The Long Riders' Guild

Evelyn Landerer is exploring the Russian Altai

Evelyn Landerer, with three equestrian trips in Mongolia under her belt, is now enjoying another Long Ride in the Russian Altai.  Evelyn is also seeking help for the Tsaatan, reindeer people, in the Hovsgol area of Mongolia.
Click on map to enlarge

In March 2003 Evelyn sent an email to The Long Riders' Guild:  

"I have got good news - after more than a year I have finally found two travel partners who are willing to make the commitment - a cameraman from Munich who will be filming us, and an Australian.  I am off in June and will have a one-year visa for Russia!!"

27 September 2003

News from Evelyn at last! 

I must tell you the rather Kafkaesque story of how we bought our horses.  The contact I had found over the Internet turned out to be unreliable – he wanted to sell us 2- and 3-year old horses, which had hardly been ridden.  So we are sitting in our little inn, with no water, wondering what we can do.  Our hostess thinks that there is a riding school or something similar in the next village.  So we go there, and we ask the Director in our oh-so-perfect Russian:  “We want to buy horses.”

He disappeared and came back.  We had really shocked him.  He rushed out again, made a telephone call, and told us they only had working horses for sale – then suddenly no horses at all.  He told us about someone called Farchad in the Ministry.  Which Ministry?  This was a riddle.  We sat in a row on some small chairs by the window.  “We want to buy horses.”  He shook his head.  Made another telephone call.  Can you imagine if somebody in Europe wanted to buy horses and had to go to the Ministry of Agriculture?”

On top of all that there was a holiday which meant that everybody was drunk for four days!

Eventually Evelyn and her companions did manage to buy four horses, and called them Bobby, Charlie, Loshad (which is the Russian word meaning ‘horse’!) and Socrates.

“We finally set off on 17th June, with only one packhorse – we had to leave some of the luggage and the camera behind, and planned to fetch it later.  Our first night we camped by a small stream – at last we are under the skies again. 

The next day we struggled through the forest, and soon learned what Taiga meant – impassable thickets and marshes."


In another message, Evelyn wrote about their later experiences.


“We have been riding for a good two weeks in the very south, near to the Mongolian border.  It is quite normal here for the temperature to change 20 or 30 degrees Celsius in the course of a single day. 

In the mountains we met some of the mountain horses – incredibly muscular, tough and enormously sure-footed.  Unfortunately there are hardly any available, and too exorbitant for us.

We are above 2000 metres (about 6000 feet), and the whole Altai lies ahead of us, a row of mountain ranges.  Now we have to go down into the next valley, a 1500 metre drop to the Tschulischman River.  It was a hard descent – weeds, rocks, stones, earth.  I led Charlie and Socrates down - the horses slid down, they were fantastic.  For hours all you could hear was, ‘Socrates, come on, you can do it,’ and ‘Loshad, keep going.’  At one point Charlie slipped and almost fell on top of Socrates.  We had to keep repacking Bobby – but we had to go down for water.  Many anxious hours later we got to the valley.  We were met by intense heat.  We hardly had time to picket the horses and set up camp before it got dark.”


In a subsequent email, Evelyn wrote to say her fellow travellers have given up and decided to go home.

Unfortunately this time I have been unlucky with my travelling companions.  I am now sitting in Koch Agatsch and must now try to organise everything anew.  It’s not a nice feeling, and I must say I am rather disappointed.  However, I am not going to give up!”


Many Long Riders have had experiences ranging from the sad to the disastrous because of their travelling companions.  In fact, most of them say that it’s even more important to take care in choosing your fellow travellers than in choosing your spouse!


Evelyn is travelling alone in Siberia now, sometimes hunting with the locals – Russians, Altais and Kazakhs. 


30 September 2003


Evelyn has just sent The Long Riders' Guild her latest news.  She is in Krasnojarsk, and finding it hard to cope with town life!

“I am stressed out here in town – everything is too fast, or I am too slow.  I can barely cross the road before the cars roar off.  I found a travel agent, and tried to get a permit to go to Dudinka. 

‘You can only go there with a Russian pass!’ I was brusquely told. 


‘It’s a closed area.’

Hmm, I thought, that makes it really interesting!

‘How far can I go in that direction?’

‘As far as Igarka.’

I had a quick look at the map to see where that was.

‘OK, Igarka then.’


Evelyn is currently on foot but we hope she will soon be able to find some more horses.

16 October 2003


Evelyn has sent The Long Riders' Guild another email - in English!


"After my companions deserted me, I did not know what to do.  I did not feel up to riding alone in these incredibly wild mountains and amongst these incredibly wild men.  I stayed for a while with a nice, sober Kasak family, whose son in law rode with me in exchange for my horse, Socrates.  I got to ride one of these amazing mountain horses.  It is unbelievable what they can do and where the locals ride. I have certainly done my wildest riding here. Wherever we walked up a mountain, they rode; there were glaciers everywhere. We went on a hunt. Never shot anything. I am not particularly interested in hunting, or so I thought, but hunting with Altai on these mountains horses is madness and extremely exciting:  steep, slippery rock, anything you want we rode. Once it was so steep that even they decided to dismount. I had to climb with my hands and feet and the horses swooped up there in a mad gallop. I have never seen anything like this. And the landscape is glorious. Glaciers, waterfalls, deep taiga, rocks.
After 4 months in all riding in the Altai I gave my horse and saddle away, sad of course. Then I went up north to the other end of Siberia. I decided to spend some time among Russians to improve my Russian language skills. The Altaiski and Kasakski speak a rather wild Russian. 
Now I am on my way south and east again. To the eastern Sayan mountains where I want to do some more riding.
Originally we wanted to ride all the way from the Altai through Tuva to the eastern Sayan mountains and the reindeer nomads there, but three things prevented this. First from everything we have heard the Tuvans are even wilder than the Altaiski, who are dangerous enough!  Secondly the way through the mountain Taiga from the Altai in to Tuva is extremely difficult, nothing like anything I have encountered before, but what a challenge. And third. My travelling partners decided to turn around back to our starting point and go back home, and I could not travel alone to Tuva.
So I am now tackling it from the other side of Tuva.
It was for me a wholly interesting experience, this wonderful wild riding here (you just can't imagine how they ride, you have to see it) and also to get demonstrated why Long Riding appeals to some and not to others. It was hard for me at the beginning to be left all alone, but I now think I experienced everything much better this way because I wasn't hampered by people who didn't like it and couldn't speak Russian."


17 November 2003


The Long Riders' Guild has received two more emails from Evelyn, from which we have translated the following extracts.


"16th November:  Once again I am in a town - Irkutsk.  In all four cinemas they are showing Matrix 3, the other option being a musical show.  So there I was sitting in the middle of Siberia listening to "Der Fledermaus" - hearing the waltzes made me cry!  If only I could have beamed myself to a 19th Century Court dance in Vienna!

Now I am sitting in a hellishly noisy Internet Cafe - must take my ear plugs tomorrow."


"17th November: I was sitting on the train to Sljudjanka with Oleg and some other Russians, sharing our food at a minute table, as if we were a family - everything was shared, nobody eats alone.

They want to know where I am going.  'Towards Arschan,' I tell them.  'Oh my grandmother lives there, it's beautiful.  The best part is the Schumak.'

Where and what is the Schumak?  I look on my map - aha!  It's a pass in the Sajan mountains.  OK, in that case I'll head off in that direction.

Nilova, where I got off the train, is a Spa beside a river - a couple of houses on the left bank, a couple on the right, and that was it.  'You want to go to Schumak, alone?'  'Yes, I want to have a look at it, and if I don't like it, I'll turn back.' 

Two men showed me the way.  'You're surely not going alone?'

I don't have much choice - I can't exactly clone myself.

At Sljudjanka station I see a man with a rucksack - an expensive brand - aha! A foreigner!  'I am from Australia,' he told me.  Wonderful, my first English-speaking tourist.  'In ten minutes I am taking the train to Mongolia, as my visa is about to expire.'   'What are you doing here, then?' I ask him - he had beautiful blue eyes.  'I've been following the Trans-Siberian, getting out from time to time and looking around a bit.  Tell me, are you also having to pay two or three times the price here?'  I am stunned.  'Not at all, not so far.'  He pulls an English-Russian Phrasebook out of his pocket.  'I can't go anywhere without this,' he says, and walks off to ask if this is the right train.  Then he's gone - my only tourist.

I wander through the Taiga - how many days and nights I have already spent in the Taiga!  The trail leads in the direction of the snow-covered mountain chain.  And there is a warm wind - Foehn!  I feel quite at home."


[Note:  the Foehn is a warm wind in Evelyn's native Austria, and also Switzerland.]


"Where are the sub-zero Siberian temperatures I was expecting?  I discard my jacket and carry on wearing just my fleece.  I come to a small clearing and instantly duck behind the nearest bush.  Damned hunters!  Two of them!  My first thought whenever I meet hunters in the Taiga is "duck and hide" or "duck and run."  They haven't seen me yet, and are firing in the other direction - deer calibre, an extremely unpleasant sound.  What should I do now?  Return, or walk coolly past them, better say nothing, they might take me for a Russian traveller.  I have to go on.

I walk past them, calling out 'Hi' - they have a gun each, which means they are rich.  Is that good or is it bad?  For a while they are behind me, they are firing wildly around, they are definitely rich as they have a lot of ammunition.  Will they follow me?  How much daylight do I have left?

Shortly before reaching the edge of the forest I met two walkers from Ulan Ude.  They are trudging along tiredly.  'You're not travelling alone?  It's still a long way to Schumak. ...  The trail is bad, and there is no firewood.'  'What is there exactly at Schumak?' I ask.  'Oh, it's a kind of wild Spa.'  'Does that mean there are huts there?'  'Yes, something of the kind.'  They moved on, and I was happy to know that there were now two people between me and the hunters.

Time to make camp.  Wild mountains, the Taiga beneath me, stars - a dream.  I can't get the tent-pegs into the ground, so I set off in search of stones.  The steam is almost frozen over, but I find a small hole in the middle.  There is nothing left round here to burn.  So my can of Fanta serves as a cooking pot (which I have not had for a long time - too heavy and too unwieldy); a piece of wire, a stone and my walking stick to hang it from, and instead of a fire I used three little candles!  Mmmm... soon I have lukewarm tea and some water for a couple of spoonfuls of sweet strawberry Muesli.  Mmmm.


Evelyn - here at The Guild we are getting really hungry reading this!  How much weight have you lost?!


Evelyn goes on to write nonchalantly about how, after a night in the snow, her boots are frozen so completely that she cannot possibly put them on.  So she defrosts them in the only warm place there is - her sleeping bag!


Eventually she gets back to civilization, and checks into a Pension for a warm bed and a shower.  We hope to hear from her again soon.


23 November


Evelyn has written to The Long Riders' Guild again, and explained the horse situation very clearly.


"In the past month and a half in the Sajani mountains I was on and off on horseback and on foot. I was of course interested in buying another horse there, but I had to find out how much snow is expected there and how soon. As I could see for myself in certain areas there was already so much snow that the animals could hardly find anything to eat and so I would have to rely on hay drops. And more snow was expected to come. So I had to change my horses frequently and only ride for 3 days, because I had to carry the food for the horses as well.  My first horse was another pacing horse, hurrah, and I rode some more in the Taiga there, then I continued on foot in the mountains. Then again on horseback to hot springs, then again on foot in the mountains, and again on horseback.
Now I will soon switch to skis or maybe reindeer if I find the reindeer nomads in the north, or alternatively it might be Mongolia and horses again, because I know in certain areas there is very little snow there and the horses find enough to graze.
Riding in minus 30 degrees, as I have done lately for the first time in my life, is crazy. I didn't feel cold, because I was wearing so much, but I could hardly move, and my muscles seemed to slow down considerably. Every day it got harder to swing my leg over the saddlebags and bedroll behind the saddle. In the evening my horse was completely white with frost, face, mane body, everything.
I can now only sleep 3 or 4 nights outside in my tent, then I have to find some warmth to defrost my equipment, the nights are now 14  hours, which is very long indeed in a tent.
Making a fire in this frost is a complete challenge, the wood is frozen solid, a wind is blowing, my fingers only react slowly. And most astonishing of all, the fire is not warming you any more. I can hold my fingers into the fire and only after a few seconds I fell some warmth, that's all.
So in the future you will get some more horse stories, but also on foot stories and reindeer stories, maybe even reindeer riding stories, if that is still interesting for you."


Yes please, Evelyn.  We'd all love to hear about the reindeer herders.  And we can't even begin to imagine the conditions you are currently enduring (-30 Celsius is about -22 Fahrenheit)!


We wish Evelyn all the best on her fascinating journey. 


But that's not all!


"In addition, I am very anxious to raise awareness and funds to help the Tsaatan reindeer people," Evelyn told The Long Riders' Guild.  Click here for information about Evelyn's next project.

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