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Sunset over the mountains of fire, Kamchatka

Tolbachik volcano Kamchatka

We climbed a small dormant volcanic cone to watch the final sunset of our expedition

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” John Muir

On our final evening amoung the volcanos, we climbed a small dormant volcanic cone a short walk from camp to take in the grandeur of the scenery we had been trekking through. We were treated to this amazing scene as the sun set over the jagged peaks of the remote Sredinny range. The skies lit up in reds and yellows over Tolbachik in a perfect allegory of the angry past which created this volcano aeons ago. Her active cone from last year’s eruption was silent now and while the lava remained hot all activity had ceased.

Being treated to an etherial scene like this is what it’s all about. One experience like this makes all those rough kilometres of trekking, burdened with spine crushing packs, all the while being harried by thousands of bloodsucking mosquitos, seem like nothing.

We soaked in the scene and stood on the top of the volcanic mound, rugged up in our down jackets, till the chill of the cold wind got to us. We scrambled down and walked back to camp over the black ash of the lava plain in silence. That night we slept well knowing we would be back in civilisation the next day and were going to treat ourselves to a hot bath and meal that wasn’t rehydrated in a plastic bag, for the first time in over two weeks. And lets not forget, our first ice cold beer.

 

 

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Expedition Photography – Sony Rx100

Sony RX100

My camera gear for the 16-day Kamchatka expedition

On my recent expedition to Kamchatka we were going to be carrying very heavy rucksacks. When we had finally loaded all out food, fuel and gear the packs weighed over 30kgs. Luckily most of the weight was made up by food and fuel so the packs would get lighter as we consumed our supplies.

With this in mind I very reluctantly left my Nikon D700 and 24-70mm behind and opted to take my small but capable Sony RX100 on the expedition. I bough four extra batteries and lots of memory. I took about 3000 photos on the trip as well as a few short videos and had nearly two batteries left after the trip. This setup weighed about 450g. (Yes, I know the tripod is pink; it was in the bargain bin and going cheap. And it weighed next to nothing.)

Trekking in Kamchatka

My pack weighed in excess of 30kgs

The camera performed very well, even in the cold but I have say it provided a very different shooting experience when campared to my trusty D700. I missed the precision and control I am used to when using my D700. Using an LCD rather than a view finder is also a very different experience. While the RX100 is a great camera it is no where as good as the D700 in low light conditions.

That said, I am very pleased with the photographs from the trip. I will post a full report and gallery when I am done editing the photos.

 

 

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The beautiful but deadly Kamen (4579m)

Kamen volcano

Two climbers succumbed to the fatal allure of that beautiful line that runs up the centre of the face. The ran into trouble at the top of the ridge and fell all the way down the north face.

Kamen or Rock, an extinct strato volcano, is the second highest volcano in Kamchatka. We climbed up the Shmita Glacier and camped at the Volcanologists Pass at 3300m. The tiny volcanologists hut and our camp can be seen directly below the ridge. We ran into a team of climbers at the hut. They turned out to be the local search and rescue team here to undertake the grim task of retrieving the bodies of two climbers who fell off the north west ridge. The climbers attempted to ascend the ridge but ran into trouble near the top. They fell all the way down the north face to the glacier below. The rescue team had found the bodies and were awaiting extraction by helicopter.

Standing there in the freezing cold wind I couldn’t help but be taken in by the breathtaking sunset but was reminded of the dangers at the thought of the two climbers whose bodies lay on the ice at the foot of this elegant but impassive peak. RIP.

The world is a better place to live in because it contains human beings who will give up ease and security in order to do what they themselves think worth doing. They do the useless, brave, noble, divinely foolish, and the very wisest things that are done by Man. And what they prove to themselves and to others is that Man is no mere creature of his habits, no automaton in his routine, but that in the dust of which he is made there is also fire, lighted now and then by great winds from the sky. – Walter Lippmann.

 

 

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Looking up in awe at the mighty Klyuchevskaya Sopka (4750m)

Klyuchevskaya Sopka

We watched boulders the size of fridges smash their way down the slopes and spin through the air as the leapt off ledges. It was way too dangerous to attempt an ascent under these conditions.

This was an unusually warm year in Kamchatka and there was almost no snow on the southern slopes of Klyuchevskaya Sopka (4750m), the highest active volcano in Eurasia. We climbed up along the Shmita Glacier to the Volcanologists Pass at 3300m and set up camp at the foot of this giant volcano. It towered a further 1700m above us.

We studied the conditions for nearly two day and watched huge boulders come thundering down the slopes. Boulders the size of fridges smashed their way down steep rubble strewn slopes and were sent spinning through the air as the leapt off ledges. It was way too dangerous to attempt an ascent under these conditions. We had already had a couple of close calls with rockfall while crossing the gullies during our ascent to the pass. To add to it we had just met a mountain search and rescue team who were in the process of retrieving the bodies of two climbers who had died in a fall off the neighbouring volcano, Kamen. Their bodies still lay at the foot of the mountain as we stood there.

Klyuchevskaya Sopka is best attempted in spring or winter when deep snow and freezing conditions keeps the debris in place. Even then it a dangerous climb and many climbers have been seriously injured or killed attempting to climb this volcano.

The next day we packed up and began the knee jarring 2000m vertical meters of descent back down to the valley below.

 

 

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Off to Kamchatka

Klyuchevskaya Sopka

Klyuchevskaya Sopka 4750m (Russian: Ключевская сопка; also known as Kliuchevskoi, Russian: Ключевской) is the highest active volcano of Eurasia.

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Off to Kamchatka again, this time to climb Klyuchevskaya Sopka (4750m), the highest active volcano of Eurasia; last eruption, Jan 26, 2014. I am leading a Secret Compass Expedition with a team of ten and we are aiming to climb Klyuchevskaya Sopka, Tolbachik, Zimina and Bezymianny volcanos. We will be trekking about 175kms and will have to carry our extremely heavy packs up about 8000m of elevation gain. I will be sending daily updates via sat phone (there is no escape from social media, not even in the Russian Far East!) and you can keep up with the expedition on the Secret Compass blog. Au revoir!

 

 

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Standing on an active volcano

Tolbachik volcano

I noticed a tiny figure standing on the edge of the crater and realised it was me (Photo by Emili Xaus Pruna)

Emili, one of the participants in the 2013 Kamchatka photo tour sent me a photo of Tolbachik volcano. He took this photo while heading back to camp after an evening photo session. They had left me behind on the volcano. I wrote about the experience in an earlier post. While looking closely at the photo I noticed a tiny figure on the edge of the crater and realised it was me.

Tolbachik volcano

Zoomed into the cropped section shows me standing on the edge of the crater.

Here is a zoomed in version of the photo showing me standing at the edge of the crater taking photos of the lava lake. The photograph below is the shot I was taking from that position.

Tolbachik volcano by night

The caldera at night

Here are more photographs from the 2013 Kamchatka photo expedition.

 

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Photography exhibition at the Adventure Film Festival

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I held my first photography exhibition at this year’s Adventure Film Festival in Bright, Victoria. I had tried to contact the organisers back in November 2013 expressing my interest to be involved with the festival. Despite repeated attempts I didn’t hear back from them and I forgot about the entire thing. Then two days before the festival I got an email from them asking me if I was still interested and could put something together.

 

Midnight in the Land of Fire and Ice, Kamchatka

My hero shot: Midnight in the Land of Fire and Ice, Kamchatka

 

It was bit of a “Woah!” moment but I took up the challenge. This was an opportunity not to be missed. I took a few deep breaths and put on my Project Manager hat. I had all the raw material from my last trip to Kamchatka and I knew I could pull it off. I wasn’t putting together a fine art show, it was more of a narrative style exhibition so while I still had to produce quality work, I didn’t have to agonise over the prints.

It was then a manic 48 hours of final editing, printing, framing and then transporting everything up to Bright. Melbourne is fantastically set up to manage this kind of artistic emergency. Neither the printers nor the framers were phased by my requests; obviously they had seen it all before.

 

The exhibition was held at the local community hall at the Adventure Film Festival in Bright

The exhibition was held at the local community hall at the Adventure Film Festival in Bright

I got it all printed, framed and packed the car; family put their shoulder in and I couldn’t have done it without their support. It was fantastic to see all these photographs, so familliar on the computer screen, become objects in the real world. I am now inspired to refine some of them and take the time to print them on fine art paper stock to see how they come out.

We set out at sun rise and made it to the festival by 9am and had the photos hung in an hour or so. It was good to see them all hanging together in the space. It wasn’t the Louvre but the festival is a great opportunity to put my work before an audience interested in adventure travel.

 

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I printed 20 photographs for the exhibition and managed to put the entire thing together in 48 hours

The exhibition was in the foyer of one of the buildings that held the screenings of the films so people stopped by before and after the films. I met a few interesting people including explorer and author Tim Cope. Tim has recently launched his book on his epic journey in the footsteps of Genghis Khan: On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads. He also expressed an interest in visiting Kamchatka.

 

Tim Cope

Explore and author Tim Cope dropped by to see my exhibition

We ended up having dinner at Tim’s place and had a wonderful evening watching a band Mozo. The Seattle-based duo were cycle touring around New Zealand and Australia carrying all their worldly possessions including their musical instruments on their bicycles!

All in all, it was a great experience. I broke new ground. Did something I have never done before. Met new people. And I look forward to doing it again. In fact, I will be as I will be presenting a session on adventure and travel photography at next year’s festival.

2014 is going to be the year of printing. I feel the need to bring the images that are sitting as zeros and ones on my hard drives as objects into the real world.

If these photographs fire you imagination why don’t you read about the 2014 Kamchatka Photography Trip or the Kamchatka Trekking Expedition.

 

 

 

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