When gear needs to perform …
I was without a stove for a week and most things was going ok. I made fires to melt snow or ice for water and make the odd warm meal, until the trees totally disappeared. I was considering to push on towards Ulaanbaatar without a stove, but had a huge wakeup call one day when it was so cold that I struggled to use my hands as the feel-temperature dropped to -40*C!
You get certain levels of cold… Coldish, cold, very cold, extremely cold and then when to a point when you realise you have to concentrate otherwise you gonna loose a finger or toe. I had a big scare on my last day before I reached Ulgii in Mongolia, as things spiralled out of control when a strong wind picked up in extreme cold conditions, while I was trying to drink my frozen water and taking a short break after a huge climb.
This is my second adventure winter and is now learning at an enormous pace on how to handle extreme colds. Remember… I’m a South African and our countryman is not really use to extreme cold conditions. A few years back I did not even know what a down jacket was! I have huge cold dreams for the future and now I keep reminding myself… “this is the learning stage, this is the learning stage, this is the learning stage”
Every single piece of equipment I’m using is now being pushed to new levels as nothing really likes when temperatures fall below -20*C. Since I entered Kazakstan in December, there was not one day when I was not working on improving equipment and gear, or doing some kind of repairing work after a hard day on the bicycle. I don’t have a problem if things break that is repairable, but the things that can’t be fix on the road is a problem. You rely on your gear to man up in the tough conditions as the companies say it should be able to handle.
Ok, I’m taking a bit in circles here, but I will get to my point in a bit.
In Kazakhstan I had my first real big breakage which was not fixable and this was one of the most important pieces of gear in the winter… my stove! Until this point I would spend atleast 15min each night and each morning to get to stove to burn properly, but was ok as it would get the job done in the end. I used a MSR XGK™-EX stove. I’ve heard many stories of the MSR pumps of this unit which likes to give problems and now it was my turn. I tried everything to fix it in -28*C weather, which did not work. The temps dropped below -30*C and this was one of the coldest nights on the adventure as I was dehydrated and could not eat the amount of calories I should have. I was close to one of the very few cities I cycled through in Kazakhstan, Semey, and managed to build a temporary alcohol stove to get to Barnaul.
I lost two weeks in Barnaul while waiting for TWO new pumps. One to replace the broke pump and the other for backup. Well, after the long wait, both broke within the first week. Well, the one broke and the other was not working at all. I know had to make drastic decisions as there was not any place to courier new thing on my path and my visa was already running out. I have to admit… I very disappointed with the MSR Pumps!!!
I’m not the most patient person in the world and to keep losing time because of gear failure is extremely frustrating! I’m here to take on the colds… not to sit in hostels and wait weeks for gear thats not performing.
In Siberia I still managed, as there was plenty of snow, rivers and trees. I made fires at night to melt some snow for drinking water and to be able to heat some of the food I carried. But my fire luxury soon ended as I cycled out of the Altai Mountains, where the terrain was treeless and no snow lying around. I was now faced with the next challenge of getting water without having any source of heat to melt snow, river or any ice next to the road.
The next few days I pushed on and I have to say I learned alot from the first time my stove broke. The food I ate really made me feel physically strong, but now I was faced with water problems. I was consuming less than half the amount of water I usually do. Eating as much calories as you can and staying hydrated is the two most important thing in the winter. The first few days without a stove, I considered and was at the point of just trying to make it to Ulaanbaatar, without my stove and get my new ones there. But as the days went on I was strongly doubting my original decision. I had the gut feeling that this is not the correct decision… and I have learned to always trust my gut feeling! Your gut feeling is normally right!
When I arrived in Tsagaannuur I adjusted my route once again, now heading south towards Ulgii, where I planned to take two days off and make plans with a stove or a temp solution. The one thing to remember is that this is MONGOLIA… you dont get many options even in big town or small cities. Ulaanbaatar is basically the only place where you can get some options.
When arrving in Ulgii I took things slowly and recapped on what I’m doing now. Again realising that I’m here to learn and test my equipment. I have to build confidence in all the products I use for future expeditions…. see what work and what doesn’t. DHL can courier my new equipment to Ulaanbaatar, but I have to pick it up there. After considering many options, I finally decided to take a 48hour bus drive to Ulaanbaatar, pick up my new stoves and head back on the bus to Ulgii. Mongolia is already very remote and without a stove is a stupid move.
I’m yet again loosing at-least a week, but I know for sure that I will be happy with my decision in the long run… and when I’ll be able to melt water and make food 🙂 Time to test another stove during this winter season!
Cheers for now…