Ice Caves and Fumaroles – South Kamchatka’s volcanic Soul

Gorely – Caught in the Clouds

The following days are pretty strange. On the one hand we can witness wonderful sunsets, but the involved highly dynamic cirrus also clouds indicate that in the next days weather will become worse. And that’s the way it happens. Our base camp at Mutnovsky gets regularly shrouded by low stratus. The lack of light makes me escaping to a nearby entrance of a small glacier that becomes an ice cave due to the river flowing through it. The diffuse light breaching through the thin ice cave ceiling teases incredible colours out of the perpetual ice. It’s unbelievably beautiful to see icy blue, green and sand-coloured hues mingling with light reflexes coming from water drops. I could spend hours in there but it is getting really fresh and I run into danger of catching cold. Also such wet and all too freezing conditions are everything but good for my camera equipment.

Despite suboptimal weather conditions our Great Leader Chairman decided to climb Gorely volcano in the afternoon to take photos of the glowing vent and its illuminated crater walls. That is certainly a great photo but already during climbing the volcano a front of really bad weather turned up at the horizon. Caught between two layers of thick clouds all things called photography don’t really become a breakthrough as the light is too dull and even the actually impressive central crater with its glowing hole and the big fumarole doesn’t really become a corker. A couple of years ago Gorely had two picturesque turquoise crater lakes but today they are only a shadow of their former selves as merely some colourful puddles are left.

While climbing around Gorely’s craters and crossing through the large fumarole my breathing masks protects me from severe future health problems. Up there we hear a long-drawn-out recurring boom, a kind of droning as if standing right next to a subwoofer. That’s the sound of the magma working deep inside the mountain. Absolutely mind-blowing! Except the blood-curling explosions of Yasur volcano so far no other volcano was able to get this feature across that plastically and phenomenally. But the bad weather is coming. The summit of Mutnovsky volcano already fades away into the grey and soon we are surrounded as well by a cloud rapidly descending on us.

The visibility is bad and allows to see only some 50 meters further. The wind freshens up and whips nasty rain showers in our faces. The rain makes the volcanic clay instantly becoming a glissade through and through hence curling up into a ball plus waiting for the weather to clear up, to finally get the photos we want, makes no sense at all. Now outdoor clothing literally becomes a second skin as it has to prove what ‘water proof’ really means. Now we’re on duty to keep all people together and within sight to return safely from the volcano. In the glow of our headlights we are walking single-file over severely eroded clay ground being so slippery that even sturdy shoes barely keep us grounded. To boot we stumble across countless razor-sharply edged rocks. One wrong step and you would slip off and potentially fall into one of the crevices to the left or right.

Again we arrive the base camp, fortunately without any further hassle. Everything is wet, everything drips, the whole equipment and clothing was closely taken to nasty rain tasks and now things are solely about caring and drying. The oven in our small wooden shack drives at high revs making the interior being sticky like a Russian Banya. Speaking of Russian sauna I had this mind and body refreshing pleasure back in Yelizovo at the place of Yevgeny Petrovich, Galina’s husband. But before coming to full circle and saying Goodbye we make a stop at the extinct Vilyuchinsky (Вилючинский) volcano where at its bottom some wonderful hot springs are inviting to relax. And as if the sun wants to say “In your face!” the sky opens up and the last two days become wonderfully sunny. We would have needed such light and weather conditions at other places, but you can’t have everything…

The scenery at Vilyuchinsky, with Koryaksky and Avachinsky in the background, three giant storybook volcanoes in a row, and wonderfully coloured mountain tundra grassland in the foreground, becomes one of the optical highlights of my entire journey through Kamchatka; maybe also because during taking those photos a Goodbye feeling mingles with picture composition. It doesn’t have to be post card weather all the time to get interesting photos and Kamchatka’s climatic challenges remind that no matter when and where photography is first and foremost about capturing the moment the way it is and convey this vibe.

Mobilising oneself every time anew physically as well as mentally requires quite some energy though and makes the photos of my Kamchatka trip being the hardest worked for. We spend the remains of the day at the camp fire and play “Russian Mafia”. Companion isn’t all too amused though as the smoke is literally und funnily always (!) blowing in his face.

A last time we’re strolling over the Yelizovo fish market to buy smoked wild salmon and freshest caviar then it’s already time to fly back to Moscow, with TransAero again but this time without delays. You can find the best caviar (Ikra, икра) at the stall of Rita, an older lady speaking German and English fluently. The stall to her right has the best smoked salmon. That’s also what locals would recommend you, people living in Kamchatka like Alexey, Yevgeny, Galina, … :-) Kamchatka is home of quite a bunch of salmon types but only superbly tasting Silver Salmon (kisutch, Кижуч) and the even better King Salmon (tschawytscha, Чавыча) get eaten. “The rest (all other kinds of salmon) is for the dog!” quips Alexey winkling at us a last time.

More From This Category