I travelled to Kamchatka during their so-called summer, together with volcanologist Chris Weber, for a 3 week expedition in June/July 2013. The trip was characterised by extreme bad luck regarding the weather and extreme good luck regarding the volcanoes.
In addition to exploring Kamchatka culture and country (we used 2 spare days to explore Petropavlovsk; a city caught somewhere between the poles of old Soviet charm and the modern age), the active volcanoes were the main focus of our expedition.
During our trip to the Avachinsky and Korykaksky volcanoes near Petropavlovsk we experienced a typical Kamchatka summer; great summer weather on arrival and departure and a lot of cold, rain, and wind in between. For this reason we experienced the summit of Avachinsky volcano in thick fog and were not able to climb Korykaksky volcano at all.
There was bright sunshine throughout our 700km journey on the one existing road, asphalted only in places, alongside the Kamchatka River passing the small villages Milkova, Kosyresk and Kliuchi towards the north. Our expedition around the most northern active Shiveluch volcano took place under a grey, dark and melancholy sky. In 2005 a huge pyroclastic flow destroyed this area, making it look even more dramatic, and the drama was intensified further by the possibility of a sudden encounter with a big grizzly bear.
On the other hand we were very lucky with the volcanic activity. In addition to some beautiful atmospheric evenings, with uninterrupted views of the Klyuchevskoy and Zimina volcanoes, we witnessed a night time eruption and subsequent glowing dome of Shiveluch volcano. However, that wasn’t all; shortly before our departure a rare pyroclastic flow occurred right in front of our eyes – unbelievable!
From our cosy accommodation in Kosyrevsk (Masha’s place) we began the main objective of our trip; a 9 day trek to the active volcano Tolbachik, which began erupting 6 months ago. In order to save money we did not take porters or a cook, but instead strode out with only our guide Artyom and our rucksacks weighing approx 30kg each.
Due to weight our daily diet consisted of just 60g of instant noodles, bread, tins of tuna, a few cookies and power bars. We needed plenty of power bars not only because of the terrain but mainly because Artyom had a habit of choosing routes as the crow flies; from one GPS point directly to another.
We left, of course, despite the bad weather and found ourselves in the middle of a cyclone. For this reason we had to abort the planned ascents of both Bezymianny and Plosky Tolbachik volcanoes. Even worse we had to survive 2 whole days in basic huts in the “summer” temperatures of +1C before experiencing the “fun” of hiking for hours through a severe snowstorm including deep snow and high winds.
Despite the poor weather most of the rivers were dry; there had been wall to wall sunshine every day in the 2 weeks leading up to our arrival, meaning some days we had ashy dirty snow. Fortunately this didn’t reduce our gas supply too significantly.
Our stamina was rewarded with exceptional volcanic experiences. During our 4 days at the Tolbachik site we were able to look into the crater with its rare lava lake on several occasions. The view into this breathtaking spectacle was one of the ultimate highlights of the expedition, but also emphasised the continuing danger of a larger eruption. Indeed, at one point a medium sized lava bomb landed just a stone’s throw away.
2 sky holes and the view into a lava tunnel were very hot experiences in every aspect. Only during the spectacular dramatic evenings with glowing skies and fascinating strombolian eruptions could we enjoy ourselves and fully relax.
This area, as indeed the entire country, is one of Earth’s extreme hot spots and it holds a truly magical attraction.