We’d seen the mysterious Mutnovsky in the distance for several days, usually hidden beneath a cloud. Today was the day that we got to get up close and personal with this very active volcano. We didn’t go to the summit; this time we walked into the crater to explore the various volcanic fumaroles and other phenomena deep within. It was a beautiful, sunny day so we knew it was going to be a great expedition. The day started off with an hour-long drive to the trailhead from our camp. The 4WD dropped us off well below the mountain and we set off through alpine meadows to just below an entrance into the crater, where the truck met us again and we had lunch. The hiking wasn’t steep so we covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time.
After lunch we continued hiking into the crater. As the day wore on, the usual cloud of volcanic smoke that usually engulfs Mutnovsky built up again, shrouding our destination in a bit of a fog. After crossing several snow fields, we entered the bottom of the crater where numerous vents were belching out steam and sulphur smoke all around us. We had to cover our faces to keep from breathing the noxious fumes. The crater walls rose above us on all sides, beautifully colored in reds and yellows by the minerals in the rock and the sulphur spewing from the fumaroles. On the crater walls above the hot steam vents and in the base of the crater, amazingly there were glaciers.
A few people stayed in this area while the rest of us followed a glacier to the far end of the crater. Along the way we passed boiling mud pots, deep chasms spewing up steam, more sulphur fumaroles, and a stream cut deep into the underlying glacier. At the end of the glacier was another caldera with a small, turquoise lake, sitting atop yet another glacier, at the bottom. We traversed above the lake until we came to a fairly steep cliff. A short length of rope was fixed to the side of the cliff and we pulled ourselves up the rope, one by one, to reach the edge. Our guide, Ruslon, sat atop the ridge to help us over the top and down a 5 foot drop where we were staring down into another caldera with large steam vents blasting from its sides. This part of the excursion left a few group members who were uneasy with heights eager to head back down.
After a brief stay at the end of the trail, we headed back down, picked up the rest of the group, and in an hour we were back at the truck. We headed back to camp but along the way we were rewarded with a view of a spectacular, 90 foot tall waterfall formed by the melting snows of the Mutnovsky Volcano. After enjoying the view of the falls, we continued on our drive back to camp, with one brief stop to let the engine in the van cool down so it wouldn’t overheat. Before reaching camp, we spotted some kind of large bird of prey hovering over the alpine meadows; it may have been a stellar eagle, but we couldn’t tell for sure. We arrived back in camp just in time for dinner at 7:30 pm.
Nearby, Gorely Volcano started to belch out a little more steam but we were hoping it would not threaten our climb to its rim tomorrow. We couldn’t wait to see what tomorrow’s adventure would bring.