Kamchatka…Up Close and Personal with a Very Active Volcano

Mutnovsky in the distance covered by clouds

Mutnovsky Volcano in the distance covered by clouds

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.

Hiking across valley below Mutnovsky Volcano

Hiking on Glacier into Mutnovsky crater

Hiking on Glacier into Mutnovsky crater

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.

Fumaroles (steam vents) below hanging glaciers in Mutnovsky Volcano crater

Fumaroles (steam vents) below hanging glaciers in Mutnovsky Volcano crater

Fumaroles spewing sulphuric steam in Mutnovsky Volcano crater

Fumaroles spewing sulphuric steam in Mutnovsky Volcano crater

Gaping holes in crater floor of Mutnovsky Volcano

Gaping holes in crater floor of Mutnovsky Volcano

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.

Turquoise Glacial Lake in Mutnovsky Volcano crater

Turquoise Glacial Lake in Mutnovsky Volcano crater

Pulling ourselves up rope on side of cliff in Mutnovsky Volcano crater

Pulling ourselves up rope on side of cliff in Mutnovsky Volcano crater

Looking into the abyss at top of Mutnovsky Volcano crater

Looking into the abyss at top of Mutnovsky Volcano crater

Heading out of the Mutnovsky Volcano crater

Heading out of the Mutnovsky Volcano crater

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.

Waterfall coming from Mutnovsky ice melt

Waterfall coming from Mutnovsky ice melt

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.

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About Mike

I have a passion for adventure travel that began in 1989 with my first overseas trip: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Having never been to a foreign country, Africa felt like being on another planet; I knew then and there I was hooked on travel. Since that time, I have visited all seven continents and dozens of countries. I’m using the experience I’ve gained in planning my own trips to help my clients plan their own adventures through my adventure travel company (http://www.offtrailtravel.com). After working as a firefighter for the US Forest Service in California and Wyoming for three years, I moved to Durango, Colorado where I graduated from Fort Lewis College with a degree in accounting. After graduation I moved to the Denver area where I worked in a Big Eight accounting firm to obtain my CPA license; soon afterward I began a career as an auditor with the Colorado Department of Education. My background in accounting helped me develop detailed-oriented skills that have been extremely useful in researching and planning my own travel over the years. I think this provides a unique asset to my clients in putting together their adventure travel plans. I currently live in Golden, Colorado with my wife Valerie, who shares my love of adventure travel. I’m an active member of the Colorado Mountain Club where I lead trips for club members and have taught ski lessons in their Telemark Ski School. I enjoy skiing, mountain hiking, trail running, photography, and astronomy. I take any opportunity I can get to explore new places, whether it’s on the other side of the world or just down the road.
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