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  • Mark Chase

Conquering the unpredictable

Our next testing mission would have us attempt to conquer the 8,993-foot summit of Avachinsky. The volcanos in this region are known all over the world for behaving exactly like we all imagine stereotypical volcanos do – they erupt, regularly! When we met our guide Viktor the day before our hike began, he explained to us that Kamchatka is part of the Ring of Fire and very active. There are volcanos so active here that they erupt every 20 minutes! It’s also not uncommon for multiple eruptions to happen simultaneously.

Thankfully we’d be attempting a slightly more modest volcano but that wasn’t going to stop us from seeing exactly why this area has gained such a fearsome reputation.

Before we’d even begun our adventure, we were greeted by the news that unusually heavy rain and high winds had caused various landslides in the area taking out many roads and importantly for us, trails. In fact, on the morning of our first day we set off unsure we’d be able to get close enough to the volcano to start our hike due to the devastation. We set off in a huge, 6×6 truck to give ourselves the best possible chance, but this didn’t distract from the fact that even if we did make it to the base of the mountain we still may not actually be able to climb.

After driving for 6 hours and only covering around 20 miles of what used to be a road, which resembled more of a riverbed, surrounded by cliffs of mud and volcanic residue. We stopped in the middle of the road after 6 hours of driving and our guide Victor had a brief discussion with the driver and despite not speaking a word of Russian I understood this much…the driver was not prepared to take us any further!

The volcanos in this region are known all over the world for behaving exactly like we all imagine stereotypical volcanos do – they erupt, regularly!

This was it, a few miles short of our mountain hut which rested in a valley between Avachinsky and another huge peak we promptly unloaded the truck and set about navigating the rest of the journey on foot. The very moment we set off you could feel the wind bite as it relentlessly shot through the valley. I was starting to think this journey was a terrible idea when we reached the hut and took shelter from another gathering storm.

Wanting to make the most of a dubious situation, we cut some wood, started a fire and curled up into our sleeping bags which now rested on single bunks inside the hut.

We could hear the wind howling outside through what was a pretty restless hew hours ‘sleep’ as morning broke there was slight relief as the storm appeared to have passed overnight. Despite the worst of the storm passing there was still lingering cloud higher up the volcano which I immediately knew we’d have to pass through if we were to attempt the summit. After a quick re-pack and bite to eat it was time to start.

We continued up the valley before heading sharply uphill. This would be the direction for the rest of the day. As predicted the once well-trodden trail was undistinguishable and all that remained was fields of volcanic rock and loose scree. As we worked our way up the west side of the volcano we travelled across a sketchy snow field and into the clouds. At this point visibility was next to nothing. We walked a ridge line for over an hour where the low cloud meant that aside from your next 10 steps you could see nothing at all. The edges of the ridge disappeared into the cloud and we started towards the summit.

At last our guide informed us that there was little more than 100 vertical meters to the summit as we popped out above the cloud. From here, despite the wind the day was beautiful. Blue skies broken up by volcanic peaks protruding out from a blanket of cloud beneath which wrapped around like a halo.

As we reached the summit, I had one of those “mouth open, can’t believe my eyes” moments.

This thing was wild! At the top there was a bright red rim that overlooked a huge crater of smoldering black rock. The ground was warm and tiny holes in the rock spewed out steam all around us. Closer to the crater the rock was florescent yellow and looked almost crystalized.

As we reached the summit, I had one of those “mouth open, can’t believe my eyes” moments.

I couldn’t quite believe where I was standing and what I was witnessing. It’s hard to imagine but this pile of rock was alive, it was like an animal. It felt like the mountain had moods, a personality even.

It grumbled and lay ‘dormant’ but there was defiantly a sense, one that will remain with me forever that this thing, whatever it was, could turn at a moment’s notice. Now I know there are studies and these things can be predicted but even though I was aware of all that.

As I stood above the crater peering down I couldn’t help but feel that this monster knew we were there

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