Where do I start with a post about this day? It is potentially impossible to explain the entire scenario since I feel like it was one of those stories where you “had to be there” to understand why it was so crazy, chaotic, yet now funny, but I’ll try my best to explain this to you all.
The day began with our group deciding to “divide and conquer” on our last day in the field since there were different sections people wanted to dedicate their last day to for last minute sampling. For example, the the brachiopod specialists wanted to return to the Gerelt Hoshoo Locality, while several of the trilobite and crinoid specialists wanted to return to the Car Wreck Locality, while Dr. Waters, Dr. Carmichael, Peter (an experienced paleontologist and stratigrapher from Germany part of IGCP 596&580) and I desired to travel north to the Nuhniinuruu Formation that had not been studied yet to locate an essential bentonite layer.
Because of all our different interests, we split our group into different vans and headed to the places we each wanted to go. The Nuhniinuruu Formation, however, which Dr. C, Dr. W, Peter, and I were going to, was about two hours away north of our base camp. Since this formation was located north, it was conveniently located on the way back to Khovd, which we would all leave for tomorrow to head back to the airport to get back to Ulaanbaatar. Because it was on the way, and because it was two hours away, our group decided that they were going to pack up everything and meet us later in the day at the Nuhniinuruu Formation to camp for the night before heading back to Khovd. This would conveniently shave off two hours of our trip back to Khovd the next day, and it would give us more time to explore the bentonite locality.
Peter had brought a camera crew with him to help film a documentary about our research. So that morning, around 930am, Peter, Dr. Carmichael, Dr. Waters, me, Dea and Helga (our camera crew), our Mongolian van driver, and a Mongolian geologist (who would help us translate with our Mongolian driver since he did not know any english), packed up our tents, put all of our gear in our two vans, and headed north for two hours to the Nuhniinuruu Formation. It was a long and bumpy drive, and mainly consisted of Dr. Waters holding a GPS in one hand and pointing towards the far distance, telling our driver to “head over there” towards our formation.
After about two and a half hours, we realized we were a little lost. Dr. Waters was the only person who knew how to get to this formation, since he was the only one who was there in 2012. Finally arriving to the mouth of a canyon, Dr. Waters insisted for us to get out and walk up the canyon pretty certain it was the one. Relieved to get out of the car, we walked up the canyon and turn after turn, he realized it wasn’t the right canyon. We turned around and jumped in our jeep to drive up the mountain range about two miles to another canyon mouth. Dr. Waters, once again, was pretty certain this was the right location, but he wasn’t entirely confident so he told the camera crew to wait in the van until we scoped out the area to determine if it was indeed the right locality. It didn’t take long for him to realize once again that this was the wrong location.
Finally, getting back into the van, we drove for about twenty minuets to another canyon mouth where Dr. Waters was certain it was the correct location. We got out and ate our lunch before heading up the canyon to find the bentonite layer. While eating lunch, the Mongolian geologist mentioned that he sought it to be a “good idea” for him to leave while we were doing field work and drive about an hour and a half away to a nearby town to restock on supplies for our final dinner tonight. Weary on whether this was a great idea to let him go since he was our translator, and since he would be driving away with one of our only two vans which had all of Dea, Helga, and Peter’s camping gear, we decided we didn’t really have a choice in the decision. We finished our lunch and got our gear together to go hiking up the canyon to find the bentonite layer. Since we realized already half the day’s sunlight had passed, we were all eager to get going, so we got a head start to the camera crew while they took some time to gather all their equipment together after lunch. We figured they could easily catch up with us in no time at all.
So we began to hike. Up and up, around several corners, critically analyzing the folded black, black-grey, green-grey, and brownish fine grained sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, clay-schist, and coarse sandstones bearing limestones looking for the specific bentonite layer.
Before we knew it, another couple of hours passed and we all stopped to realize we had no idea where we were. And we realized we had no idea where the camera crew was either.
“I think they went into town with the Mongolian translator,” said Peter, confident in his assumption.
“Are you sure?” I suggested, “I thought they were gathering up their equipment to follow us up the canyon.”
Peter decided to head backwards towards the van to see if he could run into the camera crew in case they were lost. Dr. Waters, Dr. C and I kept moving forward, determined we were getting close to the bentonite layer. We drew arrows in the dirt to show which direction we would walk for Peter to find us later on. Truth was-things were beginning to look the same and we were losing track of our exact location.
After another hour Peter found us again and said he didn’t find the camera crew. By this time, we all had pretty much given up on locating the bentoninte layer, and figured it would be smart to just start heading back to the van. To officially announce our defeat, we took this photo:
We began our long trek back, and just because we still weren’t certain about the whereabouts of the camera crew, we began to yell signal sounds loudly, just in case the camera crew was somewhere in the canyon..lost. About an hour later, we located a rams skull that we had saw on the way entering the canyon. Finally, we knew where we were and walked back to the vans!
Seeing the mouth of the canyon in the distance, I quickly ran towards the vans to see if the van that went to town had returned with the camera crew. To my demise, it had not returned, and only our van was parked with the Mongolian driver sunbathing on the hood waiting for our return.
I ran back to Dr. Waters, Dr. C, and Peter to find them staring at a wall of rock about 100 meters away from the intial mouth of the canyon.
“I think this is it!” Dr. Carmichael shouted, pointing to a wall of rock that looked slickly similar to bentonite.
“No, it can’t be,” responded Peter, walking up to the wall of rock to take a sample.
I quickly found out we all became too stubborn to admit the bentonite layer we had been searching for this whole time was located just 100 meters from the mouth of the canyon, and our day of hiking was pretty much wasted. But after much staring, we realized it was the layer we were looking for, and we quickly took samples, excited to finally have located it!
Then began our debate on the missing camera crew. Did they really go into town with the other van? Or were they still in the canyon? Just as we pulled out some paper to begin drawing pictures to the Mongolian driver and ask if he saw the camera crew with the other van, we saw them walk out of the canyon.
“You’re alive!” yelled Dr. Carmichael with excitement! It was true. They had been looking for us all day in the canyon..carrying their heavy equipment, without any water. Dea claimed she “talked to a lizard” who showed her the way back to the vans.
Here is the picture of the camera crew when they initially walked out of the canyon (in the black and white shirt). Thankful they were alive and we were all okay, the last thing we had to do was wait. Sit and wait for the rest of our group to meet up with us to camp for the night. We all sat in the dirt, staring out in the distance…waiting any minute for the rest of our vans (and the other van with all of Peter, Dea, and Helga’s equipment) to return.
More and more time passed and we soon began to worry they weren’t going to find us. We figured they were supposed to have met up with us by now, as it would soon get dark. Just as we began to get incredibly worried, we saw a person in the far distance running towards us.
“Is that a shirtless man?” Dr. Carmichael first said when she initially spotted him. We all stood up and wide eyed stared at the man running at us. Personally, I felt scared. We were literally in the middle of nowhere, with only the sound of the wind blowing past dust particles in the sand, and a random man was running towards us in the distance. In fact, I was so scared, I didn’t even take a picture…which I still regret to this day.
Watching this man run towards us felt surreal. We stared and stared, until he was close enough for us to realize it was Star Boy!! (One of our Mongolian friend geologists who was part of IGCP 596&580).
“I came to save you!” he said. “Our van broke down beyond the mountain, but we figured you would be over here. If we just drive to where I say, we can meet up with the rest of camp!”
We all crammed into one van and began to drive in the distance towards “the rest of our camp.”
To cut to the chase, we soon were reunited with the rest of our group at camp. The van that had left us earlier in the day had driven straight to base camp to meet up with everyone else, instead of going back for us. At this point, we were beyond the point of asking questions, so we just set up our tents, and went to eat the last meal of our trip in the field.
Long story short, this day in the field may have been my favorite. Even though we declared it a disaster, I learned so much about field work! I learned that it was okay to make mistakes. I learned that it was okay to admit defeat. I learned it was okay to get lost. I learned it was okay to get frustrated. I learned it was okay to freak out. I learned it was okay to have years of experience as a professional geologist, but still make mistakes. I learned it was alright to be scared when a shirtless man runs towards you in the middle of nowhere. I learned that it was all okay. It’s okay in life if you make mistakes. We all turned out fine, and we ended up getting a sample of bentonite anyway, which is what we wanted all along, right? Looking back at this day, I will always remember these moments as moments that made me a better and more fearless geologist. Failures help lead you to a path of success, and from now on, I will never be scared to admit I am wrong, or that I failed in something. Just go out and try!
Now to make the final drive back to Khovd…and board a plane that offered this as our boarding passes (super sketchy!!):
I’ll see you again Mongolian-outback…I will see you again!