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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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)
ROBERTO C. LOPEZ
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
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