Our first morning at Tolbachik base camp started off with heavy fog and stiff winds. Our plan for today was to leave the camp to start the climb of Plosky (flat-topped) Tobalchik at 10:00 am. The fog started lifting, but the guide decided not to do the mountain today as heavy lenticular clouds over Ostry (sharp-topped) Tolbachik indicated very heavy winds on the summit of both peaks. We changed the plans to visit the Alarid and Claw Craters instead.
The climb up the craters was steep but short. As we neared the top, the ground beneath our feet grew warm from the volcanic activity below. In some places there was a faint smell of sulphur and smoke emerging from vents in the ground. On the summit of the first crater, our guide, Ruslon, placed some paper in front of the opening of a gas vent. In no time, the paper burst into flame from the heated gases below. The view from the summit was amazing; we looked down on a huge lava flow from the crater to the plains below. The rock on the summit was a very vivid red color from the elements in the rock.
We climbed the second vent with winds gusting to 50-60 mph that made it difficult to walk. We could see a huge, nasty lenticular cloud hanging over Tolbachik, confirming that the decision not to climb the mountain today was a very good call by our guide.
At the top, everyone was enamoured by a tiny mouse that had made its home beneath a rock. He probably enjoyed the volcanic warmth emanating from beneath the crater.
We made our way down the crater in the wind and returned to our starting place for lunch. After lunch we had a leisurely, and pleasantly not-too windy, walk several miles through the stark, “dead” forest landscape surrounding the vents to some lava tubes. The landscape was eery but beautiful with chartreuse-colored moss growing on the volcanic sand. We donned head lamps and explored the tubes before we hopped into the bus and headed back to the base camp, returning in a rain storm.
The next morning we once again considered an attempt to climb Plosky Tolbachik. The weather was windy and foggy as usual but the barometer was going up, indicating good weather ahead. After breakfast, we drove to the trailhead at 1,700 meters. The first couple of hours of the hike were spent in the heavy fog with brief views of Ostry Tolbachik appearing through the clouds. The fog was so dense that we couldn’t see members of our group who were just a few meters ahead or behind us so the guide insisted that we stay close together.
At about 2,000 meters, the fog finally burned off and we could see our entire route up the Plosky.
After lunch in a sheltered crater just below the summit, our friend the wind came back with a vengeance, making the final ascent up the side of the crater rim challenging. Some fresh snow from the day before made the climb slippery in places but we were all eager to see the view from the rim. We rounded the top of the rim at 3:30 pm to behold a spectacular view of the volcanic caldera, a massive crater 1,000 feet deep with hanging glaciers ringing the top of the crater. Some of us pushed on in an attempt to the high point of the rim at 3,085 meters, however, at a cliff just below the summit, the guide turned us around because the conditions of snow, ice, and loose rock made it too dangerous.
We headed back down the mountain at 4:00 pm. The clouds over Ostry Tolbachik lifted to reveal the entire mountain for the first time all day. In the distance, two other spectacular volcanoes came into view, one with a volcanic plume indicating a possible eruption in the near future (maybe!). We quickly descended and reached the car at 7:00 pm. It had been a long day, but it was well worth the effort.
Our last full day at the Tolbachik base camp was greeted with the usual fog and wind and now we had a steady rain added to the mix. This was to be our alternative day to climb Tolbachick if the weather was bad. Since we got up the volcano yesterday, our plan today was to visit some springs in the area where there would be some interesting rock formations; a late start and easy day was planned. But, the weather had turned so bad overnight with steady rain and wind that the day’s excursion was eventually abandoned. We spent the day napping, reading, and discussing politics or whatever subject came to mind while staying warm by the stove in the cook’s cabin. Even though we didn’t get much accomplished on this stormy day, it was nice to have some down time for the first time since arriving in Kamchatka and it was fun just hanging out and relaxing.