Tag Archives: expedition

White water.

When you climb up or descend down the very orange Koshelev volcano, it’s practically impossible to miss the white waterfalls. Which is just as well as missing these fine cascades of H2O would be most regrettable; for these are truly unique phenomena.

I mean, the water in these falls isn’t just seemingly white, much like waves coming in off the ocean (all the bubbles/froth). This water is actually really white – like milk! How so? Well, due to the local volcanism there’s an unusually high concentration of aluminum (and other similar natural elements) in the water here, not only making the water milky, but also leaving deposits of whiteness on the bedrock underneath and along the waterways. The milky water also seals up the walls of underground natural streams, forming tubes – along which water flows invisibly to the eye. And since here there are sharp changes in altitude, at the exits of the underground well springs it’s no mere bubble-fest, it’s a full-on whitewater splashing frenzy as it spurts out of the ground! Not quite geysers, but equally fascinating – and more unusual and unique.

Read on…

Orange rocks.

There are many colored rock formations – especially red ones – around the world. The most famous are the red rocks of Utah and Arizona, and Uluru in Australia. Less famous are ones for example in different parts of China, like in Zhangye. But most of them become brightly colored only when there’s a low sun either at dawn or dusk – or when Photoshop is used for digital color boosting. On Kamchatka on the other hand there’s a place where red rocks glow brightly all day – not just in the mornings and evenings. That place is the volcano named Koshelev:

Wow. Orange, white, green… – scenes serene you could gawp at for hours…

Read on…

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Beach-walking tourism.

— ‘So, how did you spend the summer?’
— ‘First – up in the mountains.’
— ‘And then?’
— ‘In plaster!’

Hi folks!

It’s been a while hasn’t it? Perhaps one of the longest ever stints away from my cherished blog. But with this post I am clearly back and raring to go, so, without further ado, let’s get this re-fired up…

And what better way to fire things up than a first installment of tales from the volcanic side, which also happen to be from the far-eastern seaboard-of-Russia side – that is, from Kamchatka!

Now, I have to admit that this was not – by far – the most outstanding of my many trips to the peninsula. One key factor was the weather this year; while Europe was having possibly one of its finest summers ever weather-wise, over in Kamchatka the weather was truly terrible. All the same, as ever, there’s still plenty to tell and show (photographically) you.

Oh my Gorely! It turns out this trip was my sixth to Kamchatka (not including a brief stay in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on our way to the Kurils in 2014). The first was back in 2006. Then again in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015. And it won’t be the last time either; for Kamchatka, still, IMHO, is the most glorious place on the planet – even more so than New Zealand!

All righty. Today’s episode: Beach-walking tourism.

Tourism comes in all shapes and sizes. There are lazy beach holidays (or not so lazy if you’ve got the kids with you:); there are the more (grown-up) cultural holidays featuring museums, ruins, monasteries and other such historical attractions; there are shopping holidays… all of which are very popular with the masses. There are oceangoing holidays – be they exclusive affairs on expensive yachts with a helicopter on the deck or the more democratic huge ocean-liner-based ones. Then there are road trips on which you simply look around at the passing surrounding geography – that’s also tourism.

But here I’ll be telling you about a different kind of tourism: the kind during which you need to use your legs a lot with all the walking and climbing, and have a backpack on your shoulders carrying warm clothes, cameras and batteries, some snacks to keep you going for the next few hours or days, and sometimes even a tent. This is tourism of the hiking-trekking vibe, involving mountains, sometimes sports, sometimes volcanoes… normally requiring of the participating tourist both experience and training (sometimes you can do without both experience and training if the difficulty/distance level isn’t so tough).

Sporty walking, skiing, climbing, river/lake/sea/ocean-based tourism – there’s plenty to go at. But there’s one more you may not have heard of: beach-walking tourism! No, I don’t mean walking across a beach to your preferred spot for a spot of sunbathing-cocktailing-reading, and I don’t mean walking to the beach-volleyball court either. I’m talking when you trek for miles upon miles with a heavy backpack along a very long beach. Kinda like this:

Read on…

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11 brave women skiing to the North Pole.

‘Headlong to the North Pole’ would have been a suitable alternative title. ‘Ladies go north’ another. And they’re going to the northernmost north – there is no further north!

I can imagine some of you, dear regular readers, might be a bit confused by mention here of the North Pole, since I’ve just finished a mini-series on mid-Pacific islands like Fiji and Tahiti. But no, I haven’t got the equator and the North Pole mixed up in my post-intense-tourism haze; this is for real…

The (Ant)Arctic theme began way back in 2009. That’s when we met Felicity Aston and went on to support her all-woman Antarctic group expedition to the South Pole (details in my book New Year at the South Pole!). Three years later, again with our support, she went one further and skied coast to coast across Antarctica – on her own! – covering almost 1800km over 60 days.

Fast forward to 2018, and here she goes again – but this time to the other pole – the one up at the top of the world in the Arctic!

Read on…

Reaching the Upper Reaches of Yenisei.

So, just how exactly did we get to the upper reaches of the Yenisei?

Well, obviously, we didn’t walk. It involved various means of transport. First, we drove 400 km from Abakan to Kyzyl. The quality of the road was bearable – it is asphalt all the way, though there were lots of roadworks. Next year it should be in better shape. It took us 6-7 hours because of the repairs, detours and time spent waiting at traffic lights giving way to oncoming traffic on the single-lane sections.

But we finally made it to the city of Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva:

However, this is where things took an unexpected turn for the worse.

Read on: A marvelous artefact next to the airport…

Yenisei: You say ‘eh?’ I say ‘wey hey!’

The Yenisei River. Many of you won’t have even heard of it. But that doesn’t make it any less of a mega river: starting out in Mongolia (!), it’s the main river of three great Siberian ones, and the world’s largest river system flowing into the Arctic Ocean. Anyway; introductions over – we headed its way after our Tian Shan adventure

…And not long after we reached it, sure enough – we were heading down its rapids in rafts.

Now for a bit of geography…

Read on: Now for a bit of geography…

Farewell Tian Shan. Thank you ma’am.

No chronicle of our Tian Shan adventure would be complete without mentioning the travel agencies we used for the trip: 7 Summits Club and Ak-Sai Travel. All the hands-on fieldwork was undertaken by the latter: they met us there, ferried us about in the 4x4s, flew us in the helicopter, and were our guides on all the trekking and clambering and camping. Here’s Ak-Sai’s Ilya at the front with a ‘don’t get lost!’ flag – just like guides have when showing tourists in most any tourist attraction around the world (ok, not necessarily a flag; these days it’s more likely to be a selfie-stick or some such).

I’ve already told you about the camps we stayed at on our expedition, and how they fairly amazed me by their relative comfort in such harsh surroundings, so I won’t go over those again (but a restaurant tent with chairs and a big dining table, minibar, mini-shops, and other modern conveniences will never be forgotten!).

Read on: Occasionally things seemed to get a bit mixed up…

Tian Shan – oh man: now in my Top-100!

Howdy folks!

Oh no! Summer’s nearly over! So I’d better start winding up these here tales from the Kyrgyz side – our Tian Shan expedition across glaciers and along ‘trains‘ of glacial rubble, aka – what I did this summer…

Now, I have a list of what are, to me, the 100 most beautiful, most fantastic places on the planet – both natural and man-made. It contains waterfalls, lakes, caves, deserts, volcanoes/volcanism, multicolored rock formations, deep canyons, Patagonias and Galapagos islands. And a lot more besides. But conspicuously absent from the list are mountains…

Well now the time has come to correct such negligence…

Accordingly, herewith, I put forward the candidacy of Tian Shan, Engilchek Glacier and the landscapes that surround them, for entry into my Top-100 List of the Most Beautiful Places in the World.

The glacier is reeaaal long – some 60km+ – and we covered almost all 60 (apart from the last 10 up where the glacier starts). But the glacier really starts up on the very highest slopes of the mountains – around 6000-8000 meters up! But there was no way we’d be rock climbing so high: we were, after all, a group of mere-mortal office plankton taking a leisurely, albeit it rather extreme and unusual, ‘stroll’ :).

Read on: Around the glacier in ten days…

Tian Shan – yes you can: habitation, part 1.

Over the 10 days we were trekking across Tian Shan, we stayed at seven tent-based (permanent) camps for the night:

Each camp was unique in its own way (the views were always very different), but also similar to the others at the same time (same yellow tents and other camping kit). The spacious camps had specially equipped sleeping spaces, a kitchen, and toilets (v. basic, but better than nothing!). In all, hardly the Ritz, but what are you to expect halfway up a mountain side in the middle of nowhere?!

Ok, let me go through each camp in order.

The first at-jailoo (‘field’ in Kyrgyz) didn’t really count. We arrived there in 4x4s so there was no trekking trickiness or hiking hardships at all. There was another kind of hardship though – that brought on by a particularly noisy generator, as already mentioned. I think the family that runs the camp must have been deaf from birth! So, like I say, this camp doesn’t count.

Our first proper camp was this one here:

Read on: