In June/ July 2013 I organised a 12 day trip to the volcanoes of Kamchatka to observe the live volcanoes of Tolbachik (3682m) and Shiveluch (3307m). Tolbachik had erupted in November of 2012 and had remained active ever since.
The team, Elili, Sanj and Hugh, met up in Kamchatka at Elizovo, near the capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. We traveled by local bus up to the village of Kozyrevsk. Here we hired a monster 6×6 truck and travelled into the wilderness up to the base of Tolbachik. Tolbachik is a combination of a shield and strato volcano but the recent eruption was a fissure eruption, outside of the main volcanic crater. Tolbachik erupts a lot of basalt and forms cinder cones and rivers of lava which were spectacular at night. Shiveluch is completely different kettle of fish. It is one of Kamchatka’s largest and most active volcanos. It is a stratovolcano composed of alternating layers of solidified ash, hardened lava and volcanic rocks. The eruptions on Shiveluch are very different from Tolbachik, even though they are located very close to each other.
The recent eruption at Tolbachik had destroyed the road and a new track had been cut through the taiga and onto the plateau. We camped among the ash cones of the 1975 fissure eruption about 10 km from the site of the 2012 eruption. We spent the next few days exploring the region, climbing the volcano at night and toasting marshmallows on the lava flows.
We then travelled further north up to the derelict town of Klyutchi at the base of the majestic Klyuchevskaya Sopka (4800m), the highest active volcano in Eurasia, and on to the base of the very feisty volcano, Shiveluch. Shiveluch erupts with massive pyroclastic flows which consist of avalanches of hot gas and rocks at around 1,000 °C (1,830 °F) that can reach speeds of up to 700 km/h (450 mph). We drove up the path of an old pyroclastic flow and established camp at a spot we though was safe. The pyroclastic flows were running down the far side of the volcano at very regular intervals. We got plenty of photographs of the eruptions. The winds were very very strong and this prevented the plume from ascending vertically into the sky; it was blown horizontally.
The next day we were observing an new eruption but something different happened. The pyroclastic flow came down a different side of the volcano – our side. The massive flow came roaring down and missed our camp by a couple of kilometres, remember this is an avalanche at ,000 °C (1,830 °F) that can reach speeds of up to 700 km/h (450 mph). We watched in horror as it went straight over the vantage point from where we had been watching the eruptions the previous evening. We packed up camp immediately and got the hell out of there. Volcanos are unpredictable beasts and we didn’t want to take any more chances.
We travelled back to rusting wreck of a town that Klyutchi is and booked into the only guesthouse, a quaint wooden house that was used by volcanologists during the days of the Soviet Union. The next day we then hired a military truck and drove up to the base of Klyuchevskaya Sopka. We were bashed and rattled around for hours in the back of the a very uncomfortable truck as it growled its way up the rough road to a hut at the base of the main volcano. Here we were treated to sweeping views across the Bearing Sea and the mosquito infested taiga that draped the Kamchatka peninsula. Klyuchevskaya towered over us, the top hidden by clouds, a result of the microclimate created by the heat from the volcano. Shiveluch continued to erupt, belching a massive ash plume that stretched out into the blue summer sky.
I sat in the damp green grass of the meadow dotted with a profusion of summer flowers and took a deep breath, mesmerised by the grandeur of Kamchatka.
- I have written more about the trip in my blog
- You can also view my photographs from my trekking expedition to Kamchatka in 2009 which was sponsored by The North Face and Australian Geographic.