountain terrain strewn with running streams and patches of snow. The day’s halfway point is an elevated hill from which there opens a panoramic view of Mongolia’s highest peaks and largest glaciers. We have picnic lunch while enjoying the magnificent views before heading down towards a deep V-shaped valley at the bottom of which rumbles a torrential river full of glacial silt. This is the White River. Its lush valley is the summer pastureland of herding nomads. We free-wheel down a steep slope and arrive at our campsite by the glacial river.
Days 08: Ride to Kharnoor Lake
We roll down the White River valley and visit a Tuvan family. Also known as the Uriankhai this ethnic people of Turkic origin have historically been moving around southern Siberia. Traditionally they practice shamanism, the worship of ancestral and natural spirits, but today this belief is blended with Tibetan Buddhism. We use the chance to learn of their way of life and to taste food and drinks offered by the unwritten local rules. After the visit, we climb back to the brim of the valley towards Holy Mt. Shiveet and cycle along its base. A massive flat rock strewn with hundreds of images of wild beasts, cattle and hunting people lies at the mountain east end. From there we roll downhill into the widening valley for another 20km. After lunch, we leave the White River valley behind and climb to a highland tundra using seasonal migration roads. We spend the night at 2600m.
Day 9: Bike to Khoton Lake
Continue further south enjoying spectacular scenery: grassy uplands, alpine lakes and rugged hills. We will be travelling at an average altitude of 2500m but still depending on the time in the summer we might come across locals moving with antique Russian trucks fearlessly negotiating tricky mountain roads. We may also meet Kazakh hunters who train golden eagles and use them for hunting. Although actual hunting is done in winter you can still see the massive birds and have a photo taken holding one on your arms to impress your family and friends. At the day’s end, we arrive at Khoton, a spectacular alpine lake bordering China’s Xinjiang province.
Day 10: Rest Day
We spend a well-earned rest day at ease. The Khoton lake campsite is truly idyllic. A snow-capped ridge marking the borderline with China and wooded slopes below reflect in the mirror-like surface of the lake. You can go swimming or explore some well preserved Bronze-age rock carvings just beside the camp.
Day 11: Ride to Black Lake
We cross a narrow strait linking the Khoton with its “sister” lake called Khurgan and ride along the latter enjoying views of the snow-capped ridge that marks the borderline with China and the pretty woods at its foot. Our camp tonight will be at another highland lake with the snow-capped Mt. Tsengel as the backdrop.
Day 12: Ride to Sagsay Town
Ride north-east enjoying views of the 3943m Mt. Tsengel. Its rugged foothills and grassy slopes are perfect grazings for yaks and sheep of which you will see hundreds along the way. The morning riding is easy with a general downward inclination. Then after lunch, we climb to the top of a dry ridge at 2660m followed by a 15km fast downhill to our next campsite amidst the semi-desert landscape.
Day 13: Return to civilization
The last 35km to Olgiy town are rather uneventful. The tour’s last challenge will be climbing 400m in 8km. Descending on a dusty road will bring us to the edge of the capital of the westernmost province and to a cosy hotel just in time for a shower and beers to celebrate the end to the cycling adventure. Tonight you will have a chance to enjoy some Kazakh songs and music and traditional delicacies.
Day 14: Fly back to Ulaanbaatar
Transfer to Olgiy airport and fly back to UB. Upon arrival transfer to your hotel. Rest until we gather for a farewell dinner.
Day 15: Departure
Transfer to the airport for your return flight back home.
Check trip dates and availablility below. Click the Book This Date button to go ahead and make a booking, alternatively you can make a no-obligation request for us to keep you informed about the status of a trip or changes to a trip by clicking the Register Interest button against a date.
£ Pound Sterling Payment Option
Our prices are all in US dollars but we can offer you the option of paying in GBP (£) based on the exchange rate at the time of booking. You can choose on the booking form, adjusted prices will be shown there.
2019: 13 Jul - 27 Jul
Well maintained Giant XTC hardtail mountain bikes. With an aluminium hard frame, front suspension, hydraulic disc brakes, 27.5" wheels and 30 gears these bikes are ideal for this tour.
Our back-up vehicles carry tools, although for those competent with bicycle maintenance bringing your own pump, puncture kit, and multi-tool would speed up any trailside repairs and adjustments that became necessary.
Rental Fee: US$100
The prices quoted above are for a twin room share basis. If you are travelling alone you will be paired up with another lone traveler of the same gender to share with. Single room occupancy can be arranged, the single supplement rate shown is per person.