August 22, 2019
Paramushir: the island of gray ash and silent volcanic hiccups!
The next northern Kuril Island on our expedition was Paramushir. If you look southwest from Kamchatka you can’t miss it – dwarfing, and just to the left of, tiny Atlasova where we were the previous day. It’s more than 100km in length and up to 30km across. The whole of the island’s surface is covered in volcanism both old and new – and very active, with its main volcano having erupted as recently as in 2016. That volcano was Ebeko – whence came the towers of smoke and ash we saw back in 2018 over on Kamchatka while walking along the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk.
To climb up Ebeko on a clear day had been a dream of mine ever since we made it to the top in 2014 in horrendous conditions: cold, wet, windswept, and visibility down to next-to-nothing. But this year – just the opposite: warm, dry, windless, and visibility up to scores of kilometers. Hurray!
First – a bit of factual background on Ebeko. It’s a stratovolcano of a multi-faceted structure with several craters at the very top. In fact, the topology of the volcanic activity is so complex that one of the craters was found to be a separate, independent volcano. Not that that really matters. The main thing was that it was a clear sunny day; that meant one thing – we were off up Ebeko and it was going to be a heavenly experience!
This is where we were headed:
Curiously, on the other side of the island by the Sea of Okhotsk there were clouds – with southern-Paramushir volcanoes peeping up through them. While in the other direction the view looked like this:
Btw, it is namely this crater that is the independent volcanic formation, which is now called ‘Volcano Unexpected’!
And here are the other craters at the top. The smoking ones occasionally spew gas and ash and display assorted other volcanic activity.
We’re headed up there; but not too near as there’s the rather specific hazard of… flying rocks up there! Some are considerable in size too: a helmet wouldn’t save you. Eek!
So, early that sunny morning we left the coastal town of Severo-Kurilsk to climb an active volcano. Yes – I am sure some of the group were thinking we must be crazy to even consider such a thing ).
This is where we were headed – not too far and not too high: around eight kilometers getting there and the highest point being ~1150 meters above sea level.
Handily, there’s a path takes you most of the way to the top – a smooth one at that. Quadbikes go up it too by the looks of it. But we wanted to walk: what could be better than a gentle stroll in the sun up a beautiful volcano on the Kurils?!
Suddenly – right up ahea: woah!
The volcano reminding us she’s in full working condition ).
A while later and the going got decidedly – gray!
Now, Ebeko is a typical stratovolcano, but it doesn’t feature the bright colors that are typical among many of them, like, say – on Koshelev and Kambalny. Here, apparently, there used to be bright colors, but these days – it’s all… Faded to Gray…
…The reason: in 2016 the volcano started daily spewings of ash and smoke, which covered everything in greyness.
Grey on blue. Sounds like a Rothko painting ).
This here is… a glacier! Not that you’d know it given the thick covering of gray ash.
Then, suddenly… another plume of volcanic ash!
Curiously, the volcanic ‘burps’ occur silently. No earthquake-resembling booming sounds. All a bit unexpected, is all. As if in outer space! And there was me expecting a thunderous cataclysmic crash-bang-wallop!
Oh my word – look at that! Now that is the best motivator to start running!…
…Away from toward it!! Yes – perhaps we are crazy ).
Not far to go to the top…
The white smoke there – fumaroles.
Breathing in those gasses – not a good idea. You need to go round the fumaroles – or hold your breath when passing them ).
The next silent volcanic emission:
The warning words of our guide – Leonid, a volcanist from Severo-Kurilsk – uttered here made me smile:
“If a cloud of smoke heads your way – run!”
Interesting phenomena: forever hissing, bubbling, belching!
Upward we continue…
Another fumarole lies in our path:
And of course the natural-beauty-appreciating tourist can’t pass without getting his/her camera out ).
Which is understandable – impressive designer works of art here!
The same thing, with movement:
At this point a plane flew overhead! Normally hardly anything to shout about, but here – practically no planes ever fly over the Kurils. It was the only one we saw during the whole expedition ).
Finally – we make it to the top. Hurray! Next – back down again! But another volcanic emission barred our way…
…So we had to return to the peak! ‘To the top of Ebeko – twice in one day’ ).
Another silent emission ->
And the smoke again in our direction:
Wow – this spectacle up close is almost hypnotic.
But enough of the hypnosis; it was time to get away from there sharpish. We still kept taking photos though ).
Ash attached itself to my lens!
The wiser among us got away in time!
…And just kept running!
…While others just couldn’t stop snapping, including D.Z. – this is his pic:
A run across an erupting volcano – best done going downward, not upward. Confirmed!
Btw, the volcanic ash is electrified – something to do with its flying at super-high speeds, friction and assorted other electro-physics. As a result – the ash sticks to anything in its path – including sunglasses and cameras – like this:
And the super-sticky electro dust only comes off with soap and water later! But that’s hardly worth worrying about when you behold these huge rocks that have been thrown out of the bowels of the volcano only to land nearby. Look how big they are and how deep they sank into the ground! Eek!
Further down we go…
Down there you can just make out the town ->
A last look back up at the peak and the fumaroles:
And the next silent emission!
Btw – a little about the town of Severo-Kurilsk. We were here five years ago – in August 2014. Since then we noticed how the place had rather transformed. A lot of repairs had clearly been made, smart new residential blocks had gone up, a new school, kindergarten and fitness center are being built, new roads and sidewalks are being laid. Just a shame they can’t ‘upgrade’ the weather round these parts – say by increasing the number of days of clear sunny days per year from three – to four ).
Briefly about the neighboring small island of Shumshu. Not much to report here. Unpopulated (besides seasonal workers numbering around a hundred), and nothing much to see besides abandoned and ruined former Japanese military installations and equipment. Not for us. We had enough of rusting military wrecks on Matua in 2014.
We board the Athens, and sail south – on to our next Kuril Isle…
In closing – a three-hour time-lapse from the… ‘island of gray ash and silent volcanic hiccups!’:
All the photos from the Kuril-2019 expedition are here.