Sunday, April 20, 2014
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Packing: Trying to keep it to a duffle and a backpack

Time spent with Mongolia's nomadic families on six previous trips has helped me appreciate how much less one needs than one thinks or that many of us are used to having. If the families I will be visiting can load their entire life's possessions onto a single wooden ox cart to move to new grazing lands several times a year, then surely I can keep my own supplies down to a duffle and a backpack.

Packing: Trying to keep it to a duffle and a backpack

Robert Peck is currently in Mongolia, largely out of contact with the outside world. He filed several blog  entries before leaving Philadelphia and early in his trek, including this one:

 

As the days speed by until my departure, our house becomes increasingly chaotic. The dining room table is piled with provisions that may or may not make the final cut as I try to winnow down clumps of camping gear, clothing, and foodstuffs to something that I can carry.

Time spent with Mongolia’s nomadic families on six previous trips has helped me appreciate how much less one needs than one thinks or that many of us are used to having. If the families I will be visiting can load their entire life’s possessions onto a single wooden ox cart to move to new grazing lands several times a year, then surely I can keep my own supplies down to a duffle and a backpack.

Despite my best efforts, however, the equipment seems to multiply. My tent, rain fly, tarp, and sleeping bag take three quarters of a duffle. Add a change of shirts, pants, socks and underwear, as well as boots, rain gear, a fleece, some traditional Mongolian clothing, and two months of emergency food provisions (nuts, dried fruit and some energy bars), and there is no room left even for my maps and notebooks, let alone the technological equipment that has become increasingly important on any modern expedition. My backpack must accommodate a computer, a GPS, and various battery chargers, as well as a water bottle, eating utensils, and a medical kit. Where, then, to put two cameras (one digital, one film), lenses, light meter, tripod, and a hundred rolls of black and white film?

As my family watches my packing process with bemused tolerance, they ask why I can’t buy some of what I need in Ulaan Baatar. It’s true that the availability of everything from cloths to food has improved dramatically there since the post-Soviet era when I first began my Mongolian travels. Perhaps my obsessive provisioning – particularly of food supplies – is unnecessary. But I don’t want to risk long days of hiking and jeep travel with nothing to tide me over between meals of rancid mutton and chalky cheese.

I always find packing for field work an intoxicating blend of drudgery and exhilaration; novelty and nostalgia. For each trip the tried-and-true gear that I have traveled with for decades is joined by new equipment that does what it is supposed to do better than anything we had before. The planning and preparation for this summer’s expedition makes me feel like a kid heading off for summer camp – a little bit anxious, but very excited by the unknown experiences to come.

About this blog
The age of exploration is not dead. Over the next six weeks, Robert Peck and colleagues from the Academy of Natural Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania will be traveling in Mongolia, reconnecting with herdsmen Peck met 17 years ago and checking for evidence of climate change. Peck will chronicle his travels in the land once ruled by Genghis Khan on a blog at www.philly.com/treks


Robert McCracken Peck, senior fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Peck is a writer, naturalist, and historian who has traveled extensively in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. He has been honored by the Academy, the Explorers Club, and other organizations for his contributions to exploration and the interpretation of natural history. In 2007, the U.S. Department of State and the White House chose him to represent the United States at Mongolia’s 800th birthday celebration. Peck is the author of Land of the Eagle: A Natural History of North America (1990), Headhunters and Hummingbirds: An Expedition into Ecuador (1987), and other books and papers.

Clyde Goulden, Director of the Asia Center of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Goulden’s research in Asia began in 1994 when he and Academy colleagues were invited to initiate studies on a large lake in northern Mongolia, Lake Hovsgol. His work at the lake has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Global Environment Facility through the World Bank. He is associated with a research program to study the impacts of climate change on the lake’s watershed and the nomadic herders of Mongolia.

Tuya Goulden, researcher and international travel liaison
Tuya Goulden moved to the United States in 2006 from Mongolia and is a citizen of the U.S. In addition to college degrees from Mongolian universities, she has a master’s degree in tourism management from George Washington University. Goulden has been active in organizing expeditions in Mongolia for scientists in from the Academy and other universities. She is a research assistant for the Mongolian NSF-PIRE project on climate change impacts and serves as the translator for interviews with Mongolian nomadic herders.

Dakin Henderson, videographer
Henderson, a Boston filmmaker, has produced fiction and non-fiction short films, music videos and science-education documentaries. His films have won awards at Colorado College, the Shoot Out Boulder competition and the Ecological Society of America EcoFilm Festival. He currently works with the award-winning production team, Vital Pictures. Visit his website at www.shaxentertainment.com.

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