Jun 26 2008

Camel Caravan

Published by at 8:06 pm under Mongolia,Western Mongolia

Running an expedition in western Mongolia requires hauling around a lot of gear. Not just everyone’s personal gear but all the stuff that keeps the show going like food, cooking gear, tents, tables, chairs, etc. Since the culture there is so focused on horses, you might think that they do all the hauling. But – surprise – there are camels there too and they’re the true beasts of burden. Horses may be faster and they’re easier to ride but camels can carry incredible loads and they’re very sure-footed even where horses may not be. As Meredith has already said, we had eight camels on our trek. The wranglers would load them up after we broke camp in the morning and then they would pass us during the day or they might take a more direct route to the next campsite if we took a longer, more scenic one.


Above, a camel loaded up and resting before a day on the trail


Above, camels and glaciers in the same view. Didn’t expect that, did you?


Above, a view of the camel train with full load, truckin’ across a river to the next campsite.

There were several days on the trip where one or more river crossings were required. The rivers were low enough that we had an option of making the crossing on horse or camel. Sometimes the river runs high enough though that taking a camel is required unless you want a good dunk. It probably feels more secure too since the camels seemed to be more stable when crossing.


Above, Meredith makes a river crossing on camelback.

Having said that though, there was an incident one day when one of the camels didn’t quite make it all the way across. We had to make a series of crossings to make progress up a valley and one of the crossings was tough – we searched for about 30 minutes to find a place that wasn’t too deep for our horses to cross. Once we were across, we heard a commotion behind us and, although we didn’t see how it began, one of the camels was stuck with its rear end in the water and front legs on shore.


Above, the camel wranglers unload the stuck camel’s cargo to help get it going again. The camel’s head is facing left behind the guy with the green jacket.

The camel was amazingly calm, at least on the outside. He just sat there in the eye of the storm while the wranglers jumped all around him, yelling in Kazakh, getting bags out of the water (good thing those bags are waterproof!) and so on. Once he was unloaded, he finally got moving again but only after a lot of prodding. Then they had to reload him and off we went. After I took the picture above, I took a video that is about 3 and a half minutes long. For the first half or so, the camel doesn’t move but you’ll see and hear the wranglers in action. At one point, two of them are in the water (that was cold, I’m sure) walking around feeling for bags that might be submerged. After the camel is back on solid ground and ready to be loaded again, the wranglers relaxed and saw that I was filming the event. The very end of the video shows them heading towards me so that they could see the video themselves. These guys were real hams. They loved the camera and loved seeing themselves in the display. But that’s a subject for a different post.

To see the video in QuickTime format, click here for a small version (faster download) and click here for a larger version (bigger picture). Likewise for Windows Media format: click here for a small version and click here for a larger version. Enjoy!

– Dave

One response so far

One Response to “Camel Caravan”

  1. Lynne says:

    wow. the sound and image are crystal clear on the video. I especially like the way the camel’s humps wag around when he’s unloaded! he seems so free and blissful without the pack, just two jelly humps waving in the wind…