A YOUNG Brit has become the first solo adventurer to walk across the 1,500 miles spanning Mongolia – one of the globe's most desolate and unforgiving landscapes.
Ash Dykes, 23, from Colwyn Bay, in North Wales, battled sandstorms, heat exhaustion and unforgiving loneliness as he completed his record-setting 78-day trip.
He became such a familiar sight to the tribes living in the region, they nicknamed him "the lonely snow leopard".
Finishing the solo mission from Mongolia's western border with Russia to its easterly border with China on Wednesday, Ash said: "It is an absolutely unreal feeling. It still hasn't really sunk in, it feels surreal.
"I have done what a lot of people said would be impossible".
Kickstarting his dangerous 1,500 mile stroll on Tuesday 20 May, Ash travelled from dizzying heights of the Altai Mountains to the scorching plains of the Gobi Desert, before entering the record books on Wednesday 6 August .
Mongolia is the second largest landlocked country on Earth but it is also its most sparsely populated, with a total population of only 3,133,318 people – roughly the same as the city of Madrid – but spread thin across 603,930 square miles.
The record-breaking Brit, who works as a scuba dive instructor, said: "It was sometimes difficult leaving a really nice family in a small settlement or isolated yurt to face the extreme conditions alone all over again.
"At one point I walked for around eight days without seeing a single soul. But I was so determined to make it that I didn't let it bother me too much".
During his cross-country trip, word of the strange, lonesome traveller spread amongst local Mongols – who nicknamed the young Welsh walker, the "lonely snow leopard".
On his longest day of walking, the lonely snow leopard racked-up a staggering 14 hours on his feet, covering a total of 34 miles – a bigger distance than the channel separating England and France.
The Welsh wanderer also reached a peak altitude of 2,700m, all whilst dragging a 120kg home-made trailer behind him filled with dehydrated food ration packs, a large water butt and the camping equipment needed to survive his trek through all the brutal terrain.
Ash suffered heat exhaustion while crossing the Gobi Desert but said that charitable locals and fellow nomads would regularly help him to find shelter from the barren landscape.
He said: "Daily temperatures were in excess of 40 degrees celsius and there was nowhere to escape the sun or heat, no wind or shade – even the sand was scorched.
"I managed to find a small settlement where I rested several days before regaining my strength, in order to continue".
The colossal cross-country walk is far from the first adventurous outing for the Lonely Snow Leopard, who has in the past traversed the Himalayas and cycled the length of Vietnam.
But Ash described the record-breaking Mongolian hike as his most challenging and rewarding outing to date.
He said: "There have been so many unforgettable experiences on this trek it is impossible to list them all.
"The storms, as frightening as they were when you were in the centre of them, were unbelievable to witness.
"Throughout the expedition I felt privileged to see the country first hand and witness its diverse landscape and unpredictable climate.
"The locals were always keen to communicate, although mainly by gestures due to their lack of English and my complete lack of Mongolian.
"They are amazingly hospitable, friendly and family oriented people".