Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Kamchatka Heliskiing

For this trip, the pictures tell more than a thousand words. The photos are here.

Before heading to Kamchatka, I'd heard about the wonders of this distant region, the "Land of Fire and Ice", but until I found myself at the end of a 9-hour domestic flight, skiing inside the crater of an active volcano, and then almost skiing into a large brown bear, I hadn't actually come to terms with how unique this regions really is.

Kamchatka is a peninsula jutting into the Pacific in far eastern Siberia, 9 hours ahead of Moscow, and is one of the most geologically active regions in the world. With over 31 active volcanoes, tons of snow, huge bears, hot water rivers, masses of salmon (in the cold rivers), endless hot springs, and the bustling metropolis of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy ("Petro"), this makes it a great place to go heliskiing! An Aussie mate Adam and I spent ten days here sampling the wonders of Kamchatka (we were supposed to be accompanied by Andrew, but he got sidetracked by the Heathrow mess and spent the week trying to leave Terminal 5).

Despite little fresh powder, and a crew of fun but fanatically punctual Germans, we had a fantastic time.

We stayed in a small town called Yelizovo, about 30km from Petro, and typical day involved an early morning wakeup and breakfast, an assessment of snow conditions, and then being hounded to the bus by the Germans. Considering we'd usually been partying late the night before, this was not an easy task, but the cold conditions outside quickly woke us up en route to the heliport. We flew huge Mi-8 Russian heli's, which we were thankful for in the sometimes 100km/hr+ winds we found in the mountains. Our wonderful guides would then find us the biggest, baddest volcano we could land on, although usually we were just looking for good snow and exposure.

We skied down the inside and outside of volcanoes, down to the ocean, through forests, ravines, chutes, and meadows and beside (or over) rivers just starting to run with the spring meltwater. Given Kamchatka's location and weird timezone anomalies, we were often able to ski until 7pm or later. On the way back to base, we often stopped at some heli (or ski)-only accessible hot springs for a cold beer and muscle relaxation.

The evenings were spent eating surprisingly good food (one evening was spent at a local babushka's dacha for some of the best home-made Russian food I've had), and then trying to hunt down whatever nightlife existed in Yelizevo or Petro (also suprisingly decent, and very regionally Russian). The local On-Life Cafe was a perennial favourite.

As usual, several days of bad weather (although no new snow) meant we couldn't fly every day, however thankfully, these days occured on Saturday and Sunday, so we were able to make the most of the nightlife. Adam and I wandered around Petro, climbed the local hill, explored the suburbs for photography, and then when we got really bored, we explored Yelizovo, which took all of five minutes, although the markets in both towns were full of local colour (and great salmon and caviar).

The highlight of the week was undoubtably skiing through the crater of Mutanovsky volcano, an active volcano that last erupted in 2000. We shed our skis to climb to the rim of the smoking mouth, which despite the smell (sulfur), afforded some extraordinary views, and then skied through the crater, avoiding the boiling cauldrons of mud and belching hot gases. Once again, as in Greenland, we we able to ski from high mountains down to the Pacific Ocean and the black "sand" beaches, where the beautiful views made it hard to concentrate on the skiing.

Kamchatka also has abundant wildlife, from rivers teeming with salmon to the huge brown bears that roam the mountains in Summer. We were a little early for both of these, but caught sight of some early-waking bears, and our group almost skied into one when we rounded a corner!

Kamchatka is an extraordinary place, and I look forward to returning sometime soon. Our guides were great, and for anyone interested in going, check out


Juergen said...

These are very amazing and great Pictures! Cam you are not only a great Skier, a big Partyman and womenizer, you are also a very good photografer!
I hope to see more! (from the Kamtchatka travel and your next adventures)
Keep on running Cam!
greetings Juergen germany

Anonymous said...

Great Pictures! Do you use an avalanche beacon at all when you ride? i just picked up a Pieps Dsp and I've never used a beacon of any kind. I was just wondering if there was a certain brand that might be better than another.

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