Kamchatka: Land of Fire and Ice

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Described as the ‘lost world’ or the ‘land of fire and ice’, volcanically active Kamchatka is one of Russia’s most pristine wilderness havens. We decided to book a trip there as a special treat for my big birthday year (don’t ask) and when we told people where we were going, many didn’t even know where it was – bonus! Initially we took a 5 hour flight to Moscow and stayed overnight, followed by a city tour the following morning.

Tomb of unknown soldier, Moscow

Then back to the airport for a further 8 hour overnight flight to Kamchatka. It is really mind boggling that we were still in the same country. Any further and we would have crossed the international dateline and would eventually arrive in Alaska.  Kamchatka is a 780 mile long  peninsula in the far east of Russia, with an area of around 100,000 square miles. It lies between the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Sea of Okhotsk to the west. Immediately offshore along the Pacific coast of the peninsula runs the 10,500 metre (34,400 ft) deep Kuril–Kamchatka Trench, which accounts for the volcanic activity in the area.

Helicopter landing at lodge

Unloading Mi-8 helicopter

The other attraction is the wildlife which takes full advantage of the wilderness. Around a quarter of the world’s salmon return to the rivers here to breed during July and August. This attracts hundreds of Kamchatka brown bears to the area, who feast on the bounty in order to fatten up for the severe winters. So this ticks all of the boxes for us. As a bonus due to the area being so remote, our main mode of transport was ex-soviet military Mi-8 helicopters.

Bear approachiing on the boardwalk

Lenticualr cloud at dawn over Lake Kurilskoye, Kamchatka

This all added up to be a very exciting trip which did not disappoint! Some memorable moments were for me to get up before dawn to catch the first rays of the sun striking the distant volcanoes. What I did not expect was to be joined by a family of bears wandering along lake shore a few feet from where I was standing! Luckily there was an electric fence between us, although the bears were not particularly bothered by my presence. For my partner Cathy, it was just the sheer abundance of wildlife – the chance to get very close to the bears and practice her wildlife photography.

Those bears are getting rather close

Bear with a Pacific Salmon

Mother Bear with a cub

Two bears sparring

And we did get VERY close. Each day we left the safety of the lodge compound, accompanied by armed rangers, to roam along and through the rivers in search of the bears.

Following our memorable stay at the lodge, we then moved on to the other feature of the area – volcanoes! More of this next time…

© Andrew Boschier Photography 2017

 

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