Malchin Peak is one of the most popular non-technical climbs in the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park in Western Mongolia. Standing at 13,287 feet, Malchin Peak is one of five peaks in the Altai mountain range that can be climbed. During my extended time in Mongolia in 2020, I had the chance to visit Altai Tavan Bogd National Park with a group of local Mongolian climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. As part of the excursion, I joined local Mongolian travelers in summiting Malchin peak in July of 2020, the peak season for climbing and hiking in the area.
Getting to Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is an adventure in itself. Tourists must enter Mongolia via the capital city, Ulaanbatar. From there, you must take a local flight to the town of Bayan-Ulgii in the western part of the country. For those who are more adventurous, a local bus from Ulaanbaatar to Ulgii is possible and takes 24-28 hours. Ulgii is the gateway to the Altai mountains where tourists normally start their 5-6 hour drive to the park. The ride is extremely bumpy as Russian vans or four-wheel drive autos must navigate the rocky, unpaved back roads for the majority of the drive.
Inside the park, we stayed at the main base camp and enjoyed a view of Khuiten, the highest peak in Mongolia at 14,354 feet. The area requires travelers to have all their camping gear with them such as tents, sleeping equipment, food, and all other necessities. Although the base camp only offers primitive sites, it also offers travelers some of the best views in Mongolia. During the pandemic, our group had the camp to ourselves. Besides a few other expats, we didn’t see any other foreigners at the camp. Prior to climbing Malchin, we went on practice hikes to acclimate to the elevation and avoid altitude sickness.
On the day we summited Malchin, we had clear blue skies with mild, windy conditions. On my previous attempt to climb Malchin in 2014, we had blizzard-like weather that stopped us on our tracks midway to the summit. I was delighted to see a totally different atmosphere for my second attempt. On average, the hike to Malchin peak takes about 7-8 hours roundtrip. The hike involves a significant amount of climbing over loose rocks and boulders, which at times requires hikers to do some rock scrambling at high altitude.
As we approached the summit, we found ourselves immersed in 1-2 feet of snow from the previous day. This made the ascent much more challenging. The last few hours of the climb required a lot of patience and stamina as the trail was steep and dangerous at times. But once we reached the top, we were surrounded by the majestic views of the Altai mountain range.
We found ourselves nestled along the border between Russia and Mongolia that divides the Altai range into two territories. The summit was marked by a pole colorfully wrapped in prayer flags. At the summit, my Mongolian friends sang and waved a Mongolian flag as a way to celebrate. Mongolians deem their mountains as sacred and spiritual. The achievement was clearly a collective one that we celebrated together despite my being the lone foreigner in the group.
Climbing Malchin during the pandemic was an unforgettable moment in my life as a global mountain nomad. Accomplishing the feat with locals made the experience much more meaningful than I ever imagined it to be. This made the disappointment of failing to climb Malchin the first time worthwhile as I discovered that a second attempt can truly be a charm.
Marinel Malvar de Jesus is a human rights advocate, a writer and a global mountain nomad. She is the founder of The Porter Voice Collective, a non-profit organization that advocates for the basic human rights of porters on mountain trails worldwide.Most recently, she discovered her passion for storytelling via film making to create equity and inclusion in the outdoors and adventure travel industry.