A young British adventurer has become the first person to walk 1,500 miles solo across Mongolia – one of the world’s most desolate countries.
Ash Dykes, 23, walked into the record books after spending 78 days alone crossing the unforgiving land of the high Altai Mountains, scorching Gobi Desert and the seemingly-endless Mongolian Steppe.
He battled raging sandstorms, heat exhaustion and the unrelenting loneliness of crossing the world’s most sparsely populated country at walking pace.
Word even spread among the local Mongols about the strange foreigner walking across the country - and the young Welshman was soon nicknamed the “lonely snow leopard”.
But after 78 days of travelling alone and unsupported Ash, from Colwyn Bay, became the first known person to walk from Mongolia’s western border with Russia to its easterly border with China.
After completing his record-breaking trek on Wednesday, he said: “It is an absolutely unreal feeling. It still hasn’t really sunk in, it feels surreal.
“I haven’t had the time to fully reflect. I have done what a lot of people said would be impossible.”
Ash dragged a 120kg home-made trailer behind him all the way from the small settlement of Olggi in the West to the town of Choybalsan in the East.
It carried the dehydrated food ration packs, large water butt and camping equipment he needed on his trek through all the brutal terrain thrown at it.
His longest day of walking saw him on his feet for 14 hours as he covered 55km.
And he reached a peak altitude of 2,700m along the way.
Mongolia is the second-largest landlocked country on earth at 603,930 square miles and the most sparsely populated with only 3,133,318 people – averaging just 5.19 people to every one square mile.
And Ash had to fight to keep focused on the goal of reaching his destination to battle the loneliness of walking alone.
The 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.
“The thought of returning home and people saying, ‘Aww, you tried your best’, frightened me the most and kept me going strong until the end.”
The young adventurer suffered severe heat exhaustion while crossing the Gobi Desert but he said the kindness of locals and nomads often helped him find shelter from the barren landscape.
He added: “Daily temperatures were in excess of 40°C 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.”
This isn’t the first adventure Ash has tackled, having traversed the Himalayas and cycled the length of Vietnam, but he said it was by far his most challenging and rewarding.
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.”
Copy by Wales News Service.