Avacha, Kamchatka’s Red Riding Hood

Avachinskaya Sopka – colloquially also known as Avachinsky or Avacha – is the backyard volcano of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the regional capital of Far East Russia’s volcano peninsula. It is a ~4000 years old Somma-type volcano, meaning it is growing and prospering inside the caldera of a historic fire mountain. The magma rising up inside the Avacha contains more iron ore than usual. That again reacts with the omnipresent magmatic gas carried along and iron oxides, in particular iron(III) oxide, emerge. Latter one dresses the volcano with a literally fiery red coat.

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Even today I still remember my first day on Kamchatka as if it was yesterday. Right after having arrived I sit in Granny Galina’s garden, enjoying the late summer sun shining through the small birches, fondling my face. All of a sudden but fortunately only for a short moment this celestial peace gets turned upside down by an airplane starting from nearby airport. Funnily it is the TransAero B777 that brought me to Far East Russia and that now roars back to Moscow. Meanwhile my fellow travellers arrived: volcano camera man Marc Szeglat – driving force behind www.vulkane.net – as well as Martin Rietze, one of the best volcano photographers in the world. Again I hear engines. Again the airplane jets in a low-level flight over my head, but this time it is the AeroFlot plane that dropped Marc and Martin two hours ago.

A couple of minutes later we meet Steffen Bohl from Potsdamer, another German who contributes to 360° Ost, a project on Siberian nature photography. While Steffen gets crazy about his project the sunset begins. I open the backdoor of the wooden fence surrounding Galina’s dacha and there they are, standing only somewhat like 20km away: the volcanoes Koryakskaya Sopka (left, 3456 metres) and Avachinskaya Sopka (right, 2741 metres). What a terrific panorama! What a wonderful play of light among the clouds! There is no better motivation to get the photo equipment entirely ready within a couple of seconds only…

While we stand there taking photos more and more flies appear. Those damn buzzing beasts surround us as if we haven’t seen a bath for a couple of weeks, some of them even bite. Djanga, Granny Galina’s wirehair fox terrier, tries to catch them; the flying biting pest tries to catch us. Marc gets the first bites and fortunately, for the rest of us, even the most :-) However, it is not pretty much appealing to have six-legged insects in nostrils, ears and mouth. The flies even appear in our photos, as fuzzy black spots in the sky.

That does no harm to the optical delight in front of us and the conversation with Steffen though. I put on his 300mm f/2.8 prime lens and while pushing the trigger for the first time I immediately feel the big desire awakening inside me to “need” the lens same one day. Funnily Kamchatka confirms that desire as on the following expedition together with photogrpaher Denis Budkov we notice that focal lengths greater 200mm definitely have big advantages over here. Besides the army of flies the air is clean and the visibility of Avacha and Koryaksky gets more and more fascinating as we have the setting sun right behind us.

There is no question that I love contrasts and in that case the play happening between Avacha, sunset and the clouds pressed every button that evening. The red and black spots on the dramatic eroded cone get shrouded in gold yellow clouds that cast their shadows onto the fire mountain’s slope. Clearly we can spot the large eastern fumarole on the summit releasing volcanic steam into the evening sky.

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