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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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Kamen volcano, Kamchatka Russia

Trekking in Kamchatka

Crossing the Shmita Glacier below the north face of Kamen volcano.

Making our way down from the Volcanologists Pass at 3300m to the valley below. We had to descent 2000m knee jarring vertical meters that day. Luckily our packs were a lot lighter than when we had started the trek.

Trekking in Kamchatka

Making our way down from Volcanologists Pass (3300m) between Kamen and Klyuchevskaya volcanos

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One of the grandest vistas in Kamchatka

Kamchatka camp

Imagine waking up to this: From the left Bezymianny (2882m), Kamen (4579m) and Klyuchevskoy (4750m)

We woke to this stunning view after a few days of seriously hard trekking. This was the day after we had descended from the Volcanologists Pass (3300m) which can be seen between Kamen and Klyuchevskoy. This involved over 2000m knee-jarring vertical meters of descent.

Two days ago we had ascended the same route, climbing the same 2000m of ascent in an 11 hour push. We were shattered by the time we reached the pass late in the evening. Just as we thought the  worst was over Klyuchevskoy sent out a welcoming committee to meet us in the form of rock fall. Massive boulders came smashing down the gullies we had to cross. We stood on the edge of the gully, donned our helmets, said a couple of Hail Marys and made a mad dash for the other side. Spotters kept an eye out for any falling rocks.

Once we reached camp we watched in horror as huge fridge sized boulders continued to cartwheel down the volcano at regular intervals. This was the mountain we were supposed to be climbing the next day.

 

 

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Tolbachik – active and inactive

Here are two views of the active cone of Tolbachik volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia. The first photograph I took on during the 2012 eruption, on 1 July 2013, a few months after the main eruption took place. As you can see the lava lake was visible and there was a lot of activity. Lower down the slope rivers of lava ran down towards the plains and two more vents continued to erupt with lava and spew gas.

Looking into the crater

The devil’s cauldron: Tolbachik volcano 1 July 2013

The second photograph I took on 20 July 2014 during my 150km trek around the central group of volcanos. As you can see the lava lake was no longer visible and the activity had ceased. Lower down the slope, while the rivers of lava had stopped running, the lava was still hot – too hot to touch in some places. There were a few vents still spewing very hot gas into the air. We had to approach these vents with great care as if the wind direction changed you had to jump to get out of the way as the blast of hot air was extremely hot. We saw no evidence of red hot lava though.

We came across a number of volcanologists clamouring over the rubble with their gadgets and instruments conducting research.

Tolbachik volcano Kamchatka

The devil’s lair: Tolbachik volcano 20 July 2014

We walked around the edge of the caldera and collected lava rocks as souvenirs. Wisps of gas continued to flow from cracks in the ground and much of the rock was still hot to touch. Tolbachik erupted last year after a gap of nearly 40 years. I wonder when the next eruption will be.

 

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Climbing Bezymianny volcano, Kamchatka

Bezymianny volcano

Climbing the active Bezymianny volcano (2882m), with Zimina (3119m) in the background

This year was a very warm and dry season in Kamchatka and there was hardly any snow on many of the volcanos. There were only a few small patches of snow on the slopes of Bezymianny when we arrived to climb it in July 2014.

We had our doubts if we were going to be able to climb Bezymianny this year as the volcano was showing heightened signs of activity and an eruption was over due. There was a lot of seismic activity on the volcano and the colour coding kept fluctuating between Oragnge and Green with imminent eruption warnings on the Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team website.

We camped at Platina Hut the base of Bezymianny and made a few calls to the experts on the sat phone to make a final check on conditions. We were given the all clear and planned to se out early the next morning.

Most of the climbing was pretty straight forward till the last 300 vertical metres of height. At this section the slopes of the volcano steepens to 40-45 degrees. With no snow covering the slopes all the loose rocks is ready to fall at any moment. The volcanos slopes consist of a pile of loose rubble that has been ejected from the bowels of the Earth. The sole destiny of every sing one of those trillions of rocks is to reach the bottom of the volcano – any which way. Erosion, rain, melting snow, wind or a careless climber could cause the rock to begin to roll; and once it gets going there is no stopping it till it reaches the bottom of the mountain. Also, one rock hits another, and that one assists another and before you know it a single rock starts a huge rock slide.

As I was climbing all I could think of when I looked up at the tonnes of rock above my head was that diagram in my school physics textbook illustrating potential and kinetic energy.

kinetic energy

Will that rock above my head achieve its potential?

As luck would have it none of the rocks rolled down from above and we had a safe but strenuous climb to the rim of the crater at around 2600m.

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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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