Our first full day in Kamchatka and we pack up for a very long drive into the central part of the peninsula. Our vehicle is an old 4WD military truck converted to transport 12 passengers. We also met our guide Ruslan, driver Sasha, and cook Dima. Our first stop was at the airport to see if Valerie and/or Roy’s luggage arrived; they hadn’t. The next possible time the baggage could get to us was several days later when another group could bring the bags to the Plosky Tolbachik Volcano base camp. This necessitated more shopping before heading out-of-town so the folks with the missing baggage could replace some desperately needed items. The guide could provide a sleeping bag and pad, but warm clothes and toiletries were going to have to be purchased.
We picked up what we needed in the nearby town of Yelizovo, then headed down the road. Because of the delays caused by the airport stop and additional shopping time, we were getting a late start. After several hours of driving we arrived in the town of Milkovo for a very late lunch (6:00 pm). We were supposed to also visit a local museum, but because of the late hour we had to skip that activity and kept heading down the road.
We drove another four hours to a ferry crossing of the Bystraya River. Not the most efficient system as cars had to back onto the ferry so they could drive forward when they reached the other side. It was at this point that we encountered the infamous Kamchatka mosquitos. We were mercilessly attacked by swarms of mosquitos while we waited for our van to drive onto the ferry. We had been warned that they were are large as elephants this year and I would have to say that was about right!
A short 15 minutes after the ferry crossing and we arrived at 10:00 pm at our final stop for the evening: a group of quaint cabins in the village of Kozyrevsk. In the confusion of the ferry crossing, Valerie lost one of the bags of stuff she had bought in town several hours earlier; we hoped we would see it again somewhere in the van the next day. We were offered a chance to use the banya (sauna) and have dinner at 11:30 pm; we were very tired after the long drive and decided just to head to bed. Several members of the group did take advantage of the banya and enjoyed it immensely.
The next morning brought cloudy skies, lots of mosquitos, and more driving to do. As dawn broke, we finally got to see the Kozyrevsk Cabins in the daylight. It was a very charming little place with the small cabins nestled in a lush garden area that was loaded with oversized cabbage and other vegetables. We sat in the garden and had a nice breakfast of crepes filled with sausage along with chocolate, cookies, and coffee. What could be better than chocolate for breakfast! Fortunately, we found Valerie’s bag of new purchases in the van, so the day was starting well.
After breakfast, we loaded up the 4WD van and headed down the road to the Tolbachik Base Camp. The route started off on a fairly well-trodden dirt road, but we soon made a rough river crossing and the path changed to a muddy mess that challenged our 4-wheeled beast. Not far past the river crossing we had to stop to change a flat tire. As we awaited the tire change, we were once again bombarded by elephant-sized mosquitos. Further down the road, the muddy ruts were so deep the guide crew, assisted by one of our hearty group members, had to chop down birch trees to fill in the ruts so our truck could pass without getting stuck.
After driving quite a way through lush, dense forests of birch and larch trees, we emerged on to the stark moonscape-like environment surrounding the base of the Tolbachik volcano. The 1975 eruption of Tolbachik decimated the vegetation for many miles surrounding the volcano. The ground is now covered in small, dark, volcanic rock with limited vegetation growth. At one stop we did find sign of large rabbits and even moose (surprisingly) that live in the area.
We arrived at the base hut around 4:00 pm after a five-hour drive of only 25 miles. At the camp, the winds were howling, making setting up the tents a bit of a challenge. The base area had a kitchen and dining area that made for a nice, warm refuge from the elements.
As the sun began to set, the soft light made for a beautiful scene at camp.