During last summer, three students completed a challenge of a lifetime, trekking on horseback in Mongolia for 17 days.
The expedition, which took 28 days in total, was supported by Mark Evison Foundation, which aims to promote personal, mental and physical development in young people by asking them to complete various challenges.
Tomos Davies, Jack Morphet and Joshua Hosford, all aged 21, rode 250 miles unsupported with 5 horses from a town called Murun to the top of Lake Khovsgol Nuur - the 14th largest lake in the world.
Jack said: ‘Going through an alien wilderness on horseback is something so far detached from our modern day lives, but is something that all three of us crave to be doing, so to tread alongside Mongolian nomadic footsteps and live under conditions they do is something of a dream come true.
“The experience has benefited us hugely: not only have we learnt many new practical skills in both an equestrian and expedition sense, but also strengthened our mental skills necessary for expeditions”, added Tomos, a 3rd year Agriculture with Animal Production Science student.
The main inspiration for young explorers, who have all previously committed to the similar, but smaller-scale projects ranging from a gillie role in the remote Scottish Highlands to hiking in Fiordland National Park in New Zealand, became Tim Cope - an Australian adventurer, filmmaker and trekking guide, who rode 10,000 km on the horseback from Mongolia to Hungary between 2004–2007.
The team started researching and planning at the beginning of last year and considered themselves to be well-prepared both physically and mentally – “as prepared as we could be going to a place so unknown and alien to us, and one which is relatively poorly documented”, Tomos said.
All three of them had previously gained some experience of horse-riding before embarking on the journey, and Josh and Tomos’ stockmanship skills as experienced farmers came in handy when looking after the horses along the way.
The crew started their expedition in Murun, heading north towards Lake Khovsgol with 120 kg of equipment. Travelling for around 6 hours and 20 miles per day along vast open flat plains alternating with mountainous woodlands, Jack, Josh and Tomos had some difficult moments of surviving on less than 1,000 calories a day and staying alert all night with an average of 4-hours sleep in freezing temperatures.
On the topic of night watches, Jack said: “Ever since we told the natives about what we wanted to do, we were told that we would have our horses stolen from us right away.
“This, alongside a limited time to reach our goal, meant that the trip would become an endurance adventure rather than the journey we had originally planned for”, he added.
Riding horseback on temperamental Mongolian horses around Hovsgol National Park did not come without its twists and turns.
The team had a moment of true desperation when two of the five horses tore their tethers and galloped off into the night while being spooked by wolves or wild horses in the area.
Tomos said: “We spent a whole day searching for them to no effect, then found a local nomad and paid him a small sum to help us search for them. The next day he came to find us and told us he had found them.
“While losing the horses was the lowest point of the journey, getting them back was probably the happiest”.
The fact that the team went on trip around those wild solitary lands unsupported might seem somewhat extreme.
“We had GPS satellite phones with us, but other than that… in the event of an emergency we would have had to ride to the last locals gher (tent home) and ask for their help.”
At first they didn’t have many interactions with locals, however later on, as the trio were getting more and more support from Mongolians, their attitude changed significantly, which resulted in a few stay-overs with locals and following food share, gesture communication and ’creature comforts’ - such as antibiotics for horses, sweets, pens and paper, cigarettes - give away as a token of gratitude.
Josh added: “For these people what we were doing seemed crazy, as their way of life is incredibly difficult and requires so much hardiness that doing suchlike things to make our own lives harder is understandably difficult for them to fathom.
“The lesson we learned was know who to trust: for the city and townsfolk it was wise to be wary of them as there are thieves and drunks around willing to fleece you for money or possessions, but in the more rural areas they could be depended on and were incredibly helpful and kind for no gain to themselves.”
After reaching their destination in Turt, Khankh, the team sold the horses back to some of the nomads, paid a local to drive them back to the town they started from and spent next 24 hours in a soviet van, wading through torrential rain and flooding with the car breaking down along the way several times.
“Exploring the untamed natural world with friends is something that cannot be beaten by any material gains or wealth, and I wouldn’t change anything that happened on the trip.
“I would love to go back and explore more of what is an awe-inspiring country in every way”, Josh added.
Having filmed the whole process, the guys have made a short documentary about their trip, and are now raising funds for the Mark Evison Foundation.
“The team have done amazingly well with their project, especially considering all the early challenges they faced at the start; they have come back with not only a new set of practical skills but also a sense of real adventure which is something the charity encourages wholeheartedly”, said Dr Margaret Evison, Executive Trustee of the Mark Evison Foundation.
“No matter how well-prepared you think you are, there will always be doubts about whether or not you can handle anything like that, but it gets to a point when you just have to bite the bullet and take the plunge.
“This challenge has made us keener than ever for future expeditions, and we hope this acts as a springboard to achieve that”, Tomos concluded.