The vast plains of the Eurasian steppe are tightly weaved with equine tradition. In Mongolia horses have shaped the nation, from the war steeds of Genghis Khan to the herds of the modern nomads, even today they outnumber the human population. Get under the skin of this wilderness by exploring the far reaches of Mongolia’s national parks, on a horseback adventure in a class of its own. Get to grips with Kazakh and Mongolian traditions as you ride in the company of Kazakh horsemen and semi-nomadic animal herders.
The aim of this expedition is to circumnavigate Karalagash Mountain (3,571m) via old trading routes and hidden smuggling routes, where highly-prized products, such as elk antler, were once traded for consumer goods.
Setting out into the sweeping steppe on horseback, you’ll enter the foothills of the Altai mountains deep in the heart of the Tavan Bogd National Park in Far-Western Mongolia, which shares borders with China and Russia.
Adopting the traditional way of life on this wilderness journey, you’ll develop your riding skills, covering varied and challenging terrain in the company of experienced Kazakh horsemen. By night, you’ll enjoy rustic wild camps under the stars with occasional visits to nomadic encampments, where you’ll have the opportunity to participate in daily activities such as milking yaks and meeting hunting eagles. Some days you’ll be completely remote and may not encounter anyone else – that’s the beauty of getting off the beaten track! Treading where very few tourists have gone before, you’ll be self-supported using pack animals. With little reliance on outside support, you’re likely to only see your support vehicle once during this trek, for a food resupply at the mid point of your journey.
During the summer months when this expedition takes place, there is no hunting as the eagles are actively moulting and left to rest by their owners. Although we’re avoiding the tourist crowds at the local eagle festivals later in the year, you will have the opportunity to try your hand at traditional horse games. We’ll be honest, you won’t be playing Buzkashi with a goat, but horseback tug-of-war with an old rag is just as fun!
- Stark scenic beauty of Mongolia’s National Parks.
- Find companionship in your native Mongol horse.
- Ride with the locals – semi-nomadic, Kazakh horse breeders.
- Diverse riding terrain; arid mountainous country, alpine meadows, dense forest, lakes and rivers.
- Discover old trade routes and hidden smuggling routes, where very few tourists go.
- Experience traditional nomadic culture and hospitality.
- Learn key skills from your hosts and guides, passed down for generations.
- Try your hand at local horseback games.
What our teams say
“Absolutely loved my riding adventure in the Altai Mountains. A dream come true trip, thank you Secret Compass. Brilliantly organized. I want to do another one!” – Laura Buxton, 2023 teammate.
Land of the Blue Sky
As the most sparsely populated unitary sovereign state in the world, getting a taste for the sheer scale of the Mongolian wilderness can be an overwhelming experience. Leaving Ulaanbaatar, the world’s coldest capital city, the team will venture across the country to the far west to explore the foothills, forests, meadows and lakes of the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. Known as the ‘Land of the Blue Sky’, the nation possesses seemingly boundless swathes of open land from its green valleys, to its arid foothills and its snowcapped mountains.
While around three million people live in Mongolia it’s estimated that somewhere between 25 to 40 percent of them live nomadically. Experience nomadic life for yourself as you disconnect from the bustle of routine to embrace a completely different way of life. Under the expert guidance of your local guide and wranglers, get to grips with your Mongol horse, a native breed known for their small but sturdy build, stamina and hardiness in extreme conditions.
Then, supported by pack animals, you’ll discover why nomadism still exists amidst the Mongolian wilderness and get to understand some of the challenges facing the rural nomadic communities in an increasingly connected world.
break new ground
Discover the less travelled, remote parts of the Altai Mountains, where very few tourists have been before. Experience the vastness of the Mongolian wilderness and learn how traders and smugglers operated on these little-known routes that linked the Altai region of Mongolia with China. Some sections of the route aren’t fixed and you’ll work together as a team to decide how far and how high you go on these days.
Eagle HuntERS & Kazakh culture
Eagle hunting has for over 6,000 years been a major part of tradition on the Eurasian steppe, a once threatened way of life which is now experiencing a resurgence among local communities. Throughout this expedition, the team will be joined by semi-nomadic horsemen from eagle hunter families who will offer a window into their lives. Although the expedition takes place outside of the eagle hunting season, you’ll be invited to participate in Kazakh horse games and get up close with the awe-inspiring hunting eagles who are so evocative of traditional Mongolia.
Please note that no eagle hunting displays will take place during this expedition as the eagles are actively moulting and resting at this time of year.
Whilst horse-herding, eagle hunters and a nomadic lifestyle all may seem romantic, an uncertain future sees ever increasing numbers of young people migrating to towns and cities for work and away from these traditions. Due to a concerted effort by the Kazakh community in Mongolia and further afield, the historic skills and the associated culture of eagle training and land management are now being revived and maintained for future generations, efforts which your expedition will directly support by investing in the local economy.
In addition, by accessing more remote regions of the country and developing a responsible approach to tourism in partnership with the local staff and providing investment within these communities we hope will help to reverse this trend, safeguarding a way of life for future generations.
Secret Compass runs expeditions with framework itineraries, rather than guided tours with set daily plans. Read more about Our Approach here. The following is the outline plan for this Classic expedition. A fuller itinerary is provided in the Mongolia Expedition Handbook which is available on request or upon application to join the team.
The expedition will start in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, a bustling centre at stark contrasts to the vast wilderness you’ll soon enter. After an evening briefing over dinner, the team will head to bed ready for a domestic flight the next day. Crossing almost the width of Mongolia towards the far western border, the team will meet the local support team and their all-important equine partners to prepare for the expedition ahead.
Setting off into the heart of Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, the team will soon discover the joys of a nomadic way of life – wild camping under the stars, trading stories around a cosy ger and seeking mountain lakes or streams to complement remote stops for lunch. Days will be spent riding on a combination of woodland trails, mountain meadows and untracked steppe that were once used as trade routes and smuggling routes between Altai Village and China. There is also the opportunity to go for a day hike, or simply relax at basecamp while the horses take a rest day mid-way through the expedition.
The route is flexible and can be adapted to take advantage of local conditions. This is an exploratory route which covers around 200km, and there will be opportunities for more experienced riders to go further, faster and over more challenging terrain.
As the expedition nears its end, you’ll say farewell to your local support team and return to Olgii for the night. The next day you’ll fly back to Ulaanbaatar and enjoy a celebratory team meal and a hotel night. Teammates are free to depart on flights or onward travel at any time on Day 17.
Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. Team members should be willing to be part of a team working together throughout this expedition and bring a positive mindset and an adventurous, robust spirit. At a basic level, you should be comfortable jogging for at least 45 minutes and ideally riding confidently at canter in an outside environment – beginners with a very positive attitude are welcome to apply for this expedition. We strongly suggest booking a few lessons to determine that you’ll enjoy the experience and arrive in Mongolia with the skills to transition between walk, trot and canter and control the pace of your horse confidently with the reins in both hands. You should be able to achieve this within 10 lessons.
The biggest challenges on this expedition will be multiple days spent in the saddle if you’re not used to regular riding, and “roughing it” with limited creature comforts for multiple days. During this expedition you’ll be camping in wilderness areas with no established campsites or facilities for most nights. It can also get quite cold at night, especially at higher altitudes. Basic multi-day backcountry camping, with only the bare minimum of personal kit may be particularly challenging if you’ve not experienced this before!
Teammates who arrive without meeting the agreed minimum fitness and basic riding requirements can jeopardise themselves and the expedition’s goal, so do take training seriously, prepare as appropriate and arrive fit and ready to go.
Teammates must be prepared for the following.
- Ride: averaging 6 hours a day.
- Terrain: mixed terrain from forest trails to open steppe and alpine passes.
- Climate: temperatures ranging from 24°C during the day to 0°C at night.
- Altitude: up to 2800m.
- Age: 21+
Upon application, prospective teammates will receive a Handbook with further expedition information. Teammates who arrive without meeting the agreed minimum fitness requirements can jeopardise themselves and the expedition’s goal so do take training seriously, prepare as appropriate and arrive fit and ready to go.
• Secret Compass Expedition Leader.
• Local guides, support team, pack animals and drivers.
• All meals.
• All transport as outlined in the itinerary including domestic flights.
• Mongolian horses suitable for a wide range of riding abilities.
• All camping and group equipment.
• All accommodation (twin share in Ulaanbaatar) including tents.
• All local permits.
• International flights and taxes.
• Transfers from airport to hotel.
• Travel insurance (compulsory).
• Excess baggage on domestic flights.
• Tips to local guides.
• Beverages and any costs of a personal nature.
• Personal equipment (your Handbook will contain a kit list).
• Any activities, accommodation etc outside of the Secret Compass itinerary.
On application, potential teammates will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some expedition-specific questions and our general FAQ will answer many other questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.
I don’t have a lot of riding experience, is this expedition right for me?
We’d always suggest team members have one or two riding lessons before signing up for this expedition to ensure they enjoy the experience however you don’t need to be a seasoned pro. As a minimum you should be able to confidently walk, trot and canter with reins in both hands, which should be achievable within 10 riding lessons. There are a wide range of horses available and time is allocated at the start of the expedition to correctly match riders and mounts to cater for all experience levels. The daily route planning will offer options for faster, longer or more challenging riding but ultimately the distances covered will be constrained by the slowest/least confident team member and everyone signing up needs to be aware that this is a team expedition and approach the trip accordingly.
What kind of riding set up should I expect?
We’ll be riding like the locals on this expedition using comfortable ‘pad’ style saddles (not the ornate wooden ones you may have seen in photos from Mongolia!) – these are eminently suited to long days in the saddle and surprisingly forgiving! Standard bridles are used and the horses are trained for western-style neck reining. Don’t worry if this all seems to be a foreign language, your expedition leader and local team will talk you through the basics and you’re encouraged to pitch in with the wranglers to learn about tacking up your own mounts. Horses are the lifeblood of the region and families have bred them for generations specifically for the varied terrain that Mongolia offers – our wranglers are understandably proud of their herds and excited to show them off to visitors.
Can I arrive a day late?
As The Plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates out to the start of the ride and back to Ulaanbaatar so start and end dates are not flexible. You’re welcome to extend your trip ahead of, or after, the Secret Compass itinerary.
Can I charge all my electricals?
This will be very challenging with limited access to power once the trekking section begins. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration. We suggest embracing the opportunity to unplug and disconnect during this expedition.
How can I find out more?
Get in touch with SCHQ to receive a copy of the Expedition Handbook with further details on this upcoming expedition and the next steps to joining the team.
Expedition dates not suitable?
Contact Secret Compass about a Bespoke Departure or Tailored Adventure.