Day 24: Yolin Am Canyon

Day 24: We bought two big bottles of water ($1) and hit the road from Dalanzadgad to the Yolin Am Canyon. The canyon is located just south of the road that runs between Dalanzadgad and Bayandalai, and since we now knew that that road was paved and had plenty of traffic on it, we assumed that hitching to the canyon wouldn’t be too difficult. We had our winter camping gear and enough food and water for several more days, just in case we got stuck.

We had our thumbs out on the main road by about 1pm. A couple of cars stopped and were confused about what we were doing. They offered us a lift for a large sum of money. We declined the offer and kept on hitching. About 10 minutes later, we got the perfect lift- a local family was driving all the way to the canyon and offered us a free ride! We squeezed in the back seat with two little kids.

The drive to Yolin Am was spectacular. We drove into the mountains off the paved road and down into the canyon. The rock walls grew taller as road got narrower until eventually…we ran into a parking lot. There were a lot more people in Yolin Am than we expected, but they were basically all local families.

The first thing we did was climb a small hill at the entrance of the park, where we spotted some Mongolian yaks.

Then we slid back down the mountain and into the canyon. It was a fascinating sight- a flowing river quickly turned into smooth glassy ice shaded by brown eroded rock walls. A few small waterfalls stood still, frozen down the side of these ancient cliffs.

We lost sight of all other people after about a 20 minute walk into the canyon. The deeper we walked, the narrower the passageway got. Some of the trek was quite slippery and a bit sketchy since we didn’t know how thick the ice was and there was no choice but to slide over it. About 8 km into the canyon trail, we noticed another climbable mountain. Of course, we couldn’t resist checking out the view of Yolin Am from the top.​

The sun was going down as we were climbing back down the mountain and I started to think about those wolves again. Baatar told us that the face of a missing Chinese man was found in these mountains, the rest was eaten. And this place really looked like wolf territory. I felt safe with Felix close by, but pretty scared as soon as he walked 3 or 4 meters away from me. There’s no way a lone wolf would attack the two of us… but me, alone? Probably not… and who knows if that story is even true… But the thought is hard to get out of your head when you’re standing in a grey and black canyon, your flashlight barely works because of the cold, and your mind starts seeing moving shadows.

We decided to camp just below that mountain, where there was a big enough piece of flat ground next to the frozen river. This is what the spot looked like in the morning-

It got very cold at night, just as we expected, but Felix still wanted to take some night photos of the canyon. I was terrified of roaming around wolf territory in the middle of the night, but I wasn’t going to let him go alone. We put on every piece of clothing we had, grabbed a stick, some gasoline and a lighter (wolf-protection kit :D), and then wandered back into the narrow part of the canyon in pitch black.

My body shook and trembled as I slipped slowly down the river of ice. I think it was a combination of cold and fear. I stopped shaking when we lit the stick on fire. Fire has been protecting humans from other animals for hundreds of thousands of years- even before we, homo sapiens, were a species! And here it was, protecting me from wolves :) Fascinating! :D

Then Felix found a narrow gorge that he wanted to photo. He asked me to stand still in it, holding the firestick. I went into this rocky little gully, a good 5 meters away from Felix and the camera- stick on fire- all good. “Stay, don’t move, it’ll be a good shot. Wolves don’t hunt humans anyway. And I have fire!”

I stood still. 5 seconds… 10 seconds. The fire carved patterns… 15 seconds. Mysterious shapes and movements… 20 seconds. The canyon, the rocks, the creepy bushes, flickering fire… 22. Something moving! 23. There it was! A WOLF! 24. And the fire went OUT! It’s pitch black!

“DON’T MOVE!” yelled Felix.

The exposure was 30 seconds.
Fuck. 5,4,3,2,1. I ran away as soon as Felix gave me the go, grabbed a flashlight, looked around. No wolf, just a bush :).

Even though I was cold and terrified that night, I was also captivated by the entire situation. There was something about that canyon, perhaps all the emotions that ran through me, the adrenaline and the beauty of the ice and cold, that made me gain a much deeper love and appreciation for winter. Not just for the snow and snowboarding like before, but for everything- icicles and frozen flowers, the sound of water rushing beneath ice, every precious snowflake, every frozen stream. Winter is filled with unique and wild beauty.

Perhaps it was Felix too. Coming from Canada, he absolutely loved winter. He was happy to camp even in -30 degree weather. When he got cold, he would simply go for a run. Easy as that. He made me understand that there’s nothing scary or uncomfortable about winter camping (as long as you have the right gear). And he always had a smile on his face :).

That’s the thing about traveling- more than anything else, it’s about the people you meet. And the best thing that you can do is learn from these people; learn how to love the stuff that everybody else hates, like camping in -30 degrees :D

Total expenses of day 24:
$1 (water)

Total expenses so far of 24 days in Mongolia (including the price of getting to Mongolia):

*Some photos taken by Felix

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