Friday, 29 March 2013

5 Ovoo ridge run

Mongolians routinely build 'cairn' like structures on the tops of hills, high points or points of particular importance for them. These Ovoo also have some symbolic and religious significance. They are everywhere particularly in the hills. When coming across them you are supposed to circle them clockwise 3 times and or clap three times.

It was not particularly cold, my quick check of the weather station on the roof of school was showing -7c and it was only 10 o'clock. It was going to get warmer for sure so I packed my bag, adding windproof over trousers and a windproof jacket but set off in what is my most minimal clothing of the year so far. Hat and gloves for sure, softshell fleece hoody certainly, but 3/4 running tights and shorts were a bit of a gamble.

Turns out it was perfect, a little chilly on the run out but perfect when I hit the hills. I had been scoping out a route along a prominent ridge visible from school and while I was sure I wanted to run the ridge back towards UB, I was also sure I'd never find it from the south so up from the north I went.
Ovoo 1

Just get to the next ovoo and make a decision about where to go next was the idea. There was still a fair amount of snow and ice in places on the way up and making it to what I thought was going to be the 2nd ovoo, but in fact turned out to be the third was something of a challenge, requiring hands, feet and lunges for stability of small trees.
Up that ridge to the rocky outcrop and ovoo 2 (except it was 3)

Not sure it really counts but ovoo 2 was a surprise
I was somewhat surprised when I got to the top and found a couple of gents brewing up a cup of tea. We exchanged cameras took some photos and then I plunged on heading for the next ovoo. 
That's ovoo 4 in the distance

trail to ovoo 4 visible as a white line behind me

When I got there I would decide whether to either carry on or turn back towards a different ovoo in the next valley west. I reached the ovoo sooner than expected, feeling good and was again a little startled as realised belatedly I was not alone.

Got a bit of a shock to find myself in the company of a goat herder

Ovoo 4 looking back to UB

It was warm - maybe even above zero in the sun - and the skies were blue and the trail looked obvious, until that is it disappeared at the next rocky outcrop. A quick scramble down and round soon had me back on the right track. As I hit the trees the snow deepened but at least there was no getting lost.
Ovoo 5

A lone trail marker

I soon found the trail down to the meditation centre and decided to take it rather than head for White Circle. It was steep, snowy in places, icy in others and always slippy, it was grin inducing stuff, but occasionally a little sore as there were one or two tumbles. There were occasions when I resorted to squatting using my feet as skis, hands as steering poles and just tobogganed sections more out of control then under it. Ironically I was listening to a 'Talk Ultra' podcast at the time extolling the virtues of training to run downhill. There was little or no running down this slope, hopping from tree to tree, sliding, skating and falling were all practiced but there was little or no running until the  very end of the off road and by then it was pleasant to get back on to the rubble that forms the road and path back to Zaisan.

22km, 10km of which were relatively flat, alongside the still frozen river, 720m ascent, just under 4 hours later, tired, hungry and in need of a cold frothy beverage I  made it home, happy.

5 ovoos ridge run garmin

Big men in briefs

Not the kind of title you were expecting from this blog I'm sure but I did spend several hours in the company of many very big men in briefs and I would not argue with any one of them.

We went on the weekend before 'mens day' and found ourselves treated to military parades dancing marching bands and a myriad of other entertainment before the action started.

Over 200 wrestlers started and the 'first round' alone lasted over an hour with a seemingly constant stream of men entering the ring performing their pre fight rituals and locating their opponents.

There are no weight categories and this first round is drawn on the less than fair basis that the list from top ranked to lowest is simply folded in half so the top ranked faces the lowest ranked. These first bouts did not take long, you do wonder how you ever move up the rankings if as a newcomer you are constantly facing the best opponents but that's the way it is. By the time we got to the bouts nearer the middle of the fold things were getting more competitive and the 20 minute rule came into effect.

If the bout has run for 20 minutes then a referee comes over with a box with a dice showing only two colours, he shakes and the winner gets to choose the 'most advantages hold'. This hold definitely favours the bigger wrestlers and the 20 minute rule is being blamed for the growing size of Mongolian wrestlers and the fact that the more faster smaller wrestlers no longer get much of a look in as the bigger guys can wait it out and hope for the 'advantage hold'. Alternate rounds from this point on gave the top ranked wrestlers the opportunity to choose their opponents, respect had to be shown by the young up and coming wrestlers at all times or these experienced guys would ensure you never passed the second round if word got out that you were in any way disrespectful.

Anyway by the time we got to the semi finals some 4.5 hours later we were treated to some controversy as the crowd objected to the antics of one of the wrestlers and empty plastic drinks bottles rained down on the ring one hitting the object of their derision on the head and causing a small cut. All while the other semi final bout continued on in the background.

His brother - also a wrestler took to the stands looking for the person who threw it which ended in much comical pointing at anyone but the person next to you. In the end this particular wrestler was given a route to the final by the judges and a large section of the crowd left shouting their displeasure. He did lose the final though which was some justice. All in all 5 and a bit hours of entertainment - I enjoyed it, was lucky to have a wrestling enthusiast and colleague sitting next to me to explain the intricacies, but it was a long day and we were starving by the end of it and quickly headed for the nearest restaurant, and Indian we have not been to for a while. After the meal we managed to get a carry out menu in English, I think we may be using them more frequently in future. Excellent end to a long but interesting day.