July 31, 2019 Vladivostok
So it begins. I arrived in Vladivostok and moved through stark customs and passport control. I am officially in Russia!
The morning was gloomy with thick fog blanketing the city; somewhat fitting. First, I found the hotel and put my bags in the storage, as the official check-in time is 2pm. The city has a cool vibe to it. It is Russia so it looks European but the location is in far-east Asia. Vladivostok is the terminus of the trans Siberian railway so the old railway station is one of the main points of interest. At the railway station, there are many informative displays about the trans Siberian railway and the marker for the final mile 9,288km from Moscow placed by the old steam locomotive. Unfortunately most of the interesting displays are in Russian. From the railway station I walked to the main square and made my way to the WWII submarine that has been converted into a museum. It was $1.50 to get in and once through the gate, you can wander inside at will. The submarine was cramped inside with 4 torpedo bays adorned with Soviet era stars and really tight living quarters. Again, there were numerous interesting displays unfortunately only in Russian. Above the submarine museum was a massive memorial to solders that died during WWII. There were hundreds if not a few thousand names. All were young men.
During my wanderings I stumbled upon a gun shop selling machine guns, pistols and knifes. I bought a knife in case of a bear attack in Kamchatka. I did not have a bear spray and I was concerned about the possibility of a bear encounter especially during a night. I also relied on our guide’s assertion that he had a secret way of dealing with bears that did not involve knifes or sprays.
After a delicious meal of pelmeni and a beer in a local cafe, I made my way back to the marine terminal and met up with Dreena and Johnny who were signed up for a city walking tour. I joined the tour and it was actually very interesting. The young guide took us to spots that I would not have been able to find on my own such as the old China town that used to be full of opium dens. We also visited the museum of local history. The museum was very well done with very interesting displays of artifacts pre dating 1917, among other things. There were pictures of the Czechoslovakian Battalion participating in the Russian Civil War and instrumental in the lead-up to the killing of the Czar.
After parting ways with the tour and Dreena and Johnny, I found an old funicular and made my way to the observation hill from where I could see the 180-degree panorama of the city and the port. It was very interesting to see. The city was clean, had a nice mix of modern and old and overall it was very interesting. I enjoyed it very much.
I managed to get back to the marine terminal for the sail away and waived to Dreena until the ship turned around. From there, I went back to the hotel for a delicious dinner of Russian food and off to bed for a 3.45 am wakeup call for the morning flight to Pertopawlowsk- Kamchatsky.
August 1, 2019 Petropawlowsk-Kamchatsky
I got up at 3.45 am and took a taxi to the airport 1-hour drive from the city. The driver was very grumpy (maybe because it was such an early call). The airport is modern and comparable to any other modern airport in Europe or North America. The airline operating this route is called AURORA and it is a subsidiary of Aeroflot. All in all it was a very smooth flight with good service, cramped seat notwithstanding. During the 3.5-hour flight I sat next to a Polish guy who was on his way to Kamchatka to do some fishing for 6 days. He paid $3,500 euro for a 6-day fishing trip! It is also a very long way to go from Poland for 6 days.
On the approach to land in Petropawlosk-Kamchatsky (PK) we had fantastic views of the Avachynski Volcano and the green fields along the coast of Kamchatka. The top of the volcano was sticking above the clouds and it was all very exciting for me. I was very excited to be finally in Kamchatka. I wanted to visit Kamchatka since I was a kid and it was always an impossible dream. Based on my first impression, Kamchatka seemed wild and vast – my kind of place.
The airport in Petropawlowsk-Kamchatsky is both civilian and military. I could see many military planes as we were taxing to the arrival gate. PK is famous for the large nuclear submarine port of the Pacific fleet of the Russian Navy. I presume that this is one of the reasons for the large presence of many military jets at the airport.
The arrival area of the PK airport is situated inside a blue greenhouse-like structure, which apparently is a great improvement from a few years before, when the passengers had to collect their bags in the open (rain, snow or sunshine).
After collecting my backpack I met Evgeny our guide. Evgeny is from Moscow but he spent the previous three weeks in Kamchatka guiding other tourists. Since we needed to wait for David, we ended up in a nearby café for some good borsch and coffee. David arrived an hour or so after me. He arrived from Moscow after a 10-hour flight. He had to deal with 11-hour time difference. Thankfully, I was already adjusted.
We drove from the airport to the city in one hour and it already looked different from Vladivostok: poorer, less developed reminiscent of a frontier town. There were some remains of old Siberian wooden houses intermixed with the brutalist Soviet architecture. The city is beautifully located among green hills on the shore of the picturesque Avacha Bay. It has a small port with a lot of fishing trawlers some of them in an advanced state of decay. David and I were tired but suffering from FOMO we went for a long walk around the “old” city by the bay. It felt surreal to be in Kamchatka as it seemed so remote. It did not register yet that I was finally in Kamchatka. We walked up to a small hill with nice view of the bay.
Evgeny told us that we had a 600km drive the following day to get to the start of our hike! I could not believe how far we had to drive. I was happy though that we would see so much of Kamchatka. The road that we would drive on is the only road in Kamchatka and we would cover 85% of its total length. The plan was to drive to the trailhead and camp before we would start walking the following day. Now all we needed was good weather!
It took some time to process where we were and what we were about to do. The place had a remote feel to it already and we were not even in the woods yet. In a local shaman/souvenir shop we saw a mounted brown bear with huge claws. This was the only bear that I want to see on this trip, as I would like to stay as far from them as possible. I hoped that Kamchatka bears did not fancy lava fields and volcanoes but prefer rivers full of fish.
August 2, 2019 Camp 1, 5 km
We got up at 8am to a cloudy and gloomy day. We had great breakfast with familiar foods. I really enjoy the Russian food as it reminds me of Poland. I feel certain familiarity and kinship with the people and the general surroundings. We had to wait until 9.30am for the car to take us on the 600km ride. Finally our driver Sergey showed up in a 4x4 Mitsubishi. First we went to a local bank as Evgeny had to do some business and then off for the “fun” day in the car. The drive was through a valley separating two main mountain ranges that run along Kamchatka coasts: the Central Range and the East Range. The weather cleared and we could admire great vistas of wild mountains and rivers. The scenery was reminiscent of Alaska and even Alberta in some places.
After we crossed the Kamchatka River, the last 35 km of the journey was on a progressively deteriorating forest track. The car was leaning 35 degrees or more. The feeling of remoteness was amplified and caused a slight anxiety in me. The place was very wild and remote! We stopped briefly and I opened the car door to be immediately surrounded by a cloud of buzzing mosquitoes. Sergey continued with full confidence entertaining Evgeny with numerous stories about the region, volcanoes, history etc. He was very talkative and had a wealth of knowledge about the region. He worked as a hydrologist in the Tolbachik area during the 70s and 80s. Once the Soviet system collapsed, he lost his job and started a car rental company with driving people like us as a side gig. He knew all the forest roads from his days in the field. He said that all the tracks were developed by the forest industry that was dominant in this region during the Soviet days. The loggers would transport tree trunks to the coast along the Kamchatka River. The logging in the 70 and 80 basically destroyed the old growth forest of this part of Kamchatka. I understood more than 60% of what he said and got the general gist of his stories. Since neither Evgeny nor David talked much, I was happy for Sergey’s company.
As we progressed uphill through the thick taiga towards our final destination, the massive bulk of the Tolbachik Volcano came into view. I got quite excited about the prospect of hiking on it and forgot about the remoteness and possible problems.
We were lucky with the weather and arrived at the camp in blue skies and sunshine about 4.30pm. We set up camp and were immediately surrounded by clouds of mosquitos. They did not bite too much but became annoying more than anything. The bulky Tolbachik Volcano was very close and we could see its conical summit covered in snow and ice. We took a 5km walk to the hills above the camp to get a better view of the surrounding landscape. We could see the other large volcanoes in the distance but the Tolbachik stole the show. It looked beautiful in the setting sun with low light illuminating the glaciers.
August 3, 2019 Camp 2, 9.50 km
I just got back from watching a giant Grizzly bear (or as they call them here, brown bear) circle our camp. First, the bear appeared above the camp checking us out. As he disappeared behind the bushes, we climbed a little hill for a better view and watched him eating berries a few hundred meters away. He was a giant bear with a square snout – nothing I would care to see much closer. Earlier in the day, along our hike to the camp, we saw the shaking dugs of another bear as he was running away from us. Thankfully he was running in a right direction – away from us.
But back the beginning of the day. We got up early at 6am as the rowdy group of Russians was making a racket. They arrived the night before and also made a lot of noise with their giant Kamaz roaring its engine right above our tent! David was not amused and had he spoke Russian he would have set the Russian ladies straight! I would love to see that! An Englishman vs. the team of field-hardened Russian women with bear hands! Guess the outcome!
We had breakfast under a canopy in the rain, packed up and hit the trail. The pack was heavy (30kg) and we had to climb uphill right from the start. We were walking in a fog with limited visibility. We did not have to walk far and after running into the bear we came to a ridge, which we descended to camp 2.
When we arrived at the camp 2 at 10.30 am, a group of 20 Russians was already there drying from the rain. They arrived from the opposite direction and it was their second last day of the trip. As soon as we arrived and set up our tents it started to rain heavily and continued for a few hours until 4 pm. The open shelter was very crowded because of the rain as there was nowhere else to hide.
Some of the members of the Russian group were foraging mushrooms and dwarf pinecones. They made a large pot of mushroom soup. The cones are used for medicinal purposes by boiling them and mixing them with alcohol.
My tent was holding up surprisingly well in the heavy rain. I hoped for good weather as we were hoping to see the views. This was why we came here after all. We were anticipating the following day to be difficult, as we had to walk for 16-20km with heavy packs.
August 3, 2019 Camp 3, 18 km low cloud, wind, cold – no rain
Today was the first day of real walking – 18km with a big pack. Every little thing weighs and it all adds up to the heavy load. We split the food for 10 days 3 ways: cans of pashtet, macaroni, rice, kasha, etc. There is nothing freeze-dried and no one here seems to use this type of foods to save weight. Our typical evening meal was rice, macaroni or kasha with canned fish, meat or peas.
We walked out of the camp with the Volcano Tolbachik visible in the distance. The view made for a fine backdrop. We could even see the steaming Bezimienny far above the low clouds for a while. Soon, we started walking on old lava fields with wonderful green moss covering black lava rocks. The black sand, green moss and the white of the volcano made for fantastic contrast. We walked among frozen towers of old lava that looked like a Salvador Dali painting. The trail climbed and dropped a lot. We stopped at a small slot canyon and made a quick detour to check it out. Unfortunately we could not descend into the canyon as it was filled with the rain runoff.
We crossed a large plateau dotted with remains of an old lava filed. The wind picked up and it got rather cold so sitting and resting became unpleasant. We could see the rain falling in the distance but it never got close to us. After crossing the never-ending plateau, we followed a small river to a pass that took us to the basecamp for the volcano Bezimienny.
The basecamp is located by an old 1960s hut built by the Russian Academy of Science. This hut was constructed to study the volcano Bezimienny after its explosive eruption in the late 1950s. It has been abandoned and is now used as a shelter by trekking groups. It is rather dilapidated but provides a welcome shelter from the frequent wind and rain. The weather today was much better than the day before – it did not rain, it was only very windy and cold. When we arrived at the hut, we had the place to ourselves so we decided to sleep inside. Soon after though, a large group of Russians arrived with some shady guys that gave us an evil eye for sleeping inside the shelter.
We met a gregarious fellow from the UK who was a member of the large Russian group. He was teaching English in Yakuck and came to Kamchatka on his vacation. He described a trip that he took back around Yakuck to the famous basalt towers of the river Lena: 5 hours in a bumpy bus, 10 minutes for the photo of the towers, and then 5 hours in the bumpy bus back to Yakuck. We all shared a laugh.
For the Russians, Kamchatka is like Alaska for the Americans. The Russians come here from all over Russia. It is surprising how few of them can speak English. They are mostly young and well to do to be able to come here yet they do not know English well or at all.
The evening was clear with a beautiful sunset boding well for tomorrow’s planned ascent of the Bezimienny Volcano.
August 4, 2019 Camp 4, 18km, ascent of 1200m
We got up at 5am, had quick breakfast of instant porridge and departed for the volcano. There was no wind and the sky was clear! We had perfect conditions. We followed an easy trail to a rim of the caldera at 2,800m. We had great views of the surrounding area along the way with great visibility for miles. The view got better the higher we climbed and it was exactly what I imagined Kamchatka to be like. Many volcanoes dotted the surrounding landscape. From where we were, a cluster of 3 large volcanoes dominated the view right across from us. To the right, the bulk of Tolbachik and Ostry Tolbachik towered above the never-ending plane we crossed the day before. We could see the entire distance covered so far and the distance we would walk for the following two days.
We spent 3 hours on the top admiring the views, flying the drone and taking it all in. The Bezimienny Volcano is active and the cloud of volcanic ash rose from the crater above us. The crater looked unstable, full of steaming vents and we did not want to chance an accident by walking on the crater’s floor. The cloud of ash partly obscured the view of the massive Volcano Kamen that towered for another 1500m above Bezimienny. The crater of Bezimenny had steep red walls surrounding it with a small dent in its defenses where we were standing. It was a scene from the time of creation.
After some hesitation, curiosity won and Evgeny descended to the bottom of the crater but returned quickly not wanting to chance an accident. Evgeny’s drone gave us a better view of the steaming crater and the surrounding volcanoes of Kamenny and Kluchewskaya that we could not see from where we were. It was absolutely fantastic! After 2 hours or so, the low clouds started to roll in and the curtain was dropping fast. We decided to descend and as we went down, the visibility decreased to 50m or so. We could not see any distinguishing features so we got slightly lost but soon regained the trail. When we descended below the clouds, we could see the hut and the tents of the Russian group. I was surprised that none of the Russians made it to the top in such perfect weather.
After a quick lunch, we left for the next camp as the Russian group was crowding us out.
We were tired but walked for 8 km to the next camp located on Marsove Pole. The Marsove Pole camp is very beautiful with wonderful vistas of all the volcanoes in the park. We set up our camp and cooked good dinner under the shelter. We had the entire place to ourselves until a small group of 3 friendly Russians arrived. The evening was spectacular with wonderful views of the volcanoes in the setting sun. I walked to a small spur behind the camp for great view of the Tolbachik Volcano and the extensive old lava fields.
We were amazed with the cleanliness of the trails, the shelters and the park in general. There was no garbage, or human waste. All the shelters were clean and tidy with no sign of vandalism of any kind. Despite the presence of large groups, everyone was very respectful of the others and the environment. We did not see one piece of garbage anywhere along the 100+ of the distance we covered.
August 6, 2019 Camp 5, 16 km
We got up at 5 am again to get to the Tolbachik pass early. The weather was clear again! Evgeny was very keen to fly the drone and set the pace at maximum. We were very lucky for this weather window. There was no wind and we had good visibility allowing us to appreciate and admire the magnificent surroundings of this unique place. From the top of the pass we had great views of the volcanoes Kamienny, Kluchewskaya and steaming Bezinienny in the raising sun. The 4700m high Kamienny was especially striking – steep and imposing. Right behind it was Kluchewskaya at 4900m it is the highest active volcano in the park and free of snow because of the heat (like the Bezimienny crater. When Evgeny descended into it, the rocks were hot). The views from the Tolbachik Pass were fantastic! We could see a panorama of the entire park with 14 major volcanoes dotting the landscape. We stayed there for an hour or so taking it all in.
We then walked towards a distant volcano with a plan to go no further than 10km for the day. We walked on hard snow for some distance and then on the green tundra in the middle of a huge valley. Along the way, we could admire the trio of high volcanoes in the rear view mirror. The valley we walked across was covered by thousands of beautiful and colorful flowers and it was very green but there was absolutely no water anywhere! We needed the water for cooking and could not camp without it. We could not find any water for another 13 km and had to walk much further than we planned. Finally we arrived at the base of the distant volcano that we saw from the pass and spotted a clear stream originating from the snow patch above.
When we arrived, the temperature was quite hot, the hottest day we experienced so far. We were also tired from the forced march that we did not anticipate and were not psyched for. The heat did not last though as the wind picked up and low clouds obscured all views. All the wonderful scenery that we saw disappeared. It is a pity that the weather here is so fickle…
August 7, 2019 Camp 6, 9.5 km Talud Campsite
Today we slept in as it was quiet and we did not have anyone sharing the camp with us. We had a good night sleep and got up at 8am. We had breakfast in the field in a wonderful setting with good clean water. The clouds came down even further overnight and we were now engulfed in a fog. After breakfast we hiked for two hours mainly down a long river channel filled with black sand and loose rocks. It drizzled a little but before we knew it, we were in the Talud campsite. We passed some people along the way but it does not seem customary to chitchat with the passers by.
At the Talud camp there is another dilapidated Russian Scientists’ hut from 40 years ago. The place has a creepy feel to it and I would not stay there after dark. I did not even want to enter it during the day. The hut also dates back to the Bezimienny eruption of 1957. The eruption was as large as the Krakatoa eruption and it was this event that started the scientific interest in this area.
The Talud camp is also besieged by thousands of mosquitoes. I could not see them all but I could hear their buzzing like a swarm of WWII airplanes waiting to attack.
Thankfully they do not bite too much. We had a relaxing afternoon here – time passed by quickly despite miserable weather. We made a nice fire and enjoyed each other’s company.
August 8, 2019 Tolbachik Basecamp, 12.5 km
We arrived in the Tolbachik campsite late afternoon in pissing rain. It rained all night and finally stopped in the morning. The MSR tent was holding amazingly well in constant rain and wind. We decided not to climb the Tolbachik Volcano as it was shrouded in a thick cloud. Some Russians made the effort only to return wet and deflated from the failed attempt.
Instead of climbing the volcano, we decided to explore the extensive eruption area that this place is famous for. The most recent eruption was in 2009 and 2012. It was one of the largest fissure eruptions in the world producing astronomical amount of lava.
We left early in the morning and as soon as we reached the first lava field it started to rain again. It was very windy and it rained for the entire time that we were in the eruption area. Without proper rain gear, it would have been very cold due to the strong wind.
The lava field is massive and very interesting. The lava has many shapes and colors and it looks like glass art or roots of a giant tree all twisted and roped. The colors are amazing: different shades of silver, grey, red, yellow and maroon. As it cooled, the lava formed into fantastic shapes and looks like frozen glass or glue. It is light in weight but extremely strong. We walked on large lava tubes and channels and I was afraid to break through and fall into the chasm. The lava is also very sharp and any fall would cut through skin like a razor. The lava that is close to an active area is yellowish or bright red in color. One can feel the heat radiating from the earth below. Some of the active areas on this field are over 100C hot and can burn skin if touched.
We went further afield to climb two volcanic cones from which the lava erupted during the 2009-2012 eruption. The cones were covered in light red pumice. The pumice is very light and good to walk on as it provides good traction. The range of shades of pumice was amazing: from bright red to fluorescent yellow. The colors were very vivid in the rain. At the top of the first crater there were many active vents and sulfur gases were coming out of the fissures in the rocks. This kaleidoscopic landscape was situated at the base of the massive Tolbachik Volcano covered in snow and ice making for striking contrast. It was truly amazing and fascinating to see. It was all very wild and untamed – raw nature that is still forming in front of us. All of this in the rain and wind – totally wild!
We then climbed to the top of the second massive crater. The crater was a huge gapping hole with steam of gas coming from its bottom. The colors of the rocks were amazing and very vibrant as well. The smell of carbon and sulfur was in the air despite the wind. I have never seen anything like this on such a massive scale in such a wild and remote setting. From the top of the crater we could see the distant volcano where we camped two days prior. The black field of lava extended as far as we could see.
On the way back we walked into a huge lava cave that seemed to extend for some distance. We did not walk very far as we did not bring a flashlight with us. We also looked for a hot lava cave that was somewhere in the area but we could not find it. We did find a lot of thermal areas some of them so hot that Evgeny burned his hand when he touched the rock.
After a few hours of exploring we were wet and cold and decided to return to the camp. During lunch a wicked wind suddenly picked up by making a loud punch to the roof of the shelter. I had to go back inside the tent to anchor it down, as I was afraid that it would get blown away by the wind. The poles of the tent started to fold with each gust all the way to the floor and I had to hold them up to prevent them from breaking. As the wind increased in intensity, I decided to move the tent behind the hut. As soon as I moved my tent, a group of Russians set up one of their large dining tents in the very spot that I vacated oblivious to the gale force wind. Needless to say, their tent did not survive the night.
August 10, 2019 20 km
During the night the gale force wind increased even more and eventually destroyed the entire campsite. The Russians were running like crazy chasing their tents all around the desolate campsite in the dark. All night long, the wind was twisting and pushing my MSR tent onto me. And I was sheltered behind the hut! The tents out in the open did not stand a chance including Evgeny’s. I could not sleep until 3am due to the noise from the wind although I was exhausted. I finally fell asleep after 3 am and I was up at 7 am.
After meager breakfast (we were running out of food), Evgeny and I returned to the active zone for more exploring. I was fascinated by the entire area and could spend hours just walking around. I was far more interested in exploring this area than in climbing the Tolbachik volcano that frankly looked like any other snowy mountain to me. During our exploration, the wind was still very strong but it did not deter us. We climbed the two large craters again and Evgeny flew his drone for wonderful areal photography. I was surprised that he could fly the drone in such strong wind. From the air, the area was even more magical than I could appreciate from the ground. After much exploring, we returned to the camp around noon.
After meager lunch consisting of a candy bar we walked for another 6km to the rendezvous point with our ride. The way to that spot passed though very desolate landscape of black sand and low calderas. I was apprehensive about our ride being there as we were very far away from the road and civilization. We finally arrived at the designated spot. Thankfully there was a shelter to hide from the wind and rain. Regardless, we were wet, tired and hungry. I started to get quite cold. To stay warm, I climbed to the top of a small volcano behind the shelter. It was quick and very enjoyable as the crater was also active and had many wonderfully colored rocks. The views from the top were also wonderful despite the low clouds and wind. I really like this landscape and find it very photogenic and intriguing. Along the way to the top, I could feel the heat of the earth through my boots and I could smell sulfur despite the wind.
Our plan was to meet up with Sergey, the driver at 3pm. He did not show up at 3pm and as the hours passed, we were getting concerned. We did not have any food left, there was no water nearby, we were tired and it was really miserable (cold and wet). We also had no way of communicating with the outside world. Our only other was to hitch a ride with one of the larger groups and take a bus back to Petropawlosk-Kamchatsky from the village of Kozierowsk 100km away.
Finally Sergey appeared at 7pm apologetic that the approach track was blocked by fallen trees, which he had to chainsaw to get through.
We packed up, got in the car and drove a short distance to the area called Dead Forrest. The area is not really dead as there are new trees all around and beautiful bushes of lupine everywhere. The contrast of green trees, black sand and purple flowers were quite striking.
As soon as we arrived, Sergey sprang into action: made a fire to keep the mosquitos away, cut wood for more fire, unpacked loads of baked salmon, malosolne, cold beer (!), and excellent samogon (the Russian hooch). We started to eat the delicious salmon and drink the beer and the hooch. Despite my good intentions, the hooch sent me back to the tent very quickly. I passed out and did not wake up until the next morning.
Well, this part of the trip was over. Mosquitoes, rain, hunger (never enough food as we could only carry so much), wonderful views, volcanic wonders, it was all part of the wild adventure in the vast and unforgiving land of Kamchatka. We walked well over 100km covering a large part of the Kluchewskaya National Park. The effort was totally worth it and it exceeded my wildest expectations. It is one of a few remaining wild and unique places in the world that exists despite the encroaching civilization. There are not many places like this left.
August 11, 2019 Drive from Tolbachik to Paratunka
Today we drove for 11 hours! After the hooch-fueled evening everyone was asleep until 8.30am so we did not start until 10 am. The morning was foggy and with the back sand of the volcanic desert, it looked bleak. We made a fire, brewed good cowboy coffee and ate the leftover salmon and rice from the previous evening.
On the way we stopped to help a stranded jeep in very muddy and almost impassable road. Then we turned into a barely-visible forest track known only to Sergey (we could not see it and thought that he was turning into the bushes). We drove through this overgrown track for an hour or so bulldozing our way across the new-grown taiga. We finally emerged onto a large river, crossed its main channel and then hit the main road 30kms beyond. We stopped at the Kamchatka River for our last view of the volcanic giants peaking from above the clouds. It was very beautiful and a great way to say goodbye to this wonderful place. Despite the fickle weather and hard work, I was sad to leave this special place.
We then had a few hours of driving to the village of Milkovo where we had borsch at the gas station and actually not too bad pastry. After, hours of driving to Petropawlosk. In PK we stopped at a local supermarket to stock up on food for our next leg of the trek. We also bought some beer from a dispensary in the store. The lady operating the dispensary pours beer to a large plastic bottle for $1 per litter! Cheap and very good. We also stopped to photograph the beautiful volcanoes surrounding PK.
We checked into a nice hotel in Paratunka, a hot spot for thermal baths. We were very tired but had enough energy for a nice soak in the hot pool. The facilities were clean and modern. The water was bathtub comfortable. We retired back to the room at 11.30pm, had quick dinner and were off to bed at 12.30! It was a long day.
August 12, 2019 Goriely Volcano 20km
We got up at 7am and had great breakfast at the hotel. Good Russian food again. After breakfast, Sergey picked us up and drove us to the base of the Goriely Volcano along a bumpy and rocky road. The weather was great and decided to go up the top of the volcano to take advantage of it. It was such a contrast from the fog, cold and rain of the Tolbachik area two days prior.
The hike is quite easy and we climbed 800m in 1 hour. At the top, a splendid panorama of two huge craters opened up. One crater has a lake in it and the other is still active. The entire double crater looks like a giant hole, jagged and colorful. I walked along the narrow rim of the crater to the true summit slightly above 2,000m. Soon after arriving, David joined me and we continued our exploration by walking along the entire rim of the volcano. We were both amazed with the incredible scenery and the beauty of the area. We walked through some active thermal areas with smoke steaming from between the cracks. The crater had a “Wow” factor similar to the Bryce Canyon in the USA. We were lucky with the weather again when it counted most! We walked a long way and were both tired and hungry.
Once we got back to the camp it was still sunny but it became very windy making it unpleasant to sit outside. Thanks to the wind though we had no mosquitoes!
This area is very beautiful and very different from the Kluchewskaya Park. It is also much busier due to its proximity to PK (only 2 hours away). Because of the beautiful weather we hiked with many locals of various shapes and ages. Everyone was enjoying the scenery and the warm windless summit.
August 13, 2019 Mutnowski Volcano 23.5km
In the morning we left the Goriely campsite and walked 11 km, mainly on the 4x4 road to the Mutnowski camp. It took us 3.5 hours to walk the distance and we were quite tired. The walk on the road seemed tedious to me. We were passed by many day-trippers on their way to the Mutnovsky Volcano from PK. We walked in nice sunshine with little wind. We set up the camp, had lunch and took off to explore the Mutnovsky Volcano. We wanted to take advantage of the good weather.
To my surprise the Mutnowski geological area is located inside the crater (I was not expecting this). What an entrance! Through the gates of hell – yellow steep walls of volcanic rocks bring you inside a giant caldera. We entered the realm of smoke and sulfur. As we entered the crater, we started to see smoke rising from various vents. Inside the crater there are numerous fumaroles spewing gases. Some gases emanate from the earth with violent force like a jet engine. Some are so toxic that one cannot breathe. The crater’s colors are of various shades of yellow and brown blending into each other like a painting. There are numerous sulfuric vents and holes, liquid mud, boiling water, geysers etc. It is a fabulous and amazing place, interesting and dynamic. I walked around in wonder. It was hard for me to believe that it was real. The Mutnovsky crater is quite huge and there is also a glacier inside above the active zone. The contrast of ice and fire is quite amazing. Blue ice seracs lean above hot vents spewing sulfuric gasses.
We hiked still higher to the rim of another crater that is hidden from view until the moment that you stand at its edge. This hidden crater is very active spewing a huge tower of smoke continuously. The crater’s walls are vertical and on its bottom there is a red lake. There were quite a few Russian day-trippers and we all stood there amazed at the display of raw power of the earth. We stayed inside the Mutnovsky crater for 4 hours and of course it started to rain as we started walking back to the camp. The weather window was closing fast. I was amazed that we could wander around such dynamic and violent active area without any restrictions or safety measures (in Yellowstone there are walkways, barriers and rangers to watch the people. Here nothing at all.).
It was too cold, wet and windy to cook outside so Evgeny cooked inside the tent. After the rain, the moisture was evaporating from the warm ground around us, which looked quite amazing. The mountains in the distance looked very dramatic in the rain and swirling clouds. The weather has turned again.
August 14, 2019 12km
We got up to a cloudy sky and cold. By now the weather felt familiar so no one was complaining. Thankfully we camped close to the small pass that we had to cross that day so we did not have to retrace any distance. We did not have many kilometers to cover to our meeting point with Sergey. We slogged up the small pass from where we had a view of the Mutnowski Volcano and in the distance the geothermal power plant that was our final destination. I was beginning to feel quite tired from the cumulative days of carrying the heavy pack. We stopped along the way to check out geothermal installations that were all over the valley that we were crossing. We ended our walk on a disused road with multicolored hills towering above it. It was all very beautiful. The scale of the landscape here is very big and mountains stretch into the distance.
When we arrived at the power plant, the weather became warm and sunny. Since we arrived a day early and had no obvious means of contacting Sergey, we asked for a ride but everyone refused. Finally I realized that I could use my cellphone as the power plant had a cell tower. We called Sergey and he could pick us up at 5pm. Since we had some time to kill, David and I went for a walk to a nearby thermal area with numerous geysers and fumaroles. The area was small but quite impressive. We could walk among the fumaroles and geysers to our heart’s content. Unlike the Yellowstone or Iceland, the thermal areas here are wild and we had unrestricted access.
We were amused by the Russian families that came for a day hike. They all had very similar routine. Before the hike, they would have a large amount of food with vodka. Then, dressed in camo gear (entire families wearing camo, including kids) and with a large knife attached to the side, the patriarch would lead everyone into the wild. After the hike, the family congregated at the table, the food was again consumed along with more vodka. I noticed that the alcohol was consumed in very limited quantities more for social bonding than drinking.
Finally Sergey showed up and took us back to Paratunka. We stayed at the same hotel with the wonderful thermal pool. We had great BBQ dinner at the restaurant adjacent to the hotel. The food was excellent and the beer was cold. In addition to successful conclusion of our adventure, it was also David’s 25th birthday so we had two good reasons to celebrate. After the dinner we soaked in the warm water for 2 hours. The pool was open until midnight so we enjoyed every last minute of it! We were all happy not to be in the tent. The trip was coming to the end.