December 28, 2021
Caldera ridge-walking that’s hard to match: welcome, folks, to Kamchatka’s Ksudach!
Another marvelously mind-blowing place in the Kamchatka must-see category is Ksudach. It’s the caldera of an ancient volcano inside which a new volcanic cone continues to grow, resulting in two lakes that are simply unreally fantastic to behold. The scale too is… almost off-the-scale for a volcano: the main, outer caldera – almost an ideal circle – is some seven (7!) or eight (8!) kilometers wide! To see such a spectacle with your own eyes (photos never fully capture it), is oh-my-gargantuan! Especially from the ridge of the caldera:
Klyuchevoye Lake (sometimes called Bolshoy Lake), which, incidentally, doesn’t have a source stream, in its variety of colors:
Some of the walls of the main (outer) crater are still completely bereft of vegetation, while others – just the opposite: a rich green – no matter how steep the slopes:
From outer space the whole construction looks very unusual for an earthly landscape (it’d be more at home in an extraterrestrial landscape:) ->
In a word: cosmic. I like it so much I keep going back. I’ve been now a full six times (2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2021). And I’ll come again. For this is one of those very special, magical places that you can never tire of…
Up on the ridge of the caldera – the view outward almost as impressive as inward:
On the horizon there – the small uninhabited island of Utashud.
Inside the caldera – in some places green, in others – slag; overall simply fantastic views of volcanic grandiosity:
Another unique unusualness: the hot springs… beach of Klyuchevoye Lake! The water in the lake is rather cold (but not freezing; remember – underneath the lake there’s a gigantic volcano:), but the beach along one of its banks has water permeating up through it that’s so hot you can scold yourself! The tradition here goes like this: arrive; then construct an impromptu bathing pool in which the hot water coming up through the beach is mixed with colder water from the lake in the desired proportions; then bathe the rest of the day away all spa-resort-like ).
Here you can see the hot beach steaming away! ->
Here’s the view from up on the ridge, which incidentally is dubbed the ‘Steaming Crest’ since it features vents emitting steam and assorted other fumarole activity:
The main must-do here at Ksudach isn’t the spa-resort bit. It’s a full caldera rim-walk! That is, if the weather’s good; if it isn’t – don’t bother: waste of time. The route is marked in red a few pics down ->
The views you get all day are other-worldly awesome, and you’ll see not a soul besides your group all day. Perfect!
Now, about the ridge-walk. First things first: you need to get up early in the morning. You leave camp on the hot beach (didn’t I mention? You pitch your tents there too to spend the night, warm as toast:), and you head west, fairly zigzagging, up to the ridge. Then you reach a crevice above a stream, which is taken as the start of the ridge-trek. Next – walk the full circumference of the caldera’s ridge (marked in red below) anticlockwise, all the way round and back to the same crevice (the other side of it). Ridge-trek: done. Then it’s back down inside the crater, around Lake Shtubel either clockwise or anticlockwise, and back to camp on the hot beach:
As an alternative, there’s no good reason you couldn’t go clockwise, unlike with certain other volcanoes.
Keeping strictly to the ridge of the caldera is impossible since the crater is in fact made up of several volcanic crater-segments; also, there’s a washed out slag field to the southeast that’s dotted with deep ravines, which is best simply detoured round, as shown on the route in the above pic.
Before I get to the meditative bit, let me give you some technical information…
First, though the diameter of the caldera is around seven–eight kilometers, the route you take is far from straight. There are all the ups and downs you need to take into account too, plus there are the treks getting to the crater from the camp and then back again afterward. In the end, beach to beach, it works out at around 45 kilometers. Quite a distance, and you’re up and down like a yo-yo.
Second: getting from the beach up to the ridge is similarly zigzaggy; it’s also, of course, steep: you need to climb 300–400 meters in altitude. Again – not easy!
Walking the ridge clockwise – that is, to the right from the stream – works out the shorter route; however, before the ascent you need to get across a small river – as in: walk/wade/step across it (no bridge:). We once managed to step from rock to rock in the river as the level of the water was low. But sometimes it can be up to your waist: not the most comfortable start to a long day’s trekking…
You can also get up onto the caldera ridge by walking along the strip of land volcanic rock that divides the two lakes. But here there’s even more zigzagging – and through brush cover (albeit light). This route is a little longer. Here it is:
Third: the most important detail: the water situation. Alas, up top there’s only one source of drinking water! Accordingly, that is where you must spend the night. For doing the complete rim-trek can’t be done in a day. Well, probably, it is technically possible, but it’d be heads-down, fast marching from dawn till dusk to fit it all in. That is, if you don’t collapse with exhaustion! That is, without taking any photos; but even the keenest, fittest of all-day fast-trekkers will want to stop often to take photos – so phenomenally out-of-this-world are the views all day all around them. In short: two days – no less!
But back to the water situation…
Clean, drinkable (it’s all drinkable here:) H₂O can be found in numerous places. There’s on the hot beach; there’s from the lakes; there’s from the stream the comes off the upper lake (see the three stars next to bodies of water, below). But on the top of the crater – not a drop. As dry as a bone up there. Apart from one place: it’s a stream formed from huge snowdrifts still melting after the winter spring (see the single star up near the top of the caldera)! ->
Hold on a second… Some of you may be wondering – why am I giving you all this detail? The answer is simple: it’s an unbelievably, astonishingly awesome trek, and one that’s sooo exclusive too – you’ll be the only folks there walking it (no one else is mad enough:). And I reckon a decent guide to the rim-walk is needed for if when you go there yourselves, and who better than me to first write such a thing, here, today, in this blogpost?!
Here’s my ‘relationship’ with Ksudach down the years:
My first trip here was way back in 2006. Having seen this wonder of nature I realized straight away I simply had to return for a closer look. As I like to say “said; done”: That closer look came just two years later, in 2008. During the closer look I noticed how ~round the caldera was, and how flat its upper ridge around it was. Which got me thinking: “We need to walk round the caldera up on its ridge full circle.” “Said… attempted“. We gave it a go, but only managed a third of the way round (which, actually, taking into account the walks from and back to the camp, is around half the distance). We were just a little too ill-prepared. It’s not like there was a tourist guide book on the place to bone up on. I really wanted to go all the way round, but my more level-headed fellow expeditioners thankfully talked me out of it.
The first time we did a full circumference walk was four years later, in 2012. I wrote plenty about the experience along with plenty of pics in my write-up back then. My fellow travelers also did some writing and snapping and even videoing too.
The next time we were at Ksudach – in 2015 – we of course wanted to repeat the rim-trek; however, one thing got in the way: the weather. Even though the height of the volcano is a mere 800–1000 meters above sea level, low cloud descended and hung around and wouldn’t lift: only the base of the volcano was visible. And that was that: no point walking around in a cloud. // Btw, that link gives a comparative analysis of different trekking trails around the world – worth a look.
On our next expedition – in 2018, we I didn’t make it as far as Ksudach at all: I had to fly home early due to an injury (.
But on the next trip in the summer of 2021 -> full ridge-trek!
The first thing we thought we needed to decide: which way to go: clockwise or anticlockwise? But it turned out that that decision was irrelevant: we went both ways! Yep, the weather conditions during this expedition were such that besides Ksudach we didn’t have many options. And when on Ksudach – rim-walk to the max, naturally!
But we did still need to decide which direction to go in first… In the end, we went clockwise first – just like Buddhists always walk around the Tibetan holy mountain of Kailash! That just seemed the right and proper thing to do ).
We take the narrow neck of volcanic land between the two lakes and then hit the shrubbery. It’s 400–600 meters up vertically to the ridge from the level of the lakes, so we sure break a sweat. But before long we’re up top…
Here‘s the point at which the first insanely stunning views inside this volcanic construction open up. The views outward come a little later…
Btw, Google Maps shows the ridge-top paths quite clearly in places:
…But they’re not paths made by visiting tourists. They’re paths made by curious, but mostly easily-spooked… bears engaging in touristic undertakings of their own.
Down there – the river Tyoplaya (warm!) stream. And I’m sure it is warm, just as the lake is – perfect for a spot of rough-and-ready bathing.
First jaw-dropping look around – done. First eye-popping photo-snapping – done. In that case – let’s get going along this ridge…
// Note: the pics here are all mixed up – some taken going clockwise, others – anticlockwise. I’m telling you this so Ksudach adepts don’t get paranoid/annoyed at the lack of consecutive consistency.
As promised, the looking outward bit. Just as awesome as looking in, with volcanic bumps on the horizon enjoying the sunshine, as we are:
While over there – Khodutka. Alas, this time we had to miss it out again :( ->
We really felt the weight of our backpacks; they contained provisions and cooking/camping kit for just two days, but it still seemed like a lot to carry on one’s back (especially in addition to what some of us were carrying around our mid-sections to the front:). Perhaps our bags seemed so heavy as the incline was so steep – the incline up to Kamenistaya Sopka – a nearby volcanic peak we just couldn’t pass by:
Still on said incline, four of us decide to jettison (temporarily!) said backpacks (beer bellies can’t be jettisoned, alas), and race up to the peak unencumbered. Here we are at said peak (and not a beer belly in sight; eek!). But – why the long faces except for the single smiler on the right? I wonder – was the peak climb the wrong decision? )
But in the end, all it took was an about-turn, and that single smile was quickly multiplied by three (I was smiling all along, as is my wont:). After all – look! ->
That’s the view inward, but the view outward – after I’d gotten out of the way also brought smiles; but of course it would! ->
Curiously – no vegetation whatsoever. Clearly some kinda volcanic-chemical poison at work…
We could have sat there for hours, but we had to get back to the others and head on. We had a caldera ridge to trek!… ->
Trekking the ridge is somewhat… dangerous: you tend to remain transfixed on the surrounding views, but you really need to be looking down at what your feet are doing as there’s plenty of loose rock. Here’s an example of what you get transfixed on: mature volcanoes on the horizon; newborns in the foreground! ->
Another few kilometers – another angle Ksudach can be jaw-droppingly beheld from:
Alas, going clockwise, we were hit by a fiercely strong wind in the afternoon. So fierce we put the tents up in a crevice to shelter from it for a while:
But strong (20m/s) winds are just par for the course in Kamchatka (though you can’t ‘see’ them in the photos:). Still, of a morning, without the wind, that’s what we mere mortals were here for: the Kamchatka meditations. You just sit, and contemplate/meditate. That’s all you can do when viewing such uniquely grandiosely other-worldly volcanic scenes…
Then you walk on… for more meditations. But the object you concentrate on changes – to the volcanic battle going on: the war among entropy, erosion and greenness! ->
Quick marching here is astonishingly easy, since it’s as if someone scattered special gravel that’s perfect for walking upon along the ridge!
Occasionally we come upon a marker left over from the 1950s-1970s, when Soviet geologists, volcanologists, surveyors and cartographers surveyed, logged and then drew up (by hand; no digital back then!) all they’d discovered on these vast remote landscapes. Here’s raising a glass to all of them!
The metal pole there is in fact a (pre-GPS/GLONASS) geolocator. Others like it can be found occasionally on their sides, having been uprooted down the years. The guys who installed such markers really need a monument erecting in their honor – one that’s a bit sturdier and more secure than these poles.
Next up – relatively green volcanic fields, and soon – setting up camp for the night at the only water source, as mentioned…
…The above-mentioned snow (in August) – the only source of water:
Next: Martian-slag fields to cross. Here’s our main guide, btw, with his distinctive Mohican (and noticeably heavier backpack) ->
And the out-of-this-world views just keep on coming…
Aha – it’s those islands in the ocean again. Anyone remember their name? ->
The snow… steams in Kamchatka. But of course it does ).
The Martian interlude ends; we return to the ‘regular ridge’, featuring patches of green:
A remarkably flat and smooth (perfectly curved) section’s next, reducing the danger of forever taking photos of the surroundings ->
The half-way point of the caldera ridge-walk:
Around here I found myself thinking how the Ksudach ridge would be ideal as an ultratrail location. Still, getting here isn’t easy, plus the weather’s being treacherously changeable… However, maybe – one day…
Here’s the only stretch of the ridge covered in shrub. We make a detour round it. “This shrub cover should have been cleared!” exclaimed one of us, annoyed at having to walk across a steep slope around it ).
After a while – we can get back up onto the ridge as the shrub cover thins out, but not for long. And it looks like the bears like shrub-free ridge-walking too: yikes! ->
Curiously, it seems the bears step upon old their old footprints over and over, probably for years, and probably when there’s snow cover. The footprints get deeper and deeper, and in places the tracks are two way: a bear highway! ->
Looking inward from the caldera ridge: we behold the lake, and notice its shades of blue change all the time.
And there was I, reckoning this must relate to some kinda mysterious volcanic-chemical under-lake emissions that paint the water so. Turns out it’s much more straightforward: it’s simply the shadows of the clouds! Ooh yes – very volcanically mysterious ).
Why are volcanoes better than mountains? Easy: you climb a mountain, then look out at the top and are fairly gobsmacked by the views all around. You climb a volcano – and you’re doubly gobsmacked: there are the views both outward and inward. And when that volcano happens to be Ksudach – you’re triply gobsmacked, because… Ksudach ).
And that’s just one out of 12 (!) reasons! Check out the other 11 here.
Onward along the ridge: nice and smooth ->
We’re headed in that direction: the descent back down to the hot beach – around 10km away:
After much flat smoothness, the lie of the ridge becomes hilly; we start to tire and the optimism is dinted:
So we recharge… on the breathtaking views! ->
Those islands again:
A different perspective of the lake:
And that’s the delightful charm of caldera-rim walking: the volcanic landscapes are generally the same, but the steadily changing aspects thereof keep things fascinating!…
But then it gets hilly again, and you find yourself paying less attention to the changing aspects, and more on aching limbs:
Then the hilliness stops, and it’s a steady, smooth descent now to the finish:
The stripes on the surface here? Caused by the wind: it gets so fierce it leaves scars!
In the following pic: same view, different days. Which means different weather, naturally ) ->
Final look inward:
Here’s the stream we’d set off from yesterday; now we’re on the other side of it:
Nearing the camp, it starts to get overcast. Just as well it didn’t do so earlier:
Check out our new logo up on Ksudach, which was nearly blown away! ->
When it gets cloudy: no fun at all, as visibility is reduced so sharply:
If you’ve any energy left, a rim-walk round the smaller crater is recommended; that one ->
The views are fantastic, but I’ve already written a detailed report on that:
Can you guess what those tourists on the ridge in the photo above are doing? I’ll let you know in a bit!…
Down there – our camp on the hot beach…
Different angle – different awesomeness:
Here’s a visible effect of the wind – up to 20m/s. A bit too tempestuous for ridge-trekking, but we did it anyway ->
And that there, in the foreground, to the right…: bear dung! He comes along and checks out the view, his bowels are emptied (from the view?:), and off he pops!…
So, back to what those tourists were doing atop that thin ridge…
They were… getting the biggest rocks they could find and then jettisoning them down the crater! Yes, really! Grown men and women suddenly coming over all Pepper-Pig-like. Down they tumbled (the rocks, that is!), smashing into other rocks on their way down, and leaving a trail of dust as they plummeted. The rock-rollers had to be careful they didn’t fall down the crater with the rocks! ->
Finally, we make it back to camp. The spade (which lives here permanently) is for digging out pools (and for securing the tents if it’s windy (as it was)).
About the pools: they’re constructed upon each visit ->
Sunsets can be sensational – especially when the shadows of the wall on our side of the caldera become visible on the opposite wall:
Our warm tents:
All masked up against covid, even out here (just kidding:) ->
Why aren’t there any camping sites here? Simply because in winter the scene is covered in many meters of snow and the wind is hellish. If there were some tourist-stay infrastructure installed, it’d be washed away come the spring. So Ksudach remains as wild as wild can be for the summer. Hurray!…
Here’s a helicopter with tourists in for a quicKsudach. They normally disembark, walk around the top of the inner crater for a bit, then pile back into the chopper and off they fly again. Eh? That’s like… having one mouthful of your starter of a four-course meal, then leaving the restaurant!
Here’s a curious curiosity for you: in the lakes – though the freshwater is not contaminated with various volcanisms – there are no fish! There are some tiny minnow-type things, which you often find boiled to death after coming too near the hot beach, but no decent-sized fish whatsoever. Accordingly, no need to bring your rods and bait to Ksudach.
Why no salmon? Easy: the lake is isolated, and, as yet, salmon can’t fly, no matter how good they are at jumping when they’re feeling frisky. And as regards the stream/river that flows from the lake – there’s no way salmon could use that as their entry point, as… look what’s in their way:
(We saw the waterfall in 2015; the report is here)
Btw, the waterfall is located in the direction of Khodutka – another fantastic and seldom-visited corner of Kamchatka. And ‘seldom-visited’ is perhaps pushing it a bit: it’s practically never-visited – at least on foot: occasionally in summer you may see a group or two of quad-bikers, or in winter a group of snowmobilers, but that’s it. (Again, IMHO – they’re missing out. Kamchatka is for feet. You can’t meditate on a quadbike!)
Ooh, this was a long post. But of course it was – it was on Ksudach: why wouldn’t it be?!
Hope you enjoyed it folks, and – as always – I hope you get there one day yourselves!…
The rest of the photos from the Kamchatka-2021 expedition are here.