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  • In Peru there is a mountain known as "Nevada Ausungate". Stephen's photo of Mongolia reminds me so much of that wild and lonely place.

    We crested a ridge on the first day of our trek and finally saw what wonders lay behind the mountain. I remember a huge rift valley spread before us, condors circling in the updrafts. Clearly visible on it's far flank were a hundred or so diagonal stripes of sedimentary rock. It dawned on me that each one of those stripes represented hundreds of thousands, if not millions of, years in time. Sediments built up over eons on ancient sea-beds, then finally thrust up in the slow-motion geological crash that created the Andes. The enormity of that realization stopped me dead in my tracks. How insignificant my life seemed, compared to the eons of time I was witness to in that moment.

    Later we would set up camp on the back side of the ridge. I had been hydrating so much to help with the 5000m altitude, ( lots and lots of coca tea you see… ) that I had to, um… "leave the tent" in the middle of the night. Grabbing my Petzl headlamp, I snuck out so as not to wake my companions and made for a rock outcropping nearby, very similar to the one in Stephen's photo. The starlight was so vivid in the thin air I didn't need the Petzl to find my way.

    Just as I was finishing up, I heard a noise on the rock ahead. Then another. Then a lot of noises. In a panic I turned on my headlamp and shone it toward the rock only to see a dozen sets of eyes staring back at me, fiery yellow, reflecting my lamp. Instinctively I should have run. But like a deer in the headlights I just froze, my heard pounding with the adrenaline coursing through my veins.

    Slowly my eyes acclimatized to the brighter light and I could make out little white shapes behind the huge eyes. There, in the cracks of the rock, were tiny little chinchillas. Perhaps the few humans to pass this way had fed them, or they were just curious about the big llama with only two legs, but they were unafraid and as frozen as I. Of course I was mad at myself for imagining pumas where only chinchillas lay, yet relieved nonetheless. I slunk back to my tent, happy that no-one else had seen my chinchilla terror. I finally did tell my companions the story once we were back in Ocongate, and a good laugh was had by all.

    Thanks for sharing Stephen. Your photo brought those memories flooding back.

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