Kamchatka, a volcanic wonderland – Part I – Central Kamchatka

It’s well known among volcanology lovers that Kamchatka it’s like a giant geological laboratory, a true jewel of nature. I started to feel curiosity about Kamchatka several years ago, and now, after visiting this amazing place 2 times in the last 3 years, my passion about this territory increases day by day.

As part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Kamchatka is one of the most volcanically active places in the world, with around 160 volcanoes, 29 of which are considered active ones, and its remoteness helps to bring an air of mystery to this region that belongs to the Far East Russia. In fact, Kamchatka was closed to visitors till 1991, so we started to know about this area and its beauty only a few years ago.

kamchatka volcanoes

Map of Kamchatka’s active volcanoes. Photo via Siberian Wonders

In the first part of the series about Kamchatka volcanoes I will focus on the central part of the Kamchatka Peninsula, where the most active volcanoes are located. The so-called Klyuchevskaya group are formed by 12 volcanoes:

Klyuchevskoy, (the tallest active volcano in Eurasia with its 4750 metres high), Kamen, Bezymianny, Plosky Tolbachik, Ostry Tolbachik, Ushkovsky, Krestovsky, Zimina, Ostraya Zimina,  Bolshaya Udina, Malaya Udina, and Sredny. All of them are located in a huge lava plateau formed during a long history of eruptions occupying an area of 380.000 hectares, and now part of the Klyuchevskaya Nature Park, a protected area included by UNESCO as World Heritage Site in 1996.

During my visit in 2013, I explored the “Valley of the Giants”, the widest part of the plateau, with great views of the volcanic group, and a fantastic tundra landscapes, with plenty of wildlife, where the brown bear is the king. I arrived just one week after the large eruption of Tolbachik volcano, that started in November 2012 and lasted till august 2013, after 37 years from the last (and destructive) eruptive event.

Kamen y Klyuchevskoy (1 de 1)

https://www.pangea.es/ES/escapada-por-europa/3/kamchatka-paraiso-volcanico/1497 From left to right, Klyuchevskoy and Kamen volcanoes. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Tolbachik reflection (1 de 1)

The beauty of Tolbachik volcano reflection. Photo by Roberto C.Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Kamchatka volcanoes (1 de 1)

Panorama of the volcanic group, from left to right: Ushkovsky, Klyuchevskoy, Kamen, Bezymianny and Zimina volcanoes. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

The two big and neighbour stratovolcanoes, Klyuchevskoy and Kamen are the highest ones in Kamchatka, dominating the landscape of the central part of the Peninsula, and they could be perfectly observed from Atlasovo, aproximately 80 kms away from the volcanic group. Klyuchevskoy, a basaltic stratovolcano, is considered one of the most active ones on earth, a majestic and amazingly symmetric cone characterized by its effusive and strombolian eruptions. In september 2013 just few days after Tolbachik eruption finished, Klyuchevskoy started with strombolian activity from the top crater displaying large lava flows.


The spectacle of Klyuchevskoy volcano at night in 2013. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

In my recent trip to Klyuchevskaya Nature Park, we crossed to the eastern part in order to reach the Apakhonchich mountain hut close to the volcanoes and camp there to witness the Klyuchevskoy lava flows. The volcanic activity was really strong during the 3 days we spent in the area and we were lucky to enjoy a magnificent spectacle at night spreading in 5 visible lava flows and some strombolian eruptions from the main crater.

The beauty of Klyuchevskoy lava flows at night (sept. 2016) - Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

The beauty of Klyuchevskoy lava flows at night (sept. 2016) – Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Klyuchevskoy on fire. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Klyuchevskoy on fire. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Kamen is a dormant 4.580 mt high volcano, with no recorded eruptions.The eastern part of the volcano was destroyed after a huge eruption,around 1.300 years ago and from this flank the vertical wall it’s really impressive.

The sharp-peaked Kamen volcano. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

The sharp-peaked Kamen volcano. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Next to them, Bezimianny volcano (the volcano with no name), was considered an extinct volcano till 1955, when a cataclysmic peléan-style eruption triggered a massive flank collapse, similar to the Mount St Helens’ in 1980. The explosion disintegrated 200 mt of the summit, followed by a massive pyroclastic flow that covered the surrounding landscape with a big amount ashes.

Bezymianny volcano from the southern part in 2013. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Bezymianny volcano from the southern part in 2013. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Bezymianny from the east, 2016. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Bezymianny from the east, 2016. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Volcano Panorama. From left to right: Bezymianny, Kamen and Klyuchevskoy from Apakhonchich, 2016. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Volcano Panorama. From left to right: Bezymianny, Kamen and Klyuchevskoy from Apakhonchich, 2016.

Tolbachik volcano became famous november 2012 when a fissure basaltic eruption started from the southwestern flank of Plosky Tolbachik producing highly fluid and effusive lava flows covering a huge area extended as far as 20 kms long. The eruption was not predictable by the volcano stations due to the low seismicity in the previous weeks unlike the 1975 eruption.

Map of the lava flows after Tolbachik eruption 2012-2013. Photo via Edwards and others.

Map of the lava flows after Tolbachik eruption 2012-2013. Photo by Edwards and others.

When we reached the eruption zone, what we found were amazing petrified lava flows, some active “hornitos” and beautiful sulphur deposits. The area was still very hot, with gas emmisions and steam coming from the active cones and fissures.

The aftermath of the eruption. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

The aftermath of the eruption. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

The hornitos at Tolbachik. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

The hornitos at Tolbachik. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

The petrified lava flows, Tolbachik. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

The petrified lava flows, Tolbachik. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Hornitos at Tolbachik (2013) Photo by Roberto C.Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Hornito at Tolbachik (2013) Photo by Roberto C.Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

In my last trip in september 2016, we were visiting Kamchatka’s northernmost active volcano, Shiveluch, and also one of the most agressive ones. We departed from the village of Klyuchi and we arrived to the area where we set the camp after crossing a thick forest and a militar zone.

The winding path to the slopes of Shiveluch consist in a bumpy trip of 6 hours but it’s worth it. The devastation of the area is really impressive in this isolated and otherworldly place. The powerful eruptions of Shiveluch volcano followed by pryroclastic flows destroyed hundreds of hectares of forest and what is left is a huge desert of ash, rocks and pumice.

Devastation. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Devastation. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

The lava dome of Shiveluch. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

The lava dome of Shiveluch. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Shiveluch has erupted frequently during the last 35 years and its activity is characterized by violent explosions, large pyroclastic flows and viscous lava that forms lava domes. The proximity of the Pacific Ocean makes this place really foggy and rainy, and the clouds usually cover the top crater of the volcano, so we only had few windows to see the activity at the lava dome.

Shiveluch. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Shiveluch. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

The area provides with perfect views of the southern volcanoes, specially Klyuchevskoy and Ushkovsky and we had the opportunity of catching the activity from the distance with a stunning sunrise…And, while we were departing from Shiveluch, we received some breaking news: The Volcano Observatory raised the Aviation Color Code to red due to the increase of activity at Klyuchevskoy. Exciting moments…

The plume at Klyuchevskoy. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

The plume at Klyuchevskoy. Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

Fantastic panorama of Klyuchevskoy and Ushkovsky volcano from the "Shiveluch desert"

Fantastic panorama of Klyuchevskoy and Ushkovsky volcanoes from the “Shiveluch desert” Photo by Roberto C. Lopez (www.robertocarloslopez.com)

In the next part of the articles about Kamchatka, we will talk about the geothermal areas of the Peninsula, including Uzon Caldera and the Valley of Geysers.

Sources: Smithsonian Institution, KVERT (Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team)


A short introduction about me: My name is Roberto, Travel Consultant at Pangea (www.pangea.es) in Spain. I organize trips to Kamchatka, Alaska, Lake Baikal and several destinations worldwide as a tour leader. Travel photography and volcanology are some of my passions. Blogger in my spare time.

My website: www.robertocarloslopez.com

You can follow me on social media:

Twitter: @bromotengger

Instagram: @bromotengger

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rclphotoexplorer/



43 thoughts on “Kamchatka, a volcanic wonderland – Part I – Central Kamchatka

  1. Thank you Roberto for sharing your experiences. This is an amazing part of the world, not just geologically but is also visually stunning. Sublime. It’s so far flung and an area many of us will never have the chance to visit so it’s great to hear a first hand account. OK, a little jelly now 😉

    • What a stunning report of a journey all of us dream of but never realise. A fantastic article, thank you, Roberto!

  2. Beautiful pictures and a great read.
    Thanks 🙂

    VC is such a great find for a newbie to the hobby. Reports and answers to questions, from all of you knowledgeable people, is highly appreciated.
    Thanks for all your hard work.

  3. What a sweet piece of writing to wake up to!
    Loved it Roberto!

    A hint here, if you wish to go and visit volcanoes but feel that you want to go with someone professional keep track of Roberto since he arranges trips to them, even these far out volcanoes. A little bird has told me where he will be going next and even I drool at that one 🙂

  4. A beautiful article, thank you very much!

    Being 4750 meters tall, isn’t there a risk of a caldera event or flank collapse of Klyuchevskoy? I mean, it already happened at it’s neighbours. One could assume this would be quite a spectacle – luckily the area is very remote and only few people live there.

    • There is an ample risk for that. And that is one of the reasons that KVERT keeps such a good watch on Klyuchevskoye Sopka.

    • Hi Tj! Klyuchevskoy is not as explosive as the others (Shiveluch and Bezymianny) and its eruptions are moderate compared with Shiveluch, for example, not keeping the energy as Bezymianny does, anyway, it’s difficult to know if Klyuchevskoy can collapse. By the way, the summit has been modified during its recent history. In the 90’s the height of the volcano reached 4.850 meters according to the volcanology service in Klyuchi.

      • Does it stick up above the surrounding landscape? Yes? Then it can collapse. What goes up must come down. Even the gently sloping shield volcanoes eventually become prone to flank collapses if they get big enough. The Hawaiian ones, the world’s biggest, have in the geological past shed huge blocks of stone onto the floor of the Pacific, sometimes kicking up tsunamis in the process. If those can eventually get too big to not fail, and suffer big landslides, then a steeper-sided cone like Klyuchevskoy absolutely can collapse. If it’s not given to explosive volcanism, that removes one of the three possible collapse modes — a bang-collapse like Pinatubo (or, way back in the day, Krakatoa). It still leaves two, flank failure (most likely) and undermining lateral eruption (what happened to Bardarbunga recently: enough magma from the chamber under then mountain vents off to the side somewhere that part of the mountain collapses vertically down into the chamber).

        • 1912 Novarupta did the same thing to Katmai. After Novarupta emptied out the chamber, Katmai’s summit fell in.

  5. Kilauea has been busy after a m3 on the 4th. With around 20 quakes 3 at 2.6, a 2.8 and 2.9. I have already demonstrated that I can’t read the webicorders so I will leave that to you.


    • Yes, it has gone mad. There have also been earthquakes near/of the coast which I guess come from a bit of slippage of Mauna Loa. But Kilauea is really going for it. And elsewhere, an M3 near Taos, NM.

      • I don’t look at the webcams often but lots of steam in and around Kilauea this morning.


  6. Hola Roberto, thank you for sharing your views with us on the impressive landscape of Kamchatka!

  7. Thank you for this article, Roberto.
    Those photos are truly incredible.
    And I’ve wanted to know a bit more about Kamchatka for a while, but hadn’t gotten to looking it up 😀

  8. Nice article and good pictures, Roberto. But volcanoes are awesome.

  9. Could all administrators please check into the admin-channel please.

  10. Thanks Carl and Roberto for covering this remote place! Enjoyed the description and images very much.

    • I am innocent.
      It is Roberto that deserves all of the acclaim!

  11. Million thanks everybody for your kind comments 🙂 It’s a great pleasure to post on Volcano Cafe

    • It is a wonderful post! Makes you want to go there and see it for yourself.I can’t wait for part 2!

    • It was a good morning here, coffee and a very good post about volcanoes that I wish to visit one day.
      Thank you again Roberto!

  12. What an amazing post, Roberto!

    It makes me wish even more to travel to Kamchatka. It always has been high on my list and I hope to go there one day.

    It´s amazing that in one single trip you can see so many eruptions and different types of them! Not even in Indonesia I have seen this! Kamchatka is truly king land of volcanoes!

    What a land! What a written article!

  13. Roberto, besides thanking you for this lovely article,
    I want to ask you something in private. Could I write you?

  14. Roberto, Thank you for this fantastic article which I will save and refer to for quite sometime before my trip to Kamchatka on August of 2018 (god willing). I am even more excited to go now than before. We will be on a fishing trip but if there is an eruption going on I will hire a Helo and get some pics! Thanks Again!!

    • Not an unreasonable call. 500 mb streamlines. Meridontal flow (N/S) typically results in lobes of cold air plunging south.

      And the Arctic Oscillation is in negative territory for now. Negative indicates greater meridontal flow. Positive indicates more zonal flow. (less N/S excursions)

  15. What a great first article ! Thank you and congratulations on a fine piece of work, Roberto.
    The photographs are spectacular.

  16. Thanks Roberto, been interested in the Bad Boyz of Kamchatka for years.
    I have been the victim of green tomato summers and magnificent Crepulescent, red sunsets thanks to my being downwind in the US
    Pacific NW..

    • Crepulescent is an evil word. Those are the critters that tend to move around at dusk just as the sun is coming up or going down. Makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about it. The last place I want to be is out on the road at the same time they are crossing. My last encounter wasn’t so bad, smacked a bat at 80 kph, scared the crap out of me. I don’t think the bat appreciated it either, but I wasn’t going to stop and look, had an 18 wheeler coming up fast on my bumper. After we got up to the posted speed, he passed and I ducked in behind to have his large mass as my protection against other critters. That’s the beauty of tractor trailers. If you have one running at about your pace, let him do his thing and stay in back, they make great buffers for anything wanting to get at you. Just remember to give yourself enough room for reaction time in case there is trouble. If it’s raining, I don’t mind riding in the spray as long as I can see his lights. Odds are, he has just as much, if not more riding on getting to his destination without incident as you do. If a deer can get through his 80,000 lbs to get to me, I probably deserved it.

  17. Oooo, lovely. Just noticed new cumulative seismicity and trend graphs added to the IMO Hekla page. Probably been there for yonks but I’ve only just noticed them. Thank you IMO 😀

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