Day 6 (July 28): Trek to Bezymyanny Volcano (9:30am-2pm; 10km)
Today we began our 3-day 40km-long trek to the Bezymyanny Volcano Base Camp. For the first time, I had to carry my own backpack which weighed some 8kg. I struggled at the beginning and worried that my back would be hurt again and I might not be able to walk. Luckily, I managed without serious problem.
The weather was fine and cool for hiking. But the low lying cloud prevented a good view of the Plosky Tolbachik on one side and Mount Oyalnaya Zimina on the other. Most of the time, we walked on soft black ashes and gentle ridges. It was not hilly or too rocky. After a couple of snack stops, we arrived at the hut around 2pm. The hut is in good condition and cleaner than the first hut we had stayed.
I did not have a wash for three days and was relieved to find a clear stream nearby. I gathered my courage and plunged in the icy stream. The water was freezing but most refreshing. My legs were a bit sore and I spent the afternoon massaging them.
Day 7 (July 29): Hiking through Tolud Pass and trek to Bezymyanny Volcano (9am-4pm; 18km)
We had fine weather with sunshine and blue sky. After a simple breakfast with porridge, we began our hike towards the Tolud Pass (1291m)planked by the Plosky Tolbachik on one side and Mount Oyalnaya Zimina on the other. We hiked along dried river beds and did not see the snow-capped tops of the volcanoes owing to low lying clouds.
The pains in my legs had mostly gone and I managed to climb up and down without serious problem. I walked fairly slowly and others always had to wait for me to catch up. We reached the Tolud Pass (1291m) around 1pm. We stretched out, had a picnic lunch. As the clouds had gone, we enjoyed for the first time fantastic views of the Mount Oyalnaya Zimina and Plosky Tolbachik and a few volcanoes in the distance. After lunch, we walked leisurely across the plain. Finally we camped under the bottom of the Ovalnaya Zimina.
As the water was nice and warm, I had my beauty wash in a nearby stream. Mosquitoes are my biggest enemy and I had been badly bitten. Hence, once I had my dinner, I retreated to my netted tent. The night was cold and windy but I managed to keep warm and sleep well.
Day 8 (July 30): Bezymyanny Volcano Base Camp (9am-2:45pm; 12km)
The weather had changed for the worse today. It was covered with dark rainy clouds. We put on the rain gears and were prepared for a rough day. First, there were a few scattered showers. After two hours of walking uphill through river beds/lava flows, we reached a pass affording a grand view of a plain filled with volcanoes cones big and small. The Jupiter volcano which is very ancient stands out. But we could not see Mars as the visibility was low.
We then followed the base of Mount Ovalnaya Zimina for another 2km to reach Pollenitca where the stones look like firewood. The weather turned nasty with rain, sleet and blizzard. Despite my expensive waterproof top and pants, I still got wet and half frozen. We had a sandwich lunch with cheese and sausages in the rain and snow.
We had to walk another 2km before reaching the Bezymyanny Pass (1500m). It is sandy and level ground. But I tumbled once as I could not see when my glasses were fogged up. My face was red and sore as a result of the blizzard. The weather improved a little bit and we walked another 2km to reach the hut which measures 5metres wide and 8 metres long at the Plotina Hill. The hut has been built by volcanologists for research work.
A team of six scientists were carrying some tests on the gas emission of the Bezymyanny Volcano (2869m) which has a massive 1.3km x 2.8km crater and had its last eruption in March 2012. As it was rainy and freezing, it would be nasty or almost impossible for us to stay in tents. With the permission of the scientists, ten of us slept in the loft, which was only about six metres long and 1.8 metres wide. I could hardly move and had a sleepless night. The icy winds sipped through the thin wooden planks and kept me awake.
Day 9 (July 31): Bezymyanny Volcano Base Camp
Today was the most miserable day of the trek. The original plan was to ascend the active Bezymyanny Volcano. But as it was raining, snowing and misty, it was impossible to ascend and we just hanged around in the tiny hut doing nothing. It was boring and there was no room to move around. Ulya kept us alive by feeding us with breakfast at 9:30am followed by pancakes an hour later. Then we had lunch with buckwheat and tinned corned beef.
As the sky cleared up a bit around 4pm, Rooslan took us on a walk cross the plain to reach a ridge of Ovalnaya Zimina. The view was bleak but atmospheric. The scientists who were waiting for the helicopter were still at the hut when we got back as the strong wind had prevented it from taking off. So I spent my second night in the hut. Someone snored so loudly that I could not sleep. Finally I dozed off.
Day 10 (August 1): Trek (8:30am-4pm; 12 km)
Today I had the best day of this trek. The weather was excellent with sunshine, wind, blue sky and stunning views of all the snow-capped volcanoes.
We trekked along the Studenaya River and reached a lava canyon created by the river measuring about 150-m long, 15-metre high and 2-4-metre wide. It is my first time to see a lava canyon though I could not capture its impressive features in my photos. But Roland managed to have some good shots.
On the way to our camp on the Baraniy stream, Leo asked us to pick mushrooms for dinner. It was amazing that we gathered over one kilo of mushrooms in a short time. We saw our first brown bear on this trip on the way to the camp site. Then we saw another after setting up our tents. Good luck!
After our last dinner with buckwheat and tinned meat on this trek, Leo, Roland, Andrew, Ulya, Genya and I climbed a hill for a panoramic view of volcanoes. With blue sky and good visibility, I could see all the iconic snow-capped volcanoes of this group including Ushkovsky Volcano (3903), Kluchevskoy (4,750m), Kamen (meaning Stone) Volcano (4579m), Bezymyanny, Mount Ovalnaya Zimina, Plosky Tolbachik and Ostry Tolbachik.
Day 11 (August 2): Trek to Kopyto Hill – Kozirevsk (8am-12noon; 12km)
The fine weather continued on the final day of our trek. The trail is very easy and we met a larger group of trekkers on the way to the finishing point at Kopyto. This was the only group of trekkers we met since leaving the Lunakhodchikov Base Camp. I was pleased to be able to walk some 70 kilometres in ten days. The trek was not really difficult and the views of the volcanoes are fantastic in good weather.
Alex was already waiting for us with our bus and fresh bread and sausages. After a sandwich lunch and a beer, we set off to Maria’s guest house at Kozirevsk after 1pm. The journey is not long but took us a few hours as the dirt road was bumpy. We also stopped twice for berry picking. The blue berries handpicked from the bush are most delicious. I had plenty of honey-sucker berries which are large and juicy.
We were delighted to be back to our cabins at Maria’s guest house. The first thing I did was to take a hot shower and then had a snack. Ulya prepared a delicious dinner with salmon soup as a starter and fresh salmon fillet for dinner. My stomach must have shrunk during the trek and I felt uncomfortable after a big meal. I had a nice and warm bed and many sweet dreams!
Day 12 (August 3): Kozirevsk – Esso (9:30am-2:30pm; 100km)
We had a most sumptuous late breakfast with fried eggs, ham, cheese and a big bowl of ice-cream with honey-sucker berries. At 9:30am, we set off for Esso, a settlement of the Evens, one of the indigenous peoples of Kamchatka.
One the way, we stopped in an Evens settlement by a stream. But as they charged us 800 rubles as entry fee, we decided to give it a miss. I spoke with an Evens lady who said that her people came from Tibet some three hundred years ago.
We arrived at a luxurious hotel with a thermal pool in Esso before 2:30pm. I had a dip in the hot pool. Ulya prepared Russian dumplings as snacks. We headed off to an ethnological museum where the guide explained in details about the life of the Evens. We went to the cultural centre and saw a performance with dance and songs of the Evens. The Evens look like Chinese and the dance resemble those of some of the minority groups in China. I am curious and shall find out more about the Evens later.
At 7:30pm, we had a dinner at the hotel with reindeer soup, moose meat with rice and ice-cream with fresh berries. We gathered round the pool and had beer and white wine. I enjoyed sitting by the pool had it not been for the disgusting mosquitoes.
Day 13 (August 4, Saturday): Esso – PKC (9am – 6:30pm; 500km)
We had a long drive back to PKC. The dirt road is not bad but our vehicle moved very slowly. We had a brief stop to take a bird’s eye view of a thermal power station and had lunch in the same restaurant in Milkovo. It took another four hours before we finally reached the hotel. A long, boring driving day!
The trip ended with a pleasant farewell dinner at the hotel. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the kind face of an elderly Italian gentleman, Mario from Lake Como whom I met on a trek to Mustang, Nepal last year. He had just finished a 20-day trek in the remote Dolpo region in Nepal and would take the same volcano trek I had just done. What a small world.
I had a good sleep and looked forward to my trip to the south Kamchatka to see the Kuril Lake and active volcanoes.
What can I say about this trek? What I enjoy most is the tranquility in this untouched part of the globe!
It was my first major volcano trek enabling me to better appreciate the forces and beauty of nature. The volcanoes look majestic if and when they are visible in a clear day. I was indeed disappointed when the weather let us down and we could not ascend the Bezymyanny Volcano. I love to watch gas coming out from the crater and see traces of the fresh lava flow. The trek is not difficult but I always fell behind and had to catch up with the group. During this trek, I miss the treks in Nepal where I stayed in comfortable tea houses and my Nepal Nepali guides and porters who are always supportive and give me all time in the world to take photos.