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We followed a wide dirt road into a desert basin incongruously featuring a big blue lake. Red crags rose on the far shoreline and our destination, Harhiraa (Har hear a) Mountain, rose snowy in the distance. Another hour of driving brought a green plain and rocky foothills dwarfed below the snow draped massif. Entering the facade, we passed ger villages filling verdant valleys where streams tumbled over beds of granite.
Our route degenerating, we stopped to ask directions from a woman wearing a traditional del. Although I couldn’t understand a word, she clearly spoke with conviction, telling Jagaa that our route lay a couple draws back.
The road climbed onto mountaintop steppes. At 9,000 feet, we realized that we were off course, but it was too late and too beautiful to turn back. Jagaa turned his jeep off the two-track and drove across the grassland toward the rim of a glacial valley below. When the snow dome of Harhiraa rose above the treeless plain, it was clearly time to camp.
Our morning started by glassing the river, its noisy rapids easily heard from 1,000 feet above. Pockets of larch grew throughout the valley, where two streams joined to form the Khagartin (Ha gar teen) River. The raucous creek seemed too low for paddling at first, but through the binoculars our perspective changed. We returned to the jeep and geared up for a day of kayaking, blissfully unaware of the adventure that was due to unfold.
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