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IKH NART, MONGOLIA

Mongolia is a fascinating country and provides great cultural experience to visitors. It remains largely undeveloped, with few paved roads and almost no fences. People outside of cities are still living a nomadic existence. Outside of the capital, Ulan Bator (Red Hero), the main mode of transportation is on horseback. People in the countryside still live in gers (yurts) and wear traditional clothing.

I was thrust into this world when I signed up to take part in an Earthwatch Institute expedition to study the ecology of argali, the largest mountain sheep in the world, and develop a long term conservation management plan for the species. Research suggests that the argali population declines primarily as a result of poaching and conflicts with domestic livestock production. 

After a seven and a half hour train ride from Ulan Bator toward Beijing, we arrived at a one gas pump town, an hour’s drive from the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve, the site of the studies. My home for the next two weeks was a 20 feet in diameter ger with ten occupants including representatives from Alaska, England and Namibia. The area was a high upland (4,000 feet) covered by semi-arid steppe (plains) vegetation. The weather is strongly continental--arid and windy with temperatures varying dramatically, even within a single 24 hour period.

The first three days we set up two quarter mile long fences ten feet apart to catch the argalis. Local herders were hired to drive the sheep into the nets where we could hold them while they were measured, weighed and radio transmitters installed. The first two days a few Siberian ibexes were captured, but no argalis. On the third day we captured three including a lamb. That evening we and the herders celebrated at a disco at a local cold spring resort where they ran out of beer after one round. 

The following days were spent using radio telemetry equipment to locate the various sheep we had collared previously and noting their activities. Small groups would be driven by van in various directions many miles from the research site. We located the sheep in an area by telemetry, and then walked back by use of a GPS unit. Additional days were spent doing small mammal research along with vegetation sampling to determine the amount and type of plant material available for the argalis. The research is on going and is beginning to shed light on the entire plant and animal community of Ikh Nart, a prerequisite to effective ecosystem management and conservation.

We had the opportunity to visit two local families in their gers which are portable traditional tents with a lattice folding frame covered by wool felt to allow them to move as their animals require new pastures. You do not knock on the door of a ger to enter, but simply walk in as all are welcome in this sparsely settled country, and the residents will serve you milk-tea and snacks, if not a complete meal, with soup and some dried lamb that they have hanging inside the door. Living in a one room yurt, Mongolians have no personal space, as we are used to. 

This was my first Earthwatch expedition, which was a great experience and adventure and I am looking at a future trip at this time. To where it will be, I do not know. 

ALLYN

Outings Committee Chair           

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

By Allyn Schneider, aschneider@hargray.com

By 2020 the glaciers in Glacier National Park will have melted because of global warming. Will the park’s name change? No! The park was named because the area was carved by glaciers during the last Ice Age. The spectacular valleys are "u" shaped, not the "v" shape of valleys formed by rivers.

The park has over 700 miles of hiking trails in its million acres and is a premier hiking park. There is only one road through it, the “Going to the Sun".

I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in the park in August leading a Sierra Club Service Trip with ten participants and a co-leader who was also a gourmet chef. With a trail crew of four, we worked four different trails. We brushed 4,000 feet of trail, did tread maintenance on 1,900 feet, relocated 180 feet, installed 25 feet of drainage and other trail work.

One highlight was observing a wolf pack of eight crossing a creek in a canyon down below us. Some nights we would hear the wolves howling. We were prepared for grizzlies with our bear spray, but did not encounter a single one. We had great weather, but one day the wind was from the southeast and brought smoke from the wildfires in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. While hiking near the continental divide on one of our days off, we encountered both mountain goats and sheep.

Glacier N.P. is a wonderful place that all should try to visit. If you are really ambitious, try your hand at some trail maintenance work!

ANWR: A PLACE WORTH SAVING

Allyn Schneider, Outings Chair

I had the opportunity in June to spend twelve days backpacking in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with six other Sierra Club members. I had worked hard as many of you did to protect the Arctic N.W.R. from oil exploration by phoning, writing and e-mailing our Congressmen. We were successful and I wanted to see what we saved.

The refuge in the Northeast corner of Alaska is an unbelievable place. Not snow and ice as one might imagine, but beautiful wildflowers of many varieties (potnetilla, purple saxifrage, Lapland rosebay, heather, willow, wooly lousewort) and green grass in fields and many times in tussocks, which are hummocks in the marsh bound together by plant roots. The tussocks made hiking difficult as one had to decide to hop from one hammock to the next or between them or a combination, based on the size and distance between them. An hour in the tussocks was equivalent to many hours hiking along a rocky river shore or just plain grass.

The trip started in Fairbanks where we boarded a seven passenger plane for Arctic Village which is the home of the G'witchen people who hunt the caribou. From there we took a three passenger bush plane over the Brooks Range to our tundra strip where we set up our first camp. We then backpacked a loop between two great rivers, the Jago and Aichilik. We hiked down the Jago to the north, the coastal plain (north slope) and then across the hills overlooking the Beaufort Sea to the Aichilik. We hiked up the Aichilik and then across the mountains back to the Jago River. During this time we established nine campsites with three sites being utilized for two days while we made day hikes.

The first few days we saw nesting ptarmigans, jaegers (skuas), warblers, peregrine falcons-- all on the ground as there are no trees. We also saw ground squirrels, Dall sheep, porcupine and arctic fox. As we entered the Aichilik valley we began seeing caribou of the porcupine herd which were migrating north to the coastal plain where they give birth to their calves. It is due to this large caribou herd that the Arctic N.W.R. is known as America's Serengeti. We saw many tracks and scat of both bears and wolves, but did not see any. We saw our token moose briefly and some musk ox on the flight out.

Except for two overcast days when it was in the forties with some wind, the rest of the time it was in the seventies with sunshine 24 hours a day; the sun never set. You wake up at midnight not to see stars, but the sun low in the sky. Of course this is the same area that has six months of darkness in winter.

The bush pilot set up a cache for us where we would be six days into the trip, so we did not have to carry twelve days of food and fuel. Even with this and one cache at the end, each member still had to carry about fifteen pounds of food, fuel and cooking gear for the group. Bathing was in the cold streams and rivers while defecating was done bear style on the ground with no catholes far from the campsite as there were no trees or shrubs. Trash was burned each day and any evidence of the fire eliminated. That which could not be burned was packed out.

We started the trip as seven strangers and ended up the closest of friends. The group consisted of four women, one being the co-leader and three men. It was a diverse group including a veterinarian, lawyer, engineer, computer programmer, two teachers and a health care manager presently working in Zambia.
It was the greatest backpack trip I have been on and in the most beautiful and pristine area. The Arctic N.W.R. is surely a place worth saving.
Left: Wooly Lousewort


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