Kamchatka-2015 – warm-up.

My Kamchatka-2015 vacation began in the town of Paratunka. This is a location commonly used by tourists for spending the first night on the peninsula after flying in from afar, before setting off for their first full-fledged destination the next day.

To the south of Paratunka are conveniently located two volcanoes, both of which are must-sees/climbs: Mutnovsky and Gorely. So this year, somewhat logically, we decided to start An-Kam (Annual Kamchatka) with visits thereto – kind of as a warm-up.

It’s just a 50-kilometer drive to get to the volcanoes; however the ‘road’ sure ain’t no smooth autobahn – it’s more a gravel track. Google claims it takes 50 minutes to get them, but in fact it’s more like two hours in a regular all-terrain vehicle – longer with stops. I guess 50 minutes is possible in one of those outsized off-roaders with the massive wheels – or a turbo-driven tank perhaps – but you’d have trouble keeping your breakfast inside you with all the violent jolting about.

After our two-hour cruise we finally arrived at Mutnovsky volcano: beautnovsky volcano.

Though this old volcano remains very active, it’s still possible to walk around the rim of its colossal crater. The sheer scale of the panoramic views, the colors, the rocks and cliffs, the glaciers and snow – fantastic. And there’s constant splashing and hissing to be heard – hot water spurting or hot steam blasting – and everywhere it stinks to high heaven low hell of sulfur. Infernally hellish beauty!

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Check this stream out. At first it’s gray-yellow, then it disappears under a mountain, and emerges the other side… bright gray! A miracle! But if – risking a scalding – you get nearer, you can see under the cliff a ‘boiler’, which colors the stream yet another color:

So yeah – Mutnovsky is fab. However, its fabness is only guaranteed on sunny days – and they are few and far between here. But if you’re lucky, as we were, you’ll have a demonically unforgettable tourist experience :).

If ever any of you get to Mutnovsky, I recommend getting to the very farthest corner of the old crater – from there you can see a couple of smaller, younger craters. One is filled with a blue lake amid ice and show; the other, very fresh, has an active funnel, after having erupted somewhere around the year 2000.

A stream runs from the main crater of the volcano, whose water after about a kilometer falls 80 meters down as a waterfall into ‘Kanyon Opasniy’ (Dangerous Canyon). A spellbinding sight! And around it there are all sorts of multicolored volcanisms, snow, and more falling water (the end of the waterfall isn’t visible – it’s hidden under the snow). It’s easy to spend an hour or two taking it all in here.

A kilometer further below there’s a second waterfall, but we didn’t manage to see it. Its stream had cut a narrow, deep canyon in the rock, so from the side you can hardly see anything, and the guides said there’s no suitable viewing area to see it.

Gorely is the second must-visit volcano. At the top there are two huge craters that form a gigantic ‘8’. The first crater’s lake is dark blue; the second is bright turquoise! Alas, for five years already the latter crater has been giving off gas and the lake has practically dried out. It looks as if the lava’s gotten very near the surface and the volcano is nearing its next eruption. I’ve been lucky enough to see it over several years – and it looked different every time. What it’ll be like next time – who can tell?

This is what remains of the second lake:

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The same craters in 2008, 2010 and 2012:

2008:

2010 – (scorching gas comes through the cracks in the second crater (you can see stones red from the heat) and the lake has become shallow):

2012 – (we only caught a glimpse of the first crater; the second one was inaccessible behind cloud):

Gorely also features lava caves. Thousands, or tens of thousands of years ago, lava flowed through them, it cooled at the edges, and underground under-lava tunnels were then formed. When the lava eventually all poured out the tunnels remained. The tunnels today are of various diameters, from cavernous huge halls to impassable cracks. Btw, such tunnels are a common feature of volcanism in general. In Hawaii they go under the sea even, only accessible to experienced divers.

Getting to Gorely isn’t easy – you need loads of special heavy-duty kit. In especially snowy summer seasons (like this year) it’s best to always take with you a spare… all-terrain truck! Our’s got stuck in the snow and we had to call for help to get it dislodged.

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A big cave:

Tunnels:

That’s all for today folks from Gorely and Mutnovsky. Our onward journey will take us to the Upper-Opalsky hot springs and Khodutka volcano.

PS: A few more assorted pics from this firey march:

These ‘stones’ were left by a bear, as if hinting that soon we’d soon meet up:

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As though I saw it in a crystal ball…

The rest of the photos are here.

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